The purchase of a new boat, damage assessment and condition valuation are all reasons to have a small vessel or private pleasure craft surveyed. What do you need to know to get the most out of the process and information provided? We asked three professional Caribbean-based marine surveyors for their expert opinions.
"One of the most common reasons for requesting a survey is at purchase," says Bob Goodchild, of Flyingfish Ventures Ltd., in St. Georges, Grenada. "This is where the surveyor is acting for the purchaser when the owner's insurance company has requested a survey before they will write cover on the vessel or renew a policy; in this case the surveyor is acting for the owner."
The pre-purchase survey, adds Canter de Jager, of Dutchman Marine Survey and Services, in St. John's, Antigua, "is the most thorough survey. It includes deficiencies, recommendations, a sea trial and a rigging inspection."
Will Howe of Howe Marine Surveys in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, says, "No one likes to come in for a damage survey especially when it's due to a traumatic experience such as an accident or injury. But, it's necessary for the insurance company."
Condition valuation surveys, says Dutchman Marine's de Jager, "should be done at least every three years to determine current fair market price and any defects or recommendations."
Another reason for a survey, adds Flyingfish Venture's Goodchild, "is if the yacht has been in storage for some time or is about to undertake an ocean passage after a period of little use and the owner wants the surveyor to prepare a work list to get the vessel ready for sea."
Ideally, owners or buyers will have their vessel open, clean and well prepared before the surveyors arrive.
Beyond this, specific examples of properly preparing a vessel for survey include making a reservation with the boatyard if the yacht must be hauled (the cost of the haul out is typically not covered in the survey fee), arranging for a captain if the owner is not available for a sea trial (the surveyor cannot drive the vessel and survey it at the same time), setting up a shore power system so that 115 or 230 volt AC systems can be checked if the vessel is on the hard, and having paperwork prepared including the vessel's registration and any maintenance logs.
"The surveyor will need to access many areas of the boat which are not normally accessed in the everyday use of the vessel and this may require the removal of gear," says Flyingfish Venture's Goodchild. "In particular, note that the steering gear including the quadrant and head of the rudder stock will need accessing as will all seacocks, the engine, the generator, batteries, the bilge, bilge pumps, the base of the mast if it's keel stepped, chain plates if possible and bulkhead to hull join where possible, etc."
How long does a survey take?
"Depending on the survey type and the length and make of the vessel a pre-purchase or condition survey on a medium to small vessel can be done in one day," says Dutchman Marine's de Jager. "However, the haul out schedule has to be arranged carefully including the sea trial. Vessels that have any exterior hull problems or damage might need to be inspected the following day when they have dried up."
The cost of a survey can range between US$12 to US $20 per foot, depending on the type of survey. Said another way, a full pre-purchase condition and valuation survey with sea trial for a 45-foot yacht, for example, runs about US $1000, while an insurance renewal survey for a similar sized yacht costs around US $650. Damage surveys are usually conducted on an hourly rate with a three hour minimum charge.
One of the most frequently asked questions, says Howe Marine Survey's Howe, is how quickly an insurance company will pay claims after a damage survey is completed. "It depends on a large extent how fast the insured provides everything that is required. For example, the insured must coordinate the repairs and get estimates from contractors. Contractors work for the owner or insured and not for the insurance company. A marine surveyor can review these estimates and offer advice and recommendations."
A marine surveyor can indeed be an invaluable source of help and information.
"Remember," says Flyingfish Venture's Goodchild, "that the surveyor is constantly working with a great variety of yachts, different repair facilities, and sees more problems on yachts in a year than most boat owners will see in a lifetime."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.