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The Smart Buyer: Your role and the surveyor’s

A marine survey is a careful, systematic inspection. There are several distinct survey formats, each with its own requirements and reporting criteria. The most common is the prepurchase survey.

A surveyor might sound the hull with a special hammer.

The prepurchase survey provides as much information as possible on the condition of the boat. The surveyor examines every aspect of the boat without disassembly, including operational testing of the major systems.

The prepurchase survey consists of three basic sections:

1. The static in-water inspection, which requires that the boat and its systems be fully commissioned and operable.
2. The haulout, at which time the boat is shored up to allow the surveyor to thoroughly inspect the hull, running gear and accessories that cannot be accessed while the boat is afloat.
3. The sea trial, when the boat is operated in conditions as near as practical to its intended use and is evaluated for overall performance and handling characteristics while machinery is operated under load.

The surveyor is responsible for reporting all deficiencies that can affect safety and reliability — from loose deck cleats to improper fuel line fittings. A loose cleat will allow water to saturate the deck core, eventually leading to major repairs and expense, or it can pull out under load and allow a moored vessel to break free. Using steel or brass fuel fittings directly coupled to an aluminum fuel tank will promote galvanic corrosion, destroying the assembly. Both issues affect not only safety and reliability, but insurance and financing as well.
The report generated after the survey is a written record of the surveyor’s findings, observations, opinions and recommendations. It should provide an equipment list along with serial numbers where possible, but it isn’t a complete vessel inventory. The report is provided to the client as an evaluation of the boat, not as a recommendation of whether or not it should be purchased.
A copy of the prepurchase survey report typically is requested by the marine lending institution and insurance company as part of their terms. Often, a copy of specific portions of the report will be provided on request to the seller — a practice that can help resolve any questionable matters prior to purchase.
The surveyor typically works within a tight schedule, so here are some ways you can help:

• Make an appointment for the boat to be hauled and pressure washed, and confirm the time and location with both the yard and surveyor. A broker often will assist with this scheduling. The sequence in which surveyors perform inspections varies, so inquire before setting the appointment.
• Be certain the vessel’s paperwork, such as registration and documentation, is readily available. Accessory and operational manuals also should be at hand.
• Items that aren’t included in the sale price should be removed from the boat, or clearly marked as not included.
• All compartments and storage areas should be unlocked and cleared of non-essential items.
• Present the surveyor with a list of questions or concerns prior to the inspection. This ensures that your issues will be properly addressed.

I prefer that my clients remain within reach during the physical inspection process; but not look over my shoulder. I will bring issues to their attention as I come across them, but excessive interaction can be a distraction.
Once the physical inspection is complete, the surveyor’s job is only partially done. Compiling a well-written report of the information documented in notes, photographs and mentally can take hours, and there are numerous styles and formats for presenting the material. The bottom line is the information should be presented in a format you are comfortable reading and will understand. I suggest you review
surveyors’ previous written reports prior to contracting them.
In addition to the basics described here, there are numerous additional services a surveyor can perform. I recommend discussing your needs and concerns with several surveyors prior to making a commitment.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.