Surveying a vessel is a complex task and a thorough
job requires a person with a broad range of well-developed skills,
backed by years of experience. This range of skills should include
good practical abilities, excellent technical and theoretical training
and good communication skills. All these attributes should be linked
with a sharp focus on the objective(s) of
All Surveyors Are Not Created Equal
Like all professional occupations, there are good and
not so good surveyors. So it pays to shop around and research the reputation
of as many surveyors as possible before a choice is made. A good
surveyor can pay handsome dividends by finding hidden problems
that may otherwise have cost many thousands of dollars in repairs
long after the vessel has
|Sometimes a surveyor may be asked to inspect only a part of a
vessel following an incident or for insurance purposes.
Before choosing your surveyor, you should ask lots of
questions and gauge their willingness to give detailed responses
(generally a good indication of their knowledge and style). The individual
style of a particular surveyor may often better suit you, the
client. You should also ask to see some of their previous reports – although you
need to keep in mind that some reports may be subject to commercial
confidentiality. And you need to be aware that very rarely does the
cheapest quote yield the highest quality job – a poor quality
survey is of little real value and defeats the purpose of the whole
(Top left) The surveyor should notice small
details, such as these rust streaks inside the
anchor locker, and investigate them further.
(Top left) Boats are usually well presented when on sale, but
don’t let this obscure the need for a thorough inspection.
If the surveyor suggests
some major problems in the report, don’t be so emotionally
attached that you cannot reject it and resume your search.
(Above) A hull lining like this can cover a multiple of woes
and requires careful investigation without damaging the lining
material. This is not always easy for the surveyor and these
sorts of things should be included in the final report.
Good surveyors usually have a specialty or preference
for a particular type(s) of vessel and/or method(s) of construction.
Surveyors who boldly state that they can survey any type of vessel
and method of construction should be asked to prove their claims with
hard evidence or otherwise be treated with caution.
I have met, and worked with many surveyors and without
exception all of the good surveyors were well qualified boat builders
with many years of experience. However, I have found the exceptional
surveyors were usually qualified naval architects. A sound knowledge
of naval architecture gives the surveyor the additional knowledge
and understanding to observe the myriad of hidden problems and
identify any potential issues that may develop over time. Remember,
you are paying for the surveyor’s
services, so don’t be afraid to question them about their experience
Many good marine surveying companies will have a website.
If they do, it’s a good idea to check them out and gauge how well they’re
presented and the level of detail provided.
Working With The Surveyor
Before the surveyor starts work, or even puts on their
overalls, they should take the time to discuss the following issues
• The reason for the survey.
• What you should expect from the survey.
• What you want examined.
• Any particular requirements you may have.
• Any particular concerns you may have.
• An outline of what will be detailed in the report.
• Any and all items that the surveyor will not examine for you
• How long the survey will take to complete.
• How much you will be charged.
• When will the completed report be available.
• How the final report will be delivered to you.
• Will a preliminary copy of the report be available, and if so,
• Will the surveyor be available to discuss the completed report
with you, and if so, will this incur additional charges?
• Can you be on-site while the surveyor is working? Some surveyors
don’t like their clients to be close while they work.
If your surveyor doesn’t cover these issues with you voluntarily,
then raise them yourself. If you’re not satisfied with the answers,
it may be wise to seek another surveyor. After all, you are the client
and you have every right to know what you are paying for and what to
expect at the conclusion of the survey process.
What To Expect In The Survey Report
|A strong, well maintained cradle is imperative
to support the vessel and to ensure it does not sustain any damage
while out of the water.
The completed survey report is what you are really paying
for. It is also the product of all of the surveyor’s hard work. The document
should reflect this in detail. As the recipient of the report, you
should have a fairly clear idea of what it will contain before you
receive it. Hopefully, there won’t be too many surprises.
I have read survey reports – some only two or three pages in
length – that gave very little detail and were full of generalisations
about the subject vessels. And this was despite the clients having
paid substantial fees for the service. They obviously did not get value
The final report should contain a detailed description
of the following:
At the beginning of the report;
• A table of contents.
