A Fascinating Tugboat Survey

A Fascinating Tugboat Survey

I became a marine surveyor because I was fascinated with boating. I have remained a marine surveyor for over thirty years because I am fascinated with the trade and the opportunity to learn new things regularly. Below is an excerpt from an interesting email from a client.

This was a prepurchase survey on a recreational tugboat. He began his email that he regretted that he wouldn’t be able to attend the inspection and the opportunity to learn from me, but he had an opportunity to “give her a once over” and he included the following information, some tests of his own – here are the results:

“I’m particularly concerned with the state of the engine, even though just 1254 hours, as it would be difficult/expensive to replace so: (1) Engine oil and transmission oil, microscopic analysis, no overt metal swarf; recent engine oil analysis acceptable. (2) Prompt cold start. While running cold, stethoscopic inspection of injectors showed variance in #3 and #6 injectors (counting from bow), which resolved as engine warmed; no audible problems with valve chain above each cylinder. (3) No air pressure pulses from open oil filler cap, so likely acceptable rings and cylinder lining. (4) Stethoscopic inspection for exhaust manifold leaks appeared negative. (5) Sample taken of coolant. Subsequent lab test of sample showed minimal sodium contamination, indicating no pinhole leaks in heat exchanger. (6) After running for an hour during bay trial, a thermal camera image of the engine showed all cylinders at identical temperatures, and all exhaust manifold legs also at identical temperatures, indicating all cylinders are operating identically.

I took an H20 sample from the non-filtered galley sink supply. Subsequent lab tests indicate it was acceptably clear of bacteria (48-hur incubation), alkalinity, chlorine, nitrates & nitrates, & lead.

I placed uncovered petri dishes with potato starch/agar media in the focsle, the head shower, and behind the entryway stepladder, then after one hour exposure sealed them. Subsequent laboratory incubation for 24 hours disclosed minimal airborne mold.

The electrically flushed toilet smelled and looked fine, until I flushed it once; then it smelled overpoweringly of hydrogen sulfide. If you have any thoughts about this, that would be great.

Kells, I’m looking forward to learning about whatever you find!”

Some (scientist) clients are more detailed than others. Though some of the tests require a laboratory, many are simple and can be done by all. I smile as I recall this email and this brilliant human’s desire to learn from me, I certainly would have learned more had he attended that day!

Today I will inspect another boat, learn something new, smile, and be grateful for the opportunity.

For those that are curious what we found, our recommendations for that survey follow.



  1. Maintain the fire extinguishers per NPFA recommendations. Extinguishers should be inspected and tagged annually and inspected by a qualified technician or replaced every six years.
  2. Provide federally required, approved and current distress signal flares.
  3. Maintain the PFDs per the manufacturers’ recommendations, including the inflatable type PFDs.
  4. Modify so the hull number is legible on the transom per federal regulations.
  5. Display the documentation number per federal regulations.
  6. Eliminate the water leak at or near the propeller shaft tube to hose connection. Clean and dry the bilge in this area to allow detection of any future water leaks or weeps.
  7. Service and prove the diesel heater functional as desired.
  8. Service and prove the Heater Craft electric heater functional as desired (it obtains heat from the engine).
  9. Assure that the propane locker ventilation complies with ABYC and NFPA recommendations. The locker should be drained and vented on the bottom to the atmosphere.
  10. Assure that the inverter is installed in compliance with the manufacturer’s and ABYC’s recommendations. Provide an AC circuit breaker.
  11. Remake battery terminal connections so that the nuts are properly attached to the studs or provide alternate means of attachment.
  12. The 8D battery is “dry”, assure the batteries and charging system are suitable for continued use or address appropriately.
  13. Service and prove the starboard and forward engine room lights functional.
  14. Replace the GFCI outlet in the head as it did not test normally.
  15. Service and prove the inverter properly functional. The inverter did not function properly; it did not provide power and displayed an error message, “searching”.
  16. We encourage installation of a propane alarm, carbon monoxide alarm and smoke alarm.


  1. The horn is weak, address appropriately.
  2. Properly secure the clamps on the hose connection to the wash down pump below the forward berth.
  3. Address the odor from the head and shower, apparently due to stagnant water.
  4. Determine if the fresh / sea water selector switch is functional, locate the components and address any liabilities or deficiencies as appropriate.
  5. The diesel heater’s filter is exposed in the lazarette. Assure the diesel heater installation complies with the manufacture’s and ABCY’s recommendations.
  6. There is a clear tube used as a sight level indicator on the fuel tank. We encourage replacing this tube with a glass tube covered with metal and encourage the valves to remain off when the fuel level is not being sighted.
  7. Properly install the fuse near the diesel heater in the lazarette, it is not well secure. Comply with ABCY recommendations.
  8. Assure that the green “power available” light on the AC distribution panel illuminates properly.
  9. Properly label the switch for the windlass at the helm console.
  10. Service and prove the windshield wipers properly functional.
  11. Service and prove the TV properly functional as desired.
  12. The transmission tag is difficult to read, address as necessary.
  13. We encourage modifications so the rudder stops on the starboard stop, it currently does not touch it.
  14. Address the rattle at the engine control as desired.
  15. Replace the missing zinc anode on the stern thruster.
  16. Determine the significance of the play in both thrusters’ blades and address appropriately.
  17. Address the cosmetic differences as desired. Cosmetic differences include numerous color differences about the transom door, on the port transom gunnel, cracks chips and filled hole on the transom gunnel and transom door, split rub rail on both hull sides, screws in the head liner in the forward cabin, age related damage to the side liner in the forward cabin, crazed hatch over the aft deck to saloon entry way and what appears to be spray paint on the upholstery overhead forward in the forward cabin.
  18. Properly secure the saloon table.
  19. Address the damage and apparent repairs on the hull exterior including on the starboard transom corner and to port amidships as desired.
  20. Repair the bent starboard swim platform support bracket.
  21. Service the cockpit deck hatch latch and prove it properly functional.
  22. Determine why there is ballast to port in the lazarette, in the form of bags. Eliminate any liability and consider securing the ballast if it remains aboard and is determine to be beneficial.
  23. The base of the port inboard stern rail stanchion base is bowed up, address if desired.
  24. Engine room insulation is failing, particularly by the transmission, address appropriately.
  25. We did not test or inspect the following components: outboard engine, all functions of entertainment devices and all functions of navigational electronics (power up and basic functions were tested).