What A Surveyor Should Look For

By Debbie Schaefer

Here's a detailed summary of exactly what a surveyor
inspects and tests when he or she conducts a marine
survey on your behalf.

Photo of a marine surveyor inspecting a boat

During a pre-purchase inspection, the marine surveyor will evaluate the boat’s systems and structure in and out of the water, looking for problems that could require expensive repairs, or that make the boat unseaworthy. The surveyor spends time below-decks, inspecting the engine installation, seacocks, fuel lines, electrical wiring, and plumbing systems, and the hull's interior for structural defects. The surveyor may not be able to detect problems hidden by the boat's permanent structures, like bulkheads or liners. Abovedecks the surveyor will examine the hull, deck fittings, helm station, navigation lights, liferails and pulpit, and other crucial structures. Using nondestructive testing, he'll check for signs of blistering, gelcoat cracking, stress cracks in the fiberglass, and dry rot.

The surveyor will inventory all equipment being sold with the boat that enhances its value. He'll check for safety equipment and list any U.S. Coast Guard required equipment that may be missing.

If you're purchasing a sailboat, it's important to have the rigging inspected. Ask the surveyor whether he will go aloft to make the inspection. A visual check from the deck may not be enough to detect worn or frayed fittings and cable.

When it comes to the engine, all the surveyors we interviewed said they perform only an external inspection of the engine. One surveyor, Jack Hornor from Davidsonville, MD, explained that, "At sea trial, engine operation is checked for RPM, temperature, and alternator output, and for any apparent signs of cooling, lubricating oil, or fuel-oil leaks." He says surveyors generally rely on manufacturer-installed instruments to provide this information. All of the surveyors interviewed for this article said they don’t conduct compression tests or oil-sample analysis, and said they recommend technicians or diesel mechanics if further testing is needed or desired.

If a trailer is part of the package, don't forget to have it inspected too. Make sure it's accurately rated for the size and weight of the boat. 

— Published: December 2011

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