You are here: Magazine » Volume 20 Issue 1 » Technical
Club Marine

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 the survey.

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 been purchased.

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 process.

(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 and qualifications.

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 with you:
• 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 and why.
• 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, when?
• 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 for money.

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 survey reports.
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 process.
• 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 survey.
• 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 thousand words.

At the end of the document;
• A glossary of terms used.
• All other matters relating to the report that are of a reference nature.

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 purposes.

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 down.

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 wanted.