Why hire a marine surveyor?

Would you buy a house without a home inspection? In most cases, one hires a marine surveyor to provide them an experienced and professional inspection and valuation of the vessel. The expression of which comes in the form of a detailed report which includes vessel specifications, systems, and lists of prioritized deficiencies. This report, if provided by a surveyor affiliated with either SAMS (Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors) or NAMS (National Association of Marine Surveyors), is generally accepted by any insurance company or finance company for purposes of underwriting insurance or financing.

The pre-purchase survey report would also serve as a negotiating tool in the purchase process. In most cases, several of the findings from the inspection are not known to the owner or the broker. Depending on the finding, the vessel may not be fit for service or may have a problem that significantly affects the value.

In almost every case, our clients have recovered the cost of the survey either through price negotiation, repair costs, or by identifying “deferred maintenance” which may have resulted in a costly repair later. Many of our clients report that the survey saved them several times the cost of the survey. We responded that we would happily accept gratuities. While that is generally met with a good laugh, we have been compensated well with referrals, the best of all compliments.

In addition to the professional standards we follow, we apply the standard…would we take our children out on this boat? First and foremost, is the vessel safe for you and your family? It is surprising how often the owner is unaware of a safety problem on their boat that is just waiting for the right circumstances.

Why hire a SAMS or NAMS surveyor?

SAMS (Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors) and NAMS (National Association of Marine Surveyors) are organizations born of the fact that the marine survey industry is unregulated. One could have some business cards made up and call themselves a marine surveyor today. SAMS and NAMS have established educational and professional standards for the industry. SAMS and NAMS have high standards for acceptance, specialization, and continuing education. They maintain a high level of ethics oversight for their members and require their members to continually strive to keep up with marine standards of vessel safety and construction.

While there are a few competent practicing surveyors who are not members of SAMS or NAMS, most who are unaffiliated are not competent. Beware of other “affiliations” as well. Some simply require that you send them a check annually to be “certified.” These surveyors may be less expensive, but you get what you pay for…at best. At worst, you may find yourself in peril on Lake Michigan’s 40 degree water some spring day.

What do you charge?

It all depends. There are several types of inspections and reports. Keep in mind that the inspection is only about half the job. The report, depending on what type and the boat, can take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours or more. A thorough sea trial is optional and involves sea time and additional report writing time. A typical pre-purchase condition and value inspection and report for a 35 foot express cruiser takes about 10 – 12 hours. Current rates vary.
Additional fees may be applied for reasons including, but not limited to:

  • The type of vessel may require more inspection and report writing time. Motor Yachts, aft cabins and other multi-deck vessels all take additional time
  • Vessel age. Vessels more than 15 – 20 years old may be subject to higher rate. They tend to have more findings which require more inspection time and more report writing time.
  • Sea Trial. Typically a sea trial will at least 20 – 30 minutes once we have access to open water. We go through a procedure which tests the vessel at various RPMs for power vessels (see below for more detail on what in included in a sea trial). We encourage attendance for the sea trial so that you can get a feel for the vessel while underway. In most cases, the broker or owner will allow you some time at the helm for a test drive also.
  • Travel fees. Travel is generally calculated by the hour. In some cases of overnight travel, lodging, carrier fees, and / or per diems may be applicable. These would be estimated and quoted in advance, if applicable.
  • Lack of preparation, on the owner or broker’s part. The Terms and Conditions provided with the quote require that the vessel be made ready for inspection. The performance of this duty falls on the vessel owner or broker. But you are required to ask that the vessel be prepared. If the vessel is exceptionally cluttered or dirty additional fees may be applied. In rare cases the vessel has been so dirty as to be considered a hazard to health. At the surveyor’s discretion, they may terminate the inspection and ask that the vessel be prepared before they return. The daily minimum fee (4 hours at $85/hour plus travel) will be added to the cost of inspection and report. See the FAQ about preparing for a survey below for more information.
  • Tenders / dinghy’s will only be noted, not inspected, without additional charge. These will not be included in the valuation unless we are contracted for a full inspection. Inspection of the hull and systems is an inspection of an additional boat. Additional charges will apply.
  • It all depends. Most times per foot rate is the standard, but exceptions can exist. It is not about nickel and diming our clients. We just ask for fair compensation for time and services. Call or email us for a quote.

