Why Get a Boat Survey?
Buying a boat may be the second biggest purchase you make after buying a house; as with a home, a motor or sailboat is complex with lots of components. That means a lot can go wrong!
Just as it’s smart to hire a home inspector or engineer before buying a new home, it’s advisable for a boat buyer to engage a marine surveyor to look at a boat under consideration. A carefully chosen and knowledgeable surveyor with expertise in the type of boat you’re looking at buying may spot problems that you’d overlook or (wrongly) think were trivial. Contrary to some boaters’ thinking, surveys aren’t exclusively for previously owned vessels past a certain age; brand-new and recently manufactured vessels may have problems caused by a design flaw or rough transport.
Along with warning you to avoid a boat with major issues, a survey can save you money if you decide to purchase one with fixable flaws. According to Charles Fort, consumer affairs director of BoatUS, a survey gives you bargaining power with a vendor. “A surveyor will find savings to be made equivalent to the fee that they charge — sometimes more,” he says. He cites an example: “If there’s $3,000.00 worth of rot in the transom, that would come off the price in final negotiations.”
If you’re financing your purchase, and of course if you’re insuring your acquisition, you’ll discover that finance and insurance companies likely won’t proceed with vessels of certain lengths and/or price thresholds if you don’t obtain a survey. Fort explains, “From the insurance side, they want it to be safe and not explode or hurt someone. Insurance companies drive the safety of boats in the U.S.”
Picking the right surveyor is as important as choosing the right boat. Unlike certain professions which require standardized training and licensing, anyone can call themselves a marine surveyor. That means a technician trained in only one aspect, such as fiberglass repair, may call himself a surveyor, and someone who looks at boats in her spare time can as well. To ensure that a surveyor is full-time, up-to-date, and qualified, check accreditation agencies and associations which assess and/or train surveyors, such as the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) or Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS).
Surveyors who are members of these organizations must demonstrate knowledge and ability, according to Fort. “Many will come from a boat building or repair background and will know what can go wrong from the outset. Some will be ex-U.S. Coast Guard inspectors who know big boats, and others still may have been naval architects.” He added, “Some will have done an eight-week course and then apprenticed as a surveyor for up to six years before taking a test to become members of their associations.”
With boat brands and types being so diverse, you should look at an accredited surveyor’s résumé and areas of expertise. Sometimes, depending on what you’re buying, you may need a surveying firm with multiple experts or hire an individual to check out something specific. “Most general surveys won’t include a specific engine or a rigging inspection,” notes Fort. “Get a specialist marine engine or rigging surveyor to have a look at a yacht’s rigging or engine.”
Before hiring a surveyor, determine that he or she has no connection with the vendor, warns Fort. Independence is important — you wouldn’t want someone who feels an obligation to please the boat broker or enjoys a friendship with the seller.
Your chosen surveyor will look at the condition of visible components and major systems and provide a determination as to the value of the boat. Attending the survey along with the inspector and asking questions gives you more value for your money. Looking at a report without being present means that something that appears trivial may actually be quite troublesome to remedy, or something that sounds as if it’s a reason to run away may be quickly resolved by the right tradesperson. As Fort points out, “You may not understand everything in the report, so ask questions as they look. You will learn more in that one day than you may ever learn from sailing it. They will dig into places you never knew existed!”
Survey reports cover three main points: recommendations that must be addressed before going afloat (including safety issues such as fire hazards and risks to the safety of the vessel and crew), worn-out components that are not of immediate risk, and cosmetic issues. A thorough survey should also provide the buyer with a budget for the repairs and maintenance.
The person who pays for the survey owns it, and what you do with the results of the survey is up to you, says Fort. “There’s no pass or fail for a survey — the decision to buy the boat is down to the decision of the buyer.”
You can choose to buy, revise your offer, ask the seller to address the discovered issues, or walk away. Whether you choose to sink the deal or float on, you’ll be able to make an informed decision after relying on an expert surveyor who knows boats from the inside out.
By Richard Shrubb