Talkin’ Boats with Greg Group of Great Lakes Marine Survelyors

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Greg Group has been a marine surveyor for 30 years.

His Mentor, Ohio-based Great Lakes Marine Surveyors Co. Inc. completes 250 surveys a year (www.greatlakesmarine.com).

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Group, 51, works on boats to 65 feet. He has written articles for now-defunct Powerboat Reports, Soundings and other marine publications, and has given expert testimony in 17 court cases involving boat owners, manufacturers and insurance companies. He owns several boats, including a 1937 Snipe sailboat, a 1930 Lyman inboard launch, and a 1981 15-foot Boston Whaler.

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

A: The keel area on modern fiberglass boats, especially those that are balsa-cored or composite-cored hulls. They often get overlooked because of accessibility issues. The keel being close to the ground makes it difficult to inspect. I’d say that sometimes fuel tanks get overlooked, primarily because of their relative inaccessibility in many modern production powerboats. Other things that get overlooked or don’t get enough attention would be the electrical systems and the installation of deck hardware. There are manufacturers who still screw a bow rail onto a boat, and screw other hardware onto a boat, which should be, perhaps, through-bolted.

Q: How does one go about choosing a marine surveyor?

A: I recommend to my customers that they do their due diligence by checking with either the National Association of Marine Surveyors or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors — in the case of NAMS for a certified marine surveyor, and in the case of SAMS an accredited marine surveyor. Lesser certifications or letter designations from other organizations might not necessarily mean that person has achieved a professional level of training and education. There are people who claim to be certified but really aren’t.

Swept away by flooding in Ohio, this J/34 didn't look bad sitting on the beach, but the starboard side had been pounded on rocks. The keel later fell off.

Q: Should you get a brand-new boat surveyed?

A: Asking a marine surveyor if a new boat should be surveyed is like asking a lawyer if you need a lawyer to draw up a contract. The answer is going to be yes. However, the chances of finding any type of physical damage are probably very low. That’s not to say that a survey will not disclose other issues that are manufacturing-related. So is it a good idea to spend $500 to $1,000, perhaps, having a new $300,000 boat surveyed? In the grand scheme of things, $500 or $1,000 to survey a $300,000 purchase is, relatively speaking, not a lot of money. And if it determines that the engine mounts haven’t been properly tightened or there’s a leak in the fuel system because a hose fitting wasn’t properly tightened, it could the best $1,000 you’ve ever spent.

Q: In your years of surveying, is there a boat that stands out as being really poorly constructed?

A: From a powerboat perspective, I recall being stunned to the point of laughter when I inspected a relatively late model 2003; I believe it was a 41-foot sport cruiser that had been repossessed. I recall huge, long, meandering cracks in the black hull finish from the rubrail to below the waterline. And crawling on board and seeing that the boat had been built with picnic-table style 2-by-4s and pine timber. Fittings that didn’t fit, joints that didn’t meet, poor laminations, poor engineering. Just laughable. From a sailboat perspective, I can recall looking at a brand-new boat and being stunned and amazed at the lack of fit and finish and overall quality. This was on a 45-footer that hadn’t been properly assembled.

Q: Do you consider yourself an expert with a particular type or style of boat?

A: My expertise is within the production-built yachts and boats from major manufacturers. Most of my assignments are with large or medium-size Sea Rays, Carvers, Wellcrafts, Cruisers and the like. That doesn’t mean I haven’t surveyed custom boats built on the East Coast in a small yard. But when one inspects hundreds of a particular model of boat that all came out of the same mold and factory, it gives you an overall perspective of how they are supposed to look or be built, which creates a high level of expertise.

A sounding hammer and moisture meter are among the tools Group (left) uses for surveying.

Q: In your opinion, have boats improved over the past 10 years or so?

A: That’s a hard one. I’d say that boatbuilding materials and techniques have improved over the last 10 years. However, there still seems to a problem with design, engineering and serviceability. From what I’ve seen, there has been a dramatic improvement in cabin ergonomics, fit and finish, and overall quality of appearance. However, some of the new boats involving glued-together, methacrylate-based construction techniques have manifested problems and required factory intervention in the aftermarket. So in that respect, no, they have not improved. It’s a balance between old-style heavy 1970s and 1980s Hatteras-style heavyweight construction that produces boats that go 18 knots versus boats with lighter construction that go 30 or 40 knots but are prone to possibly having structural problems.

Q: You mentioned methacrylate adhesives leading to problems. Can you give an example of a problem?

A: Two significant issues that I have encountered in the past several years have been the collection and accumulation of water between the exterior hull component and the bonded interior hull liner component. What happens is water leaks into the hull-to-deck joint, gets into the hull and hull liner, and fills the voids between the two components because there is no escape hole on the inside liner on certain boats. The other problem is failure of the methacrylate-adhesive-bonded joint between the hull and the hull liner, which can create immediate structural issues and can be difficult to repair or address or even visually diagnose because there is no direct internal access.

Q: What are the tools of a marine surveyor?

A: In my case, the tools I commonly use are a sounding hammer that allows me to sound the hull for any softness or delamination or structural issues. I also use a Tramex Skipper II moisture meter. And, of course, the standard tools, like a flashlight and standard tool kit to access screwed-down panels. The most important tool is an intuitive brain and common sense, because a moisture meter by itself cannot assess the overall safety and security of a boat or ascribe a market value to it. All the tools and the results are subject to interpretation by the wielder of the tools.

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue.