Time for a Marine Survey?

Time for a Marine Survey? Jun 22, 2022

By Gordon Cruise

If someone told me I could save thousands of dollars by investing $500, I would certainly jump on that opportunity.

So why didn’t I, when I purchased my 40-foot yacht? I thought, who needs a professional marine surveyor when you know as much about boats as I do? 

Two years later, when I got the yard bill for $26K for repairs to the boat I had purchased, I regretted my decision. Why did I hesitate to contract the services of someone who would have handed me a report that would have identified any current and potential issues? 

I contacted Jean-Marc Dupuis from Dupuis Marine, a marine surveying company based in Québec, and he gave me a few valuable tips to share. 

Jean-Marc told me that the spring and summer are his busiest periods and that it is best to book your boat survey well in advance to avoid disappointment.

Spring is when many people sell their boats, either because they are retiring from the boating life or want to upgrade or downgrade, so make sure you have any potential boat survey scheduled as far in advance as possible.

The most common type of boat survey is the condition and value (C&V) survey. This is usually done for a buyer to obtain a vessel’s fair market value.

Routine points in a survey include (but aren’t limited to) such things as moisture readings in the hull and deck and checks for delamination or blistering.

The stringers, bulkheads, and transom will be inspected for structural integrity. Often, the transom is a critical point on a power boat and is prone to structural failure. Some common failure points at the transom include:

  • Damaged/cracked drain fittings to splash wells (outboards);
  • Leaking steering pin seals with unsealed transom shield mounting holes (sterndrive);
  • Transom anode bolts (typically, these anodes are changed annually, and if not done correctly, it’s quite likely to spin the bolts on removal and fitment of the anode – the spinning of the bolt breaks the sealant between the bolt’s washer and the transom).

Your surveyor should focus on this aspect, and others, including mechanical issues with engines, drive units, etc.

Hiring a surveyor while the boat is on drydock has its advantages. It’s impossible to perform a thorough survey while the vessel is in the water; a floating vessel must be hauled out to have the hull checked for damage, water intrusion, or other structural issues.

Shafts, struts, and outdrives cannot be inspected adequately while the vessel is in the water. On the other hand, a proper sea trial is highly recommended, so the ideal time for your survey is just before your prospective boat splashes.

Fibreglass hulls are prone to blistering and delamination, which can result in an expensive repair bill if you do not have a surveyor who can (hopefully) identify any hull issues.  

Getting a copy of all engine/drive unit maintenance/repair history is a good idea. This gives you a ‘heads up’ on proper routine maintenance and any upgrades that have been done to your potential boat.

Historically speaking, if the previous owner has kept up with all required engine maintenance, there is a good chance that the rest of the boat has also been properly maintained. 

The average cost of a survey depends on the survey company you choose. Some work on an hourly rate, but most will quote you a per foot rate, usually somewhere around $20/foot. Costs should be discussed with your marine surveyor before contracting the job. Remember, the surveyor works for you, not the seller of the boat.

It’s also a good idea to ensure the boat is prepared for the surveyor’s arrival. Don’t expect them to empty lockers of heavy anchors, bags of sails, and boxes of spare parts to verify components.

And don’t get in the surveyor’s way. It is a good idea to be on hand during the survey or towards the end when your surveyor can walk you through any major issues, but distraction is the last thing they need while working for you.

It is best to hire an ABYC “Standards Certified” surveyor or marine surveyor who is a member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS). Surprisingly enough, out of the approximately 250 marine surveyors in Ontario, fewer than 20 are SAMS members. 

Speaking of insurance, does your surveyor have contractors’ liability insurance? Many marinas and yacht clubs will not allow contractors on their property without this insurance.

If your surveyor does not have insurance, ask the marina or club if they require it before hiring the surveyor to avoid the surveyor being turned away at the gate, leaving your dream boat sitting in limbo.

 It’s also a good idea to ask to see a sample survey report. This will give you an idea of how thorough your marine surveyor is.

The Recommendations or Surveyors Comments sections are the most important part of any survey. They should cite the standards on which they are based. 

Transport Canada, USCG, CCG, and CE standards are currently harmonizing with ABYC standards.

In closing, you might ask yourself one crucial question… can the purchase price be negotiated based on survey recommendations (mast replacement, engine issues, etc.)?

You bet! Just like purchasing a home that needs a new roof or foundation repair, any major problems with the boat you buy or sell should be introduced when it comes to nailing down a price agreeable to both buyer and seller.

So you see, the initial cost of the survey can seem negligible to your pocketbook once all the facts (hidden or not) are laid out for you in your survey handoff.

Happy boating!


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