BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau


Don't Fall For A Pretty Face

By Charles Fort
Published: August/September 2013

Hiring a professional surveyor before you buy could be the most important decision you'll make.

Photo of a gleaming boat anchor
Photo: Michael Vatalaro
Never judge a book (or a boat!) by its cover.

When it comes to boats, Peter Berman is no novice. The author of Outfitting the Offshore Cruising Sailboat, Berman has 45 years of cruising experience in nearly a dozen vessels of different types. Last fall, he was in the market for a boat when he found a midsize cruiser from a well-known manufacturer that was advertised as an "outstanding value, in very good condition." The broker provided a detailed year-old "insurance survey" that found the boat in well-above-average condition, without any deficiencies. The engine had low hours and the boat had been kept under cover. The boat looked lightly used, appeared to have been well taken care of, and the price was terrific — Berman was eager to go ahead. You might think that someone with his vast boat-buying experience wouldn't think twice about closing the deal right then, but before going any further, he hired his own marine surveyor — this one a member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) — and an engine surveyor.

When the boat was hauled, the surveyor found massive electrolysis of the underwater running gear, severe blistering over a third of the hull, no bonding system, and some 60 other deficiencies. When the engine surveyor tried to run the engine, it overheated, and the generator and thrusters didn't work right. Disappointed, yet grateful, Berman passed on the boat. "At day's end, the money spent by having both engine and hull surveys were well-spent, even for an experienced old hand," said Berman.

Boat brokers often say that a boat's cosmetics — and buyers' emotions — are what sell it. If Berman had bought that boat based on his own reactions, he would have ended up with huge headaches and a lot of repair costs. But he was experienced enough to know how important an informed, professional opinion is when making a big-dollar decision when your heart is already engaged. Here's how to avoid ending up with just a pretty boat — and a lot of regrets.

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How Much Do They Cost?

Marine surveyors are independent businesses and can charge whatever they want. But a rule of thumb for fiberglass production boats is $15-$20 per foot. Prices go up for wood and metal boats, older boats, and large boats. Cost of haulout also needs to be considered. Keep in mind that a survey for a mid-sized boat will take several hours, so if you're going to be present, plan accordingly. The cost of an engine survey depends on the size, complexity, and number of engines, ranging from $200 for small engines to over $1,000 for large twin diesels. Rigging surveys may cost up to $500 for a 35-foot boat.


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