What do I need to do to prepare for the survey?

hank you for asking. Please note that many of these items cannot be contracted or requested by your surveyor. They may require permission of the owner. Even in cases where the cost is being carried by the perspective buyer, the owner’s involvement is required to contract services for their vessel.

  • First, make sure we have permission from the owner directly, or through their broker, to perform the survey. Make sure they know when we will be inspecting the boat and what will be done as part of the inspection. Remember, the boat still belongs to someone who loves her (hopefully) and we should not step foot on her without her owner’s permission.
  • The vessel should be clutter free with the owner’s personal items well organized or removed, as much as possible.
  • The vessel should be unlocked with keys available for access to compartments, power up of all systems, and to start the motor(s), if applicable.
  • The bilges should be as clean as possible. On rare occasion, the surveyor has had to terminate the inspection. Two notable occasions included a leaking black water tank which had filled the bilge. Another where the bilge was extremely moldy from standing bilge water. If we are concerned about a health hazard on the vessel, we will stop the inspection and re-schedule after the vessel has been cleaned. Additional fees are applicable as discussed above.
  • A thorough inspection includes the underwater hull and running gear. If the vessel is in the water, it will need to be hauled out. It may also need to be pressure washed to remove algae and other growth or dirt. If it is out of the water, it may need to be put in for sea trial, and operation of some of the vessel’s systems (motors, air conditioning, generator, etc). The associated costs may be subject to negotiation, but are not the responsibility of the surveyor. If the vessel is not properly prepared, the inspection results may be affected.
  • If a sea trial is part of the survey, a captain / pilot is required. The surveyor will be checking the engine and bilge spaces, mechanicals, and structural members throughout the sea trial. The surveyor is not available to drive the boat. In most cases, the seller’s broker or vessel owner is available at no cost. The surveyor cannot provide a pilot / captain for the sea trial.

What other services do you offer / are available?

Work list inspections and other hourly consulting services are available. We are hired by insurance companies and vessel owners to do investigation work surrounding damage claims or faulty repairs. In some cases, we are hired to inspect a vessel and provide a “work list” inspection report so the owner has a list of things to work on and an order of priority. Some out of state buyers want a set of eyes at the boat before they engage the seller in negotiations and pay for a full inspection and report. These services are all billable by the hour plus expenses. Call us to discuss your needs and we will make sure you have the best service options, whether you employ us, or another contractor.

What (geographic) areas do you cover?

Generally, we work the eastern half of Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois, and the southern part of Upper Michigan. This includes Door County and Marinette / Menomonee to the north, west to the Wisconsin River, and south to the Chicago area. These would all be considered day trips and only hourly travel would be involved. However, we have been referred to areas all over the country and occasionally, Internationally. Additional travel expenses would be included in the quote for services.

What do you do as part of an inspection / survey?

Again, it depends. For the sake of this question, we will discuss the pre-purchase condition and value survey (generally the most thorough). We inspect every accessible area of the vessel from bow to stern. We are inspecting the structural members of the hull and decks, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems. “Accessible” is a key term. We do not engage in destructive testing of any sort. This means we do not disassemble systems or compartments to gain access to every part of the vessel. Compartments, joinery, or fixed parts which are fastened are not considered “accessible” within the normal scope of an inspection. If circumstances arise in which some disassembly is required to determine the condition of a particular system, the surveyor may recommend, as part of the report, further inspection by a qualified marine technician. Generally this type of service requires the vessel owner’s permission and supervision so it is not covered as part of the normal scope of work.

What do you do as part of the sea trial?