• An outline of the company.
• An outline of the surveyor who conducted the survey.
• Full contact details of the company and the surveyor.
In my experience, these items are rarely in anything but the most professional
In the body of the report;
• A detailed description of the questions and associated answers
as outlined in the above section, ‘Working with the Surveyor’.
• A detailed description of the vessel.
• A detailed description of the construction method.
• When and where the survey was conducted.
• Any special conditions that assisted or hampered the survey
• How the vessel was cradled while on the hard, and any impact
that may have had on the vessel’s structure or the survey process.
• A detailed description of the survey.
• A detailed outline of the results of the survey.
• A detailed report of the problems that were found during the
• A detailed report of any potential or future problems that may
develop over time.
• A detailed report of any recent work and repairs that have been
carried out. Also any issues associated with this work; for example,
the surveyor may not be able to accurately determine the soundness
of some part of the vessel’s structure without damaging it or
the surrounding area.
• What is not covered in the report and why it is not covered.
• Any recommendations regarding items not covered in the survey
report, for example, a marine engineer should inspect the engine(s).
• Any special issues relating to the survey and associated report.
• A conclusion that summarises the survey and general condition
of the vessel.
• The survey will often be required to provide an estimate of
the value of the vessel, especially if the survey is being conducted
for insurance purposes.
Some of the best reports I’ve read also contained photographs
that were used to detail issues or problem areas or any items requiring
a more detailed description – after all, a picture is worth a
At the end of the document;
• A glossary of terms used.
• All other matters relating to the report that are of a reference
Survey reports that clearly detail the issues and/or
problems discovered during the survey process can be used to your advantage
during the negotiation phase of the purchasing process.
Reason For The Survey
This should be more than just “because I’m interested in
purchasing the vessel”. Provide the surveyor with as much information
and detail as possible on what you have in mind for the vessel. Keep
in mind, too, that the survey report may also be required for insurance
You should explain to the surveyor exactly what you
intend to do with the vessel. For example, harbour racing or extensive
coastal cruising. Good surveyors will take this into consideration
when inspecting the vessel and should provide you with additional comments
where appropriate. The more the surveyor knows about you and what you
want to do with the vessel, the more value their work will be to you.
|Surface imperfections such as this, and the poor attempt to repair
it, provides the experienced surveyor with some warning signs about
the construction of the vessel.
What To Expect From The Surveyor
You should always expect your surveyor to be punctual,
polite and totally professional. They should discuss with you all of
the topics outlined in the ‘Working with the Surveyor’ section.
In addition, they should take copious notes during all
of their discussions with you, as well as during the survey process.
It is an extremely rare individual who can remember all of the little
(and often important) items in accurate detail, without writing them
Some surveyors prefer to work alone, rather than have
their client present. You should discuss this with the prospective
surveyor before you nominate them for the job.
If you engage a particular surveyor from a company,
you should insist on them conducting your survey, rather than an associate.
You may have already developed a good working relationship with the
surveyor in question, so maintaining that through the whole process
has obvious benefits.
The Final Report
The final survey report should be neatly presented.
The most professional reports are usually bound, but this may depend
on the size of the vessel and the reason for the report. If you require
the report for insurance purposes, then insist that you receive two
copies; one for yourself and the other for the insurance company. However,
some insurance companies require more than one copy of the completed
survey report, so seek advice from them before the report is printed.
The job of the surveyor is to inspect all aspects of
the vessel as thoroughly as possible and document them in the final
report. The completed report should reflect this, however, you need
to be aware that the surveyor cannot provide any guarantee as to the
future state of the vessel. In other words, the report can only be
read specifically in the context of the vessel’s condition at the time of inspection.
Ultimately, you need to have faith in the final survey
report. You need to be confident that the surveyor has given you an
accurate estimation of the condition of the vessel and any current
or potential problem areas. This will leave you free to enjoy your
purchase, safe in the knowledge that your boat is exactly what you