You almost own a boat! The purchase agreement has been signed and the broker has your earnest money. Now it is time to let a professional “kick the tires.” While I have purchased boats on an “as is-where is” basis, I recommend that a newbie’s boat purchase always be subject to survey and sea trial. (Your financial institution and insurance broker will probably require the survey and sea trial anyway.)
Don’t need to borrow money? Plan to self-insure? Have the boat surveyed anyway. That is truly the only way to know what you are buying. Jolaine Lanehart, Texas resident and long-time boat owner, writes, “Look into every nook, turn every knob, sniff every corner, feel every thru hull, and turn the thing inside out – new paint, air freshener, a thin coat of veggie oil, and “romantic” lighting can hide some really big problems that you won’t see or smell until it’s way too late.”
Your surveyor is a professional who will do all of the above, and more. He or she will have standards to which he must adhere, and a checklist to complete. It is important for you to take the time to attend the survey. You will learn a lot about the boat you want to buy. The surveyor should encourage you to attend; if he doesn’t want you there, get another surveyor. You are paying for the survey, haul out and, ultimately, the boat – you have a right to be there.
Ask an Expert
Survey the engine(s), the generator, if equipped, and have the engine oil analyzed. The oil will tell you of possible internal problems. Because we chose to spend the extra money on surveys and engine oil analysis, it saved us over thirty thousand dollars when we burned up an engine going from Clearwater to Apalachicola on the third day we had the boat.
The biggest piece of advice I would give any first time boat owner is have a pre-owner inspection done. As you well know, we hear it all the time in the industry how someone got a great deal on a vessel and then spent tens of thousands of dollars on needed repairs.
Your surveyor should be a member of a professional surveying organization such as The Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) or The International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS). Most professional surveying organizations require continuing education on an annual basis; membership indicates that the surveyor will be up-to-date on modern technology. A professional surveying company should have errors and omissions insurance, which will provide a degree of security for the buyer in case items are missed during the survey.
Tip: Make certain that your surveyor is not associated with any boatyard, marina, yacht sales company, repairer or charter company; such association could prejudice his report.
Establish a written contract with your surveyor. The contract should be written in plain English and should include details of what the survey will cover and the cost. That way, you will know exactly what you are getting for your money. Some insurers will only accept reports from certain surveying companies, so before you sign a contract, make certain that the survey report will be in a format that is accepted by your insurance company and financial institution.
The surveyor is a generalist who has a very wide knowledge of many items; he is not a specialist. If the surveyor finds that items do not conform to accepted standards, or discovers problems with the way equipment is fitted or operating, he will recommend that further examination be carried out by specialists.
The survey should include a thorough inspection of the interior, including the bonding of bulkheads, the condition of all through-hull fittings and hoses, the electrical installation – both 12V and 110V, the installation of the engines and mechanical systems, and the mast and rigging aloft. Your survey must include and out-of-water survey of the wetted surfaces, and should include a short sea trial. The purpose of the sea trial is to evaluate the rigging, bulkheads, and operation of equipment and to carry out a short evaluation of the engine under load.
It is important to know what the survey does not include. Most surveys do not include the condition of engines. If the engine operation is not normal, the surveyor will usually recommend that the engine be inspected by a professional marine mechanic. The same holds true for the sails; sail inspection should be carried out at a professionals at a sail loft.
We are often asked, “How long will the survey take?” On average, a 45-foot sailboat will take eight hours to survey. A typical survey could go like this:
● 9:00 a.m.: surveyor arrives and starts looking at the structure of the hull, the keel attachment and mast base attachment.
● 11:30: the vessel is “survey hauled.” The bot tom may need to be power washed.
● The surveyor visually examines the bot tom for defects, such as stress cracks or osmotic blisters, and then uses an acetate or rubber hammer to sound the bot tom of the hull to try and detect de-lamination in the fiberglass or detachment of the liner from the hull.
● The condition of the rudder bearings, the propeller shaft and cutlass bearings are examined. A moisture meter evaluation of the topsides and deck can be done if the surveyor finds any stress cracks or soft spots. This moisture meter evaluation of the bot tom cannot be performed unless the vessel has been washed and left to dry for approximately three days.
● The vessel is launched for a short sea trial.
● Return to the dock to complete the survey, finishing around 6:00 p.m. It is a long intensive day.
What will the survey cost? A typical 45’ sloop will cost between US $600 and $800 depending on the company. The buyer should also budget for the cost of the haul and pressure wash, which will be between $150 and $250 depending on the location of the yard. How does the buyer pay for the survey? Establish this first, since there are various ways and most surveying companies will not release the survey report until payment has been made.
We encourage you to be present and ask questions during the survey so that you will have a good understanding of what the survey report means. After the survey has been completed, the surveyor should sit down with you and go through the defects he will note in the survey report. The surveyor’s role is not to provide a list of required repairs and then put a monetary value on these items. His job is to provide you with information that will allow you to obtain professional estimates for repairs and decide whether to proceed with the sale or not. The survey report should be completed and given to you within two working days of completion. It should include all pertinent details about the vessel, as well as photographs to aid the description in the report.
You should know that you own the survey report; it is your property. The surveyor should never share it unless he has written authorization to release the report to others.
David J. Comeaux
Former boat owner
I did not accompany the surveyor when he did the inspection. Had I done so, I might have seen some situations first-hand, and recognized the damage that minor matters could cause. For example, like many boats, our boat leaked through the deck in places and through the hatches. This made it mildly uncomfortable when sitting at anchor in a rainstorm, but otherwise did not cramp our boating style. But we did not recognize the long-term rot and other damage the leaks could do until the problem was advanced and very costly to repair.
Top Surfing Spots
http://www.boats.com/boat-survey/faq.jsp: Q-and-A formatted article about why you need to survey any boat you are thinking about buying, even a new one.
http://my.boatus.com/consumer/MasterSurvey.asp: Comprehensive article about what a surveyor does, how much it can cost, and what the buyer can expect to learn from a survey.
http://www.yachtsurvey.com/Afterthesurvey.htm: Discussion about what to do after the survey is complete and you, the buyer, are not happy with the condition of the boat.
Next month: Transporting Your Boat from Where You Bought it to Where You Want It.
Boat Buying Tutorial
Guide Tips for Buying a Boat
J. Summer Westman took an in-depth study into How To Buy a Boat. I think it is a tour that each of us in the Marine Industry needs a refresher every now and then – especially before you buy or sell your next boat. These same lessons are valuable for sail boats or power boats.
- Part 1 – How will I use my boat?
- Part 2 – What do I really want
- Top Five Buying Tips for Boat Insurance
- Tips on What to Consider When Buying Boat Insurance
- Why does Boat Insurance Cost So Much?
- Steps to Follow When Buying Boat Insurance
- Part 6 – The Budget: Slip Fees and Hurricane Storage
- Part 7 – The Budget: Maintenance Fees and Other Costs
- Part 8 – How to Find Your Boat
- Part 9 – The Art of Negotiation
- Part 10 – Brokers, Lawyers and Contracts! Oh My!
- Part 11 – Survey and Sea Trial
- Part 12 – Transporting your Boat
Here is a handy list of Boat Brokers in the Caribbean