Getting the Right Marine Survey

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Photo of a marine surveyor
  • A condition and valuation survey (C&V) covers the hull and structures as well as the boat's systems. This type of thorough survey is usually required for insurance and financing; it's sometimes referred to as a pre-purchase survey. Whether your insurance company or lender requires it or not, you should always get one before buying. A proper C&V survey requires the boat to be hauled so the hull and underwater gear can be inspected. Good surveyors inspect a boat top to bottom, fore and aft. They'll look at the hull and deck and determine by sounding with a hammer and moisture meter whether there are voids or delamination, and they can identify places in the core that may eventually rot and become soft (and expensive to repair) before they're detectable by a buyer. A surveyor checks the condition of AC and DC electrical systems, plumbing and thru-hull fittings, deck hardware, propane and fuel systems, steering and controls, and safety equipment. A proper marine survey will be an in-depth written report that evaluates the boat according to U.S. Coast Guard regulations, as well as American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. A knowledgeable surveyor will also know if a specific make has a history of major problems. Don't rely upon a survey prepared for a previous owner, even if it was done recently. A boat could have run aground or suffered other unnoticed damage since the last survey.
  • Engine surveys cover the operation and condition of propulsion and generator engines. Typically, they include inspection of controls, electrical, cooling, and exhaust systems, as well as engine mounts. Compression, engine, and exhaust temperatures are also checked, and engine surveys typically include tests of oil samples, too. But how do you know if you need one? Alison Mazon, a surveyor in Portland, Oregon, is one of a handful of hull surveyors who also do engine surveys. "An engine survey is warranted for particularly expensive or complex engines, and those with obvious lack of maintenance," says Mazon. "Many larger engines built since about 2006 have computers that can be read by trained personnel with the right equipment. A quick scan for computer faults may be a sign a more detailed analysis is needed."
  • A rigging survey looks at the condition of a sailboat's mast and boom and associated rigging. Inspections are made of attachment points, welds, standing and running rigging, and the mast step. Rigging surveyors either go up the mast or inspect the rig when it's off the boat. Whether a rigging survey is needed depends on the age, prior use of the rig, and its intended purpose. Red flags that would signal the need for a rigging survey include a rig more than 10 years old, frayed stays, cracked swages, weeping chainplates, and turnbuckles that are bottomed out. The rig also needs to be surveyed if the boat will be used offshore or heavily raced.

Here's What A Good Survey Provides

  • The condition of the boat and its equipment: A marine survey determines the condition of the boat's visible components and accessible structures at the time of the inspection. A survey provides a list of deficiencies as well as needed repairs and focuses on safety. Deficiencies in a survey can be used to renegotiate the sales price or scrap the deal altogether if needed repairs are too expensive or complicated.
  • The value of the boat: Surveyors use pricing guides along with their vast experience in valuing boats. A seller or broker may think a boat has a specific worth, but until a survey is performed, those figures are only guesses. Banks and insurance companies use the survey value to determine loan and insurance hull value amounts. This is also a great tool for price negotiations and can easily pay for the cost of the survey.
  • A budget for repairs and maintenance: Nearly any boat will have some defects and deficiencies; knowing what they are beforehand makes it easier to know how much to budget for the future. Surveys typically provide a list of recommended, prioritized repairs. The most important ones are critical to safety and usually your insurance company will require them to be completed. The rest are things that can be done as you find time and money.
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