How to prepare for a marine survey

Marine surveying is a niche trade. Marine surveyors inspect ships, cargo, boats and yachts. Christian & Company works primarily on boats and yachts. We assist with damage claims, we provide litigation support and we perform the type of survey with which most boaters are familiar – condition and valuation inspections (C & V). With respect to C & V’s, one of the most common questions we field is “how do I prepare for the survey?”

The preparation varies slightly for pre-purchase surveys versus insurance/financial surveys, but in general it is the same. Maintain the boat. If you are interested in further specifics, continue reading.

Prior to survey, the vessel should be open, all storage compartments should be unlocked and all spaces should be accessible. Boats being surveyed for purchase should be emptied and cleaned. Boats being surveyed for other purposes should be de-cluttered, and cabins and lockers should not be stuffed full of personal effects, sports equipment, spare parts or sails. Alternatively, providing the surveyor with assistance in unpacking the lazarette or the quarter berth, which hold ten years of swap meet acquired treasures is not only appreciated, but adds to efficiency. In extreme cases, areas are not accessible (hoarders can live on boats too) and the result is incomplete inspections.

It is important that vessels being surveyed for purchase have easily accessible storage spaces and bilge; fifteen deteriorated life jackets provide no benefit. We also suggest that sellers have their vessels cleaned both internally and externally. Many vessels are purchased by couples and at least one partner will notice the dull finish, dirty floor and waste odor. Ventilate the boat, eliminate the mould and don’t leave the exterior cushions soaking wet.

Ideally the engines have been maintained and function normally. At a minimum the engines should start, the engine controls should function and the steering wheel should turn the rudder.

Common mechanical short comings are hard starting engines, high exhaust smoke opacity, cooling system problems noted by spiking temperatures at high rpms and inability to obtain designed wide open throttle rpms. Many conditions leading to these problems can be avoided with normal and prudent maintenance and since the buyer or insurance company will likely require these deficiencies to be addressed, you may as well do it before the survey.

Other mechanical problems which are commonly found during surveys are leaking propeller shaft seals, improperly functional or improperly maintained steering systems, stiff, broken or abandoned controls and inoperative bilge pumps. Addressing any and all of these deficiencies prior to the inspection will result in a cleaner report and a better chance for the sale, insuring or finance of the boat.
Dead, dry or cracked batteries are a huge problem during a survey. Not only are the condition of the batteries and the charging system brought into question, but inadequate DC power can lead to numerous other electrical problems and the general inability to test components. Batteries should be tested, serviced and charged prior to the survey. A boat that has half of the lights not functioning does not reflect well on the owner and the maintenance program. Take an hour and change the bulbs before the survey.SectionsEd-SMH

Service any problems with significant electronics prior to the survey or disclose the problem in advance. We have witnessed the enthusiasm drain from many a potential buyer after the fifth or sixth time when they were told “well it worked last time”.

By far, the most common findings on surveys are deficiencies in the legal carriage items and safety equipment. Buy some new flares, service or replace the fire extinguishers and make sure that the navigational lights and horn are functional. Not only are these legal requirements, they are absolutely necessary for the safe operation of a vessel. O.K., flares may only be necessary in an emergency, but they are relatively inexpensive.

For pre-purchase surveys, we strongly encourage owners to perform “pre-trials”. A week or two prior to the survey and the sea trial, take the boat for a test run and check for all the things mentioned. Go to the electrical distribution panel, energize and test the components, heat the water and make some ice, put the ice in a glass, pour yourself a drink and congratulate yourself for being a prudent owner. You will inevitably have found a component or two that requires service or replacement and you will now have time to address these issues or minimally disclose them and diffuse the power of surprise that can detrimentally affect the sale of the vessel.

On larger vessels with more complicated systems, the same concept applies to the systems. The tender should be test operated, the batteries should be charged and the fuel replaced. Perhaps the carburetor requires service if the outboard engine was not run dry when it was last used.

Service the water maker and make it ready to use or check with the broker or potential buyer to see if the water maker is of concern.

Ask the broker about the buyer’s interests and potential usage of the vessel. If she is a fisherman, prove the bait system. If he is a fisherman, stock the refrigerator.


This article was edited on February 29, 2016.