  • We start at the dock with a safety check. Do we have the necessary safety gear aboard to get underway?
  • The engines are started and allowed to warm up. During this time we monitor gauges for operation, exhaust condition, and engine sounds. We power electronics and check for apparent proper operation.
  • Once the engines are warm, we will test transmission(s) and shifting, at idle, while still tied up to make sure they operate properly.
  • We then cast off and continue to monitor gauges throughout the sea trial for any anomalies in engine temp, oil pressure, RPM, and voltage. Temperature readings are monitored on parts of the engine, exhaust, and alternator with an infrared temperature gauge as accessible.
  • Once in open water we run the vessel at increasing RPM increments to feel for abnormal vibration or running gear issues. Auto pilot and other systems may be checked or monitored as they apply.
  • Ultimately we achieve WOT (wide open throttle) briefly to check for manufacturer specified RPMs and speed. These can vary slightly based on props and cleanliness of the hull.
  • We bring the throttles back down to cruising speed, again continually monitoring gauges, engine block temps where accessible, and running vibrations.
  • We perform a back down test which is a means to inspect the condition of the structural members responsible for supporting the engine(s) and transmission(s).
  • We return to dock while still monitoring all systems for any anomalies.
  • A report of findings is added to the report for your reference.

Do you do compression testing?

We use the analogy that the marine surveyor is like your family physician. We are generalists. If a doctor detected an arrhythmia or abnormality in your heartbeat, they would alert you to the problem and refer you to a cardiologist. As a marine surveyor, we look for abnormalities and refer you to the specialist. When talking about marine engines (or engines in general) the tools we use are the visual inspection and the sea trial. If you are not getting good compression, that is likely to show up in the RPMs or speed during a sea trial. It may also be evident in the appearance or smell of the exhaust. These observations may also indicate fuel system problems, ignition problems, or running gear problems. Those problems are not detectable from a compression test or leak down test. Compression and leak down tests also run the risk of being inaccurate for many reasons. An inspection by a qualified marine mechanic is usually recommended when buying a used boat. This should be done after a thorough survey inspection and sea trial, by the specialist, not the generalist. Be careful not to get caught up in the value of a compression test. They are often given more credit than they are due.

What is not covered in the inspection?

  • As noted previously, we do not perform any destructive / disassembly inspections. It is important to understand that we cannot access every inch of the interior hull, wiring, and plumbing. If we suspect a problem, we may ask you to gain permission to disassemble something or refer the matter to the marine technician of the owner’s choosing.
  • We do not provide an inventory of ropes, bumpers, boat hooks, canvas parts, owner’s manuals, portable kitchen appliances, or other personal belongings on the boat. The only equipment we inventory is the safety equipment required by the US Coast Guard Spare anchors, props, or other equipment may be noted, but generally the inspection is limited to that which was assembled at the factory or permanently installed after manufacture. Since we don’t know what will accompany the vessel and it is rarely material to the condition or value of the vessel, it is not included. However, if you want a thorough inventory of all miscellaneous onboard equipment, we can provide that service at an additional cost.
  • The extent and costs of repairs in not part of the scope of most surveys. While we try to be the best possible advisor, the cause and extent of a repair may not be evident until a specialist disassembles and determines what will be needed to make a serviceable repair. In some cases we are contracted to monitor and inspect repairs. These services are offered at additional cost.
  • If there is something you want the surveyor to inspect specifically or pay special attention to, please ask. We may need to request permission in advance from the vessel’s owner, bring additional tools, or we may require a specialist in attendance. We try to be very thorough in describing what we do, but every boat and system is different. If in doubt, ask ahead of time so we can make sure we have served you to the best of our ability.
  • We do not go aloft on sailboat rigging. We do our inspection from the deck only and usually recommend that you have a professional rigger inspect the rigging aloft, or have the rigging down for inspection. Are we afraid of heights? Only before we know the condition of the rigging. A human load test should not be the first test of the rigging during the inspection.

