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Talkin' Boats with George Gallup - Marine Surveyor

George Gallup has done a lot in his professional career, owning several businesses, including a trucking company and a few restaurants, and working as an operations manager for a commercial airline. But it was not until he became a marine surveyor that he truly found his calling.

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Gallup graduated from the Chapman School of Seamanship in early 1997 and shortly thereafter became a marine surveyor. He joined the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors that year and started “taking their educational courses left and right,” he says.

Gallup, 62, was SAMS president in 2009 and 2010 and has held a position on the American Boat and Yacht Council’s board of directors for four years. He completes about 200 surveys annually — powerboats and sailboats from 7 to 120 feet — and surveys boats for insurance companies (
Gallup, his wife, Maureen Kenney, and their three pets — Schooner, an Airedale Terrier, and cats Matey and Bosun — live in Swampscott, Mass. He enjoys sailing and winter sports, such as downhill and backcountry skiing.

Q: Considering today’s economy, what’s some boat-buying advice you can offer to consumers?

A: These economic times place great strains on people selling their boats. It’s a buyer’s market. A lot of these boats are sitting for a long time. There are two things that kill boats: hard usage without maintenance and non-use. When they’re sitting there, they’re deteriorating on their own, so that calls for more due diligence on the part of the buyer and surveyor to examine the vessel to an even greater extent. The fuel lines and fuel condition are critical areas for a boat that has sat for a lengthy stretch. Did the owner treat the fuel? What are we going to do to the fuel before a sea trial? There are a lot of issues to consider when boats have not been used and put away properly.

Q: What are the most important areas of a boat that consumers should check before agreeing to a purchase?

A: I encourage my clients to spend time prequalifying their potential vessels. A boat buyer should do the research, consider their needs and usage, and whether or not the prospective vessel meets those needs. The buyer should spend time aboard the potential vessel, looking in-depth at every area with a bright flashlight. Take notes and digital photos for comparisons. When you look at a number of vessels, you can’t remember everything. I tell my clients to open up every storage area and lift all the cabin sole hatches and to look beyond the obvious.
I don’t expect my clients to have the trained surveyor eye, but they should be able to see issues such as stains from water intrusion or a dirty bilge from lack of proper care and maintenance. The potential leak areas almost always manifest themselves around most deck fittings.

Q: Are there areas or components of a boat that are overlooked by surveyors?

Gallup says today's boats test surveyors' knowledge of electrical systems.

A: I believe the weak area for most surveyors is their knowledge of electricity. Nowadays, the electrical systems on boats are becoming extremely sophisticated. A surveyor needs to seek out as much continuing education as possible to stay up with the evolution of boatbuilding.
In some vessels the creature-comfort systems are taking more precedence over the practical systems. Many systems are almost inaccessible for routine inspection and servicing without some degree of disassembly. This not only goes for the electrical systems, but for most of the tankage on the current production vessels. Most of the tanks are tough to access and inspect. Therefore, a thorough inspection is not easy for the surveyor. I use mirrors and a wireless borescope to assist me in accessing the four sides of the tanks and fittings, if possible.

Q: Should new boats be surveyed?

A: Absolutely. In the number of new-boat surveys that I have completed, I have always found some issues that need to be corrected, mainly attention to details and ABYC recommendations concerning safe placement of electrical system components and parts. The quality control at most boatbuilders is good, but an independent inspection is prudent.

Q: What are some common problems or weak spots with today’s boats?

A: With sailboats, I see two major areas that need close inspection. Standing rigging is critical and always needs close inspection. Although I am a professional surveyor and sailor, I always recommend a full rigging survey by a professional rigger. I consider myself a general practitioner in this area and always recommend a specialist.
Secondly, keels and keel bolts on both sailboats and powerboats need more inspection. There is an unknown factor when it comes to keel bolts embedded in keels. There is no way a surveyor can fully inspect the bolts without having the keels dropped, and that is cost-prohibitive.

Q: Can you recount any surveys where you discovered major problems?

A: One was a mid-1970s trawler, not to be named. She hadn’t been maintained well, and the survey was being done after the fact. Someone bought it and was having me look at it for insurance. I was pointing out to the client how dirty the bilges were, and the wiring wasn’t intact. I was up in the forward cabin and picked up the cabin sole and reached down and picked up the float switch on the bilge pump. As I did, the bilge pump sparked and caught on fire. So now I was dealing with a dirty bilge, bad wiring and I have oil in the bilge that is about to ignite and light the whole boat on fire.
The second was a mid-1980s 44-foot motor-yacht. I had gone through the boat and had some inkling that she had been sunk. I found a lot of sea debris hidden inside the boat where it should not have been, a lot of staining from salt water. I was tapping away on the hull, doing my percussion test and checking a wetted surface when my hammer — and this is the first time this ever happened — went right through the bottom of the boat. I am not a light tapper, per se, but I did find out she did sink down there in Florida, probably during a hurricane. They had raised her and put on some sort of temporary patch and they were trying to sell it off as a functional boat. The moral of the story is buyer beware and hire a good surveyor.

Q: How have boats changed since you became a surveyor?

Gallup and his wife restored this 41-foot 1979 Island Trader ketch.

A: With the emergence of high-tech composites and the introduction of drive-by-wire operating systems, the future of boatbuilding has leaped forward. A boat will always be impacted by the common problems of salt, ultraviolet damage and lack of maintenance. Even with high-tech composites and fancy systems these issues will always need attention.
The latest construction methods and stronger and lighter materials translate into safer and better-built vessels. As these construction methods evolve, so do the repair methods.

Q: How can builders — production, semicustom and custom — improve their boats as they go forward?

A: Simple: Attention to small details and accessibility of systems for maintenance are the key.

Q: Is there a category of boats where you’ve seen improvement?

A: Some of the major production sailboats have certainly come a long way from the 1980s. Their quality-control departments have done a good job. There are a couple of builders of center console boats and cuddy cabin models that have made great strides. Most of the problems came in the early ’80s, when some builders were failing to properly install through-hull fittings, leaving them open to water intrusion by not properly sealing them. They have come full circle and realized the errors of their ways. So whenever they install a through-hull fitting it’s not an aftermarket thought. They’re planning it out and filling these areas with solid fiberglass and eliminating so many of the potential problems.

Q: Are you referring to the use, or misuse, of core material?

A: Absolutely, that is particularly what I am referring to. I am not opposed to coring material. I think it brings great weight savings and structural integrity and certainly enhances the boat. Nowadays balsa is still the No. 1 coring in usage I see out there. But you have to be careful how you install components in a cored laminate. I have seen so many aftermarket items put onto boats that lead to problems. The core has to be backed away from the through-hull and filled in with fiberglass or composite material and sealed completely. This eliminates so many problems down the road with wet cores and delamination.

Q: How do you think boats will change in the next 10 to 20 years?

A: The constant evolution of the industry and the demand of the boating public will ultimately dictate where we go, but I am already seeing some electric boats and much-larger-horsepower outboard engines. Pods have been out for a few years now and seem to do what the manufacturers say they will do. I have been unimpressed with their performance in the field.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.