What Is A Sailboat Survey?
A survey can be referred to by a variety of terms: Marine survey. Boat Survey. Condition and Valuation Survey. Whatever it's called, it refers to a comprehensive inspection of a boat by an individual with expertise in evaluating the condition of boats. The marine survey evaluates many different aspects of the boat's conditions — providing many of the same evaluations that home appraisers, code inspectors, home inspectors, and fire marshalls perform when inspecting homes.
After the survey is complete, the surveyor provides you with a comprehensive and detailed written report of his findings and listing all discovered defects in the boat, often complete with color photographs. The marine survey report will also include the surveyor's recommendations regarding required repairs that must be performed for the boat to be considered safe to operate, and recommendations on other repairs to ensure the boat meets accepted standards for reliable function and operation. Having a professional marine survey performed on a boat before you purchase it will give you the information you need to make an informed decision about purchase and pricing, as well as provide you with peace of mind about the vessel.
How The Survey is Performed
A professional marine surveyor will be guided by recommendations of the American Boat and Yacht Council, as well as rules and regulations of the U.S. Coast Guard and statutory requirements. The Federal Rules and Regulations for Recreational Boats, and the voluntary Standards and Practices for Small Craft, both available from the American Boat and Yacht Council, form the basis for most marine survey reports.
Even the most experienced marine surveyor will be unable to detect all damage or potential damage. This sailboat, blown off its jackstands by a hurricane, was written off by the insurance company because the inner hull mold may have come loose. But a surveyor would be unable to determine whether this actually happened without cutting up the boat itself.
The surveyor will use a variety of methods to determine, to the extent possible, the condition of the boat's hull and superstructure, plumbing and electrical systems, mechanical operation, cosmetic condition, and more. The surveyor is limited to using non-destructive methods of inspection, of course, and cannot rip out decking or use other destructive techniques in performing the survey.
Sometimes surveys reveal problems or possible problems that can only be evaluated thoroughly by using invasive or destructive techniques. This would require the explicit permission of the boat's owner. In the absence of such further inspection, you may decide not to purchase the boat, rather than risk buying problems the extent of which are unknown.
Sailboat surveys typically involve inspections of the rigging from deck level only. Do not expect your surveyor to go up the mast in a bosun's chair unless he specifically states that he will do so. Many surveyors who specialize in sailboat surveys make it a standard part of their survey to go aloft, but many do not. If you have concerns about rigging that cannot be accessed or inspected from the deck by your surveyor, you may want to hire a professional rigger to go up for an up-close examination. For most sailboat purchases, inspection by a professional rigger shouldn't be necessary, but if you are planning long-distance cruising in your sailboat — particularly in open ocean waters — you may want the additional protection and peace of mind that such an inspection could provide.
The survey will include inspection of stays, shrouds, spars, boom and mast, sheets, lifelines — virtually all running rigging and standing rigging on the sailboat.
The surveyor will power up and test electronic and electrical equipment, and perform a visual inspection of all visible electrical wiring and connections. The survey will typically not include any removal or disassembly of electrical parts or components. Very few vessels of any age, once placed into service, meet all of the recommended standards for marine electrical equipment and installation. The corrosion and decay of the marine environment speed up the aging of electrical components, particularly if the sailboat has been used in or around salt water. You should expect some negative findings regarding the electrical equipment; a good surveyor will note when the problems may lead to critical failures, fires, or explosions, which could have devastating consequences.
In addition, the surveyor will inspect and observe the functioning of the boat's head and other aspects of its plumbing systems, and will visually inspect holding tanks and storage tanks, to the extent that they are accessible. He will also examine chain plates, through-hull fittings, sea cocks, and hatches.
In addition to visual inspection and operational testing, marine surveyors may use a variety of other tools and techniques during the survey. These may include touching surfaces, knocking, and listening to the resulting sound or echos, tapping surfaces or equipment with a small mallet, probing with a spike point, and testing with a moisture meter. The sounds the surveyor hears from knocking and tapping can reveal hidden wood rot, hollow areas, delamination, bonding failures, or other problems.
The surveyor brings to such testing all of his prior experience with boats in general and that specific type of boat in particular to determine whether the produced sound is normal, abnormal but harmless, or abnormal and potentially serious. Similarly, the surveyor brings his experience to bear in deciding whether a minor water stain might be the result of a spilled coffee or a serious leak somewhere. Depending on the type of boat being surveyed, its age and condition, its onboard systems, and the surveyor's own preferences and habits, any or all of these methods may be used.
Types of Marine Surveys
- Insurability and valuation report — designed for use by marine insurance underwriters and financial lending institutions. These surveys provide a basis for the boat's qualification for insurance and loans; such a survey is usually required if you want to finance the purchase of your boat, or to insure it.
- Appraisal inspection — needed for financing, and also for estate settlement and legal matters.
- Damage and insurance claims — used to determine the extent of damage and to estimate repair costs after any type of accident involving the boat. This survey is most often ordered by an insurance company when a claim is filed.
Partial surveys and external hull inspections — Some marine surveyors offer these more limited surveys. These types of surveys will be less expensive than a full marine survey, but it is very important that you understand what you are getting — and what you are not getting — in these surveys.