A good surveyor is a sleuth on your side

Posted on 30 December 2010 Written by Jim Flannery

One longtime boat inspector details the way he works and the agreements he has with his clients

A surveyor will tap the hull with a small hammer to check for delamination.The marine surveyor is a fact-finder hired to go over a boat with a fine-tooth comb, find out what's shipshape and what's not, and through careful inspection help the client make an intelligent decision about whether to buy the boat.

Surveyor Jerry Schmitt, speaking at a Florida Yacht Brokers Association seminar on closings and the law earlier this year in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says he never tells a client to buy or not buy. He will reveal what he has found, recommend repairs or upgrades to ensure the boat is fit for its intended service, and estimate fair market value and replacement cost, based on published sources.

Schmitt does not use invasive techniques - cutting, sawing or hacking - to uncover defects. He will tap the hull with a small hammer (percussion testing) to check for delamination, and he can use a moisture meter to detect water in the hull and infrared thermography to find voids and delamination.

Navy retiree Schmitt is a graduate of the Chapman School of Seamanship's small-craft survey school in Stuart, Fla., regional director of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors and owner of Schmitt Marine in Fort Pierce, Fla. He warns that surveyors are not licensed and recommends finding one who is a member of SAMS or the National Association of Marine Surveyors because both have "strong bylaws and a strong code of ethics." That code includes a surveyor's duty to be professionally competent, to honestly present all relevant facts to the client and to avoid conflicts of interest.

Schmitt says it's important for a surveyor to hew strictly to the code of ethics. If a transaction goes to court, breaches of the code almost certainly will come to light.

The survey can help a buyer determine if the boat is fit for its intended use.He says during a typical job he spends six hours on the boat - in the water at dockside, out of the water and on sea trials - and five hours writing the report. He recommends that the client accompany him on the survey. A well-executed survey and report can help acquaint the buyer with the boat, he says.

Schmitt says a survey is a technical investigation into the construction and condition of a boat, its components and systems at a particular moment - when he surveys it. The report should include a list of findings and recommendations, the vessel's estimated value, reports on all federally mandated equipment and lots of photos documenting construction and condition. Schmitt says it should explain how the surveyor arrived at the value estimate.

There are prepurchase surveys for the buyer; an insurance survey for an insurer; and an appraisal survey for purposes that include a divorce settlement or establishing a boat's value for an estate auction. He says supplemental surveys by specialists in engines, rigging, electrical systems, electronics or corrosion may be required.

By agreeing to do a survey, the surveyor enters into an implied contract with a client, Schmitt says. For self-protection, he recommends signing contracts in advance. It should specify the boat, engine, the boat's location, what the survey report will include, and the survey and haulout schedule. It should also include the boat's intended use, cruising waters, and fees for the survey and an out-of-water inspection and sea trial, along with a boarding authorization.

Schmitt inserts a clause that says the owner or captain, not the surveyor, will operate engines, machinery and equipment during the survey. He says the contract should note that the report is for the exclusive use of the client and include such disclaimers as:

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.