If you are buying and planning to finance a used boat many lenders will require a marine survey. Most marine insurance companies require a marine survey before they will insure an older boat. So what's a marine survey and how much does it cost?
A good survey should more than pay for itself in negotiating a fair price when buying a boat and in forecasting maintenance and equipment upgrades when insuring one. A survey's total cost includes the surveyor's fee, and the boat's haul-out costs. You can expect to pay between $8 and $14 per linear foot of boat length for the surveyor's fee. Some surveyors may charge by the hour and bill for travel expenses.
There are four types of surveys: damage, appraisal, insurance, and pre-purchase. A damage survey, which assesses incident-specific damage, is used to determine cause and to specify repairs and estimate costs. An appraisal survey, usually commissioned for legal, financing, or donation reasons, is slightly more extensive and determines only the fair-market value of a boat. An insurance survey is more thorough and focuses primarily on systems and structural integrity to determine the insurability of a vessel.
The most comprehensive survey is the pre-purchase survey. Commissioned by a prospective owner, the survey contains a thorough examination and inspection of all of the systems, structures, machinery, and electronics, as well as the boat's cosmetic condition. Pre-purchase surveys often include out-of-water inspections and sea-trials. The surveyor works for the prospective buyer, and the survey report becomes the property of the purchaser.
Your surveyor will spend several hours inspecting the hull, operating machinery, and safety equipment where practical, confirming the specifications presented in the seller's listing sheet and making extensive notes. Look over the surveyor's shoulder and ask a lot of questions. This may drive him/her crazy, but you'll have a better idea of what you're getting into, how serious the problems are, what the options are for fixes, and costs. You will receive a detailed report outlining the survey findings along with recommendations on how deficiencies can be corrected to make the boat safe, insurable, and in compliance with acceptable standards. If you have done your homework, the survey will confirm your choice with further technical information concerning the boat's condition. The sale should always be contingent upon your satisfaction with the results of the survey. It may become apparent that the boat isn't worth buying before the survey is complete. Most surveyors will allow you to stop the survey at that point and will usually charge only 50% of the agreed upon fee. You'll get a brief summary of the boat's deficiencies and a recommendation not to complete the sale. This document is important if you are to be released from your purchase and agreement and get a full refund of your deposit.
Each surveyor has his own report format, but a complete and proper report can be as many as 15 to 20 pages in length and will include detailed comments and photographs of the following areas: bilge; interior accommodations; electrical; fire protection equipment; engines; and hull and deck structures.
There are a lot of surveyors out there. It is a wide-open unregulated field and a lot of people run into problems with unqualified surveyors. A qualified surveyor will bring a wealth of experience to the party; a thorough understanding of boat design and performance characteristics, materials science and construction, and most important, a familiarity with the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) National Fire Protection Association, and U.S. Coast Guard standards and practices. Most professional surveyors are affiliated with an accredited organization such as the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors SAMS or National Association of Marine Surveyors NAMS. Insurance companies requesting insurance surveys require a SAMS or NAMS surveyor.
In addition to a general survey, it is often a good idea to survey the engines and electronics. A mechanic who regularly services that type of engine should inspect this boat's engine, even on new boats. This is important because often engine installations are often inadequate and engines can be poorly maintained. If you buy the boat, you will have a list of all the repairs and improvements necessary for a safe and dependable engine. You will save many dollars and much grief if you correct these problems immediately. If your boat is new, the warranty might pay for much of the initial engine work. If the boat is used, the seller should provide additional discounts that should cover all or at least many of the costs of repairs and upgrading. If the boat has a great deal of electronic equipment, it will be worthwhile to have it evaluated by a qualified electronic technician. Again, a sizeable electronics inventory can represent a large portion of the boat's value, assuming it isn't obsolete or hasn't been severely damaged by salt, moisture, or misuse.
A sailboat's sails, standing and running rigging should also be inspected. Many surveyors are not sufficiently trained to provide a good assessment on these technical items or systems, be certain the surveyor meets your particular needs. This equipment represents a major part of your boat's investment and has a high potential for problems.