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The Smart Buyer: Boat survey essentials

Editor’s note: Knowing how to take your boat search to the next level is what, one of Soundings’ sister properties, is all about.

A good survey requires focus and concentration — limit observers aboard to those who are truly necessary.

Research is the smart first step to buying boats online, and has the advantage of connecting you with the brokers and boaters who know where to find the best boats on the market. Industry experts and professional yacht brokers share their knowledge with boat-buying tips, boat-selling tips and other practical information. The boats on are posted by reputable, experienced brokers who want to hear from savvy boaters — boat buyers and sellers who know what they’re doing. Here’s an example of the extra insight a trip to can provide when you’re researching that important purchase.

You’ve come to the point where it is time to reward yourself. After browsing the Internet, reading boating magazines, talking with friends and spending time on their boats, you’ve decided to make an offer on a boat. Soon you’ll need the services of a surveyor.

There are several hundred surveyors in the country accredited through the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors or the National Association of Marine Surveyors, the two leading groups whose members have demonstrated their knowledge and abilities through testing and experience. Governing societies rate their abilities in a profession where people’s lives depend on the surveyors. My advice, admittedly biased, is to hire only an accredited surveyor with proven credentials. Surveying is a profession, not a job. There is no one telling us what to do, but people rely on our opinion. There are judgment calls that have to be made on behalf of the client.

Surveyors are expected to have a general working knowledge of all kinds of boats and construction materials, power and sail, as well as a working knowledge of the systems on vessels and the ability to recognize deficiencies through observation, testing or both, to make informed decisions that best advise the client. It is unrealistic to think that a surveyor fully understands everything being surveyed to the fullest extent or that, given the limited amount of time the survey takes, to assume that all exceptions have been identified. There will always be a missed exception, but a good surveyor should be able to identify the large issues, and what is missed should be minor.

The best surveys are conducted with the least number of people on the boat. People unrelated to the actual survey are a distraction, take up room and absorb time that should be devoted to the client and survey. A good survey requires focus and concentration. Each interruption in the survey process is generally when something is missed. I developed a simple formula years ago; each additional unnecessary person on board is going to cost about 30 minutes in wasted time. This sounds inhospitable, but ask yourself: Do you want bystanders in the operating room when you are on the table? That’s a little dramatic but it makes the point. The fewer people on board beyond those necessary, the better the survey is likely to be.

To maintain the vessel’s value, you need to buy wisely. Name-brand vessels in good condition are the best bet. If she’s not new — and new vessels certainly have their issues — you need a good surveyor to help you make an informed decision on the boat’s condition and quality. In 33 years I have been asked for a sample survey only a few times. I have offered surveys on similar vessels, if not sister ships, to indicate what to expect. It is always a case of buyer beware. With boats, I find that some potential buyers will spend from $50,000 to hundreds of thousands without proper investigation, unlike they would with a home or other major investment. Buyers rely on the surveyor to advise and sort through the situation for them, give an independent evaluation, and note the exceptions and define the good points. Considering the value of a good surveyor and the background necessary to advise clients, the service is a bargain.

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As a potential buyer, it is up to you to investigate the surveyor’s background, obtain resumes and sample surveys, and have discussions on the aspects of the vessel that you are particularly interested in. If surveyors or brokers make comments such as, “You really don’t need engine or mechanical surveys,” “These engines have low hours,” or “Let’s see how it performs and let that guide us,” you are already behind the eight ball.

A mechanical survey is similar to a stress test: You are looking for exceptions — things that are out of the ordinary and potentially problematic. I like to see engines be run up to full rpm and held on the high end to evaluate the condition based on performance and the instruments. Not everyone agrees with that approach, and there are circumstances where it is not appropriate, such as when testing older engines.

Most important: Don’t assume everything is OK when it can be properly evaluated for relatively little in relation to the cost of the vessel. Get a good surveyor for the hull and the mechanics. It might save your life and wallet. n

Thomas M. Eve, Eve Marine Surveyors, Savannah, Georgia, (912) 355-5911.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.