By Douglas A. Campbell/ Senior Writer
Going to work at age 14 in his family’s Salem, Mass., boatyard, Capt. Norm LeBlanc recalls seeing every sort of marine tradesman there was. But the members of one profession — marine surveyors — stood out.
Salary range: up to $100,000 a year
“I used to watch all these guys coming in, and I said someday I’m going to be a marine surveyor,” says LeBlanc. What attracted the youth was the license with which surveyors crawled all over and into boats.
But when he talked with the surveyors, “They said you’ve got to wait until you’re old enough to get respect from people,” he says. So he waited until he was 39, and for the last 25 years, he has been one of them.
Now he owns N.L. LeBlanc & Associates, Yacht Surveyors, in Danvers, Mass., and examines 200 boats a year, both sail and power. “A lot of people get into it as a second career,” LeBlanc says. “The mistake that they generally make is lack of experience.”
LeBlanc took the advice of his elders. “I’ve been a sailmaker, rigger, tore apart engines, rebuilt engines, [did] fiberglass work, woodwork,” he says. For electrical and plumbing expertise, he has relied on annual courses from the American Boat and Yacht Council. “Everything changes, so you have to keep up with all the new materials and regulations,” he explains.
LeBlanc is a charter member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors, one of the major accrediting agencies, and served as president last year. He says while there are no licensing requirements for marine surveyors, a certification is recommended, as is membership in the ABYC.
“A few places around have marine surveying courses,” LeBlanc says. But they are generally for people already working in the marine trades, he says, giving them a “chance to focus on what they’re going to be doing” as surveyors.
The boating business is in a downturn, and work on smaller boats — smaller than 30 feet — has shrunk, LeBlanc says. “But there’s a huge increase in business over 50 feet,” he says, and foreign buyers have been coming in to further drive that market.
During the last big downturn, in the 1980s, surveyors had a lot of work examining repossessed boats for banks, he says. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
The future for surveyors looks bright, according to LeBlanc. “I’ve got four associates that I’ve trained,” he says. “It’s coming along very well. The phone keeps ringing, and we’re busy.”
LeBlanc handles anything in sail and power, though he won’t survey ferro cement boats. “They just don’t stand the test of time,” he says. He charges $18 per foot up to 40 feet and $20 per foot for larger boats. Insurance surveys are $15 per foot, and engine surveys are a flat $100. At these rates, a surveyor can earn a comfortable living, he says.
His advice for those aspiring to become surveyors? “Cover all the areas you possibly can. General work in a good yacht yard is going to cover almost everything,” says LeBlanc. Those jobs exist because “nobody wants to start at the bottom and learn simple things and work their way up.”
After a quarter-century of surveying, LeBlanc says he’s still enjoying the job he dreamed of as a kid. “I love being on the water, working on boats,” he says. “How much more fun can it be?”