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The Smart Buyer - A surveyor may be only one of the experts you need

A dentist friend of mine asked me to help a patient of his find a reputable surveyor for a 2013 64-foot Italian sport yacht that he was about to pull the trigger on. I spoke to the buyer for about 30 minutes, getting the basic specs on the yacht and making sure his intended use for it lined up with its overall strengths and capabilities.

A prepurchase survey on a yacht with complex systems may call for hiring a mechanical or other experts in addition to a marine surveyor.

This boat, with its powerful MTU 1,623-hp diesels and Arneson surface drives, was built for fast short-range trips and cruising. Top speed was 47.5 knots with a 280-nautical mile range at a cruise speed of 42 knots. It had a large flybridge with ample seating and three staterooms. It fit the bill for this guy and his family. He would be using the yacht for multiday outings — trips to the Bahamas and islands with his wife and small child, perhaps friends.

I spent several hours researching and talking to surveyors about their services, and one thing became clear: If you’re considering a boat with a lot of complex systems and features, you should hire expert technicians who are experienced in those systems, as well as a marine surveyor.

“In a sense, the surveyor is acting like the general contractor,” says Jonathan Klopman, a Marblehead, Mass., surveyor ( “And as boats become more sophisticated, buyers need to realize that they might have to not only hire a surveyor to do his job but also act as general contractor to tap technical experts needed for a comprehensive prepurchase review. It depends on the boat and the sophistication of its systems.” He notes that many of today’s small to medium-size boats — under 45 feet or so — now have loads of high-tech systems.

If a buyer wants the surveyor to help him find technical experts, the surveyor should be compensated for that, Klopman says. “It’s well worth the cost for the peace of mind,” he says. “You have to remember the breadth of the surveyor’s job probably won’t cover all aspects of the boat that need surveying.”

In this buyer’s case, an MTU-certified technician would be needed to inspect the engines. “If it has been going through standard service, then the owner should have a rock-solid service record for the engines,” Klopman says. “If he doesn’t have those service records, I would step back and renegotiate the deal because the buyer would then have to verify for himself the true history of those engines, and that’s not going to be cheap. If you’re dealing with a righteous owner who has that full history, give him a pat on the back.”

Hiring experts to inspect the 64-footer’s Arneson surface drives and its electrical systems also is a good idea, Klopman says.

Arneson drives are fairly maintenance-free, says Chris Fertig, an engineer with experience operating and maintaining them. “Check the condition of the rubber boot, look for smooth and leak-free operation of the steering and trim hydraulic rams, and check for any corrosion or pitting of the ball sockets,” he says. “Surface-drive props are expensive, so I would spend time carefully inspecting each blade for cracks, pitting, corrosion, etc.”

Electrical systems sometimes need work, even on new boats. An electrical expert can determine whether the the system is set up to meet the needs of the components it feeds. “Just because the boat came directly from the factory doesn’t mean it is equipped for your electrical needs,” Soundings technical adviser Erik Klockars says. “I have replaced engine starters in new 70-foot powerboats because the battery cables were undersized.”

Make sure the technicians hired have no affiliation or history with the boat or its engine. And the mechanic should be capable of surveying the engine, Klopman adds. “I know plenty of very good mechanics, but they are not exactly the best candidates to survey an engine,” he says. “They could tell you if it‘s running fine, but are they used to that process of going through the engine and recording the conditions?”

In the end, the buyer wants to come away with a forecast of the boat’s maintenance requirements. “You are not buying a surveyor’s services so he can describe what the boat looks like,” Klopman says. “You are hiring the surveyor to find out what is messed up with the boat. You want to find out what is going to happen to the boat in the next five years. Am I going to be sinking a lot of money into this boat? The buyer really wants the surveyor’s overall opinion of the boat.”

It’s rare that a surveyor will find one particular flaw in a boat that kills a deal. “You’re more likely to come across a situation where the boat has many smaller flaws that will add up to being very expensive down the road. And if someone buys a boat like this, they will likely have a bad experience, and the buyer will end up saying this is nothing but a money pit.”

With the right surveyor and additional technical experts, most money pits can be avoided.

May 2014 issue