Your name was given to me by the seller’s broker. Do you work for them?

No. A good surveyor represents the condition of the vessel without prejudice to any party. Our job is to be as thorough as possible and report the vessel’s condition, any deficiencies, and market value. We are the voice of the boat and, by and large, neutral in the process. However, we carry information on your behalf and the disposition of that information is at your discretion. If you contract us, we provide you the report. Any dissemination of it, to any other party, is by your expressed permission only. We work for you.

Do you share information with the seller’s broker or the owner of the vessel?

The only time we may share findings on a vessel to the owner, seller’s broker, boat yard, or marina is in the event of a safety related issue which may pose an imminent hazard to person or property. For example, if we found a fuel leak on a vessel, this would be considered a hazard and would be reported immediately.

In the case of a pre-purchase survey, you may want us to share the findings with the owner. Often, the owner is unaware of some if the items and may choose to repair them prior to making delivery of the vessel. Generally the full report is not offered, only a list of the findings. However, it is at your discretion and by your permission only. Again, we work for you.

Do you perform moisture checks of the boat’s hull?

We utilize two different moisture meters during an inspection. Additionally, percussive testing with a phenolic hammer can detect moisture in hull or decks. A few things to know about moisture testing in boats:

  • First, it is very rare to find a boat that does not have elevated moisture readings somewhere in the hull or decks. Most boats sit in the water and outside in the weather.
  • Second, moisture meters and percussion testing are not perfect indicators of moisture. Bottom paint, barrier coats, metal backing plates, tanks, bilge water, and other things can create falsely elevated readings. We minimize the chance for false positives by utilizing two of the best moisture meters designed for marine use. Percussion testing can also be an indicator.
  • The only way to know for sure if moisture is present at high levels is to drill into the coring. In some cases this may be advisable. In some cases it may be more destructive to introduce air, than to simply leave it alone and monitor it.
  • Moisture, in and of itself, may not be a problem. However, in cases where the wood is rotting, it should be inspected and addressed by a specialist.

How does an insurance survey differ from a pre-purchase survey?

The pre-purchase is generally considered the most thorough. An insurance survey is more focused on safety related items, and the vessel’s condition to the extent that it is material to the value of the boat. The inspection process is generally about the same. The insurance report is usually less detailed.

What things determine if I “pass” or “fail” inspection?

The surveyor does not grade inspections or “pass” or “fail” the vessel. We simply report findings.

In the case of an insurance survey, the underwriter may determine that certain things must be repaired before they are willing to underwrite the risk and insure the boat. Every insurance company has their own standards and each underwriter has some latitude. It is up to you to negotiate with your underwriter what they are willing to accept. If you disagree with an underwriter’s decision, we may be able to assist in discussing the nature of the finding. Just keep in mind, they may be basing their acceptance on a similar finding which caused a system failure or safety hazard on another vessel.

We occasionally hear that a vessel “failed” survey during the purchase process. This is not a term we as surveyors apply. This is a term brokers, sellers, and/ or buyers use when a purchase contract is terminated because the seller and buyer were unable to come to an agreement on terms over a survey finding. Used boats have problems, problems are fixed with some combination of time and money. Who is willing to spend the time and money is up to the buyer and seller. If they fail to come to terms, it does not mean the boat failed the survey.

Another occasion we have heard this terminology applied, is for financing. We provide a valuation opinion of the vessel as part of most surveys. At Seaworthy Survey, we apply the standards established by The Appraisal Foundation’s Uniform Standard of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). However, financial institutions and insurance companies are not obligated to accept our valuation. They may perform their own valuation based on their company standard as their basis for underwriting. Again, this is not a failure of the survey or valuation.

Most insurance companies and banks accept our valuations based on our credentials, being members of Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors and being certified in USPAP. Under these circumstances, the lender or insurance company can be referred to us to discuss our methodology and credentials. If additional documentation is required, additional fees may apply.