Pretrial: What You Should Know

Pretrial, Keep Easy Things From Ruining the Deal

A “pretrial” is a test run of a vessel that is for sale, before the survey and sea trial with a potential buyer. Many of these ideas should also be useful for the general boating public, before that summer trip (usually to Catalina Island in our area).

I discussed pretrials with several brokers. The larger, higher value boats almost always have them. Smaller, lower value boats often do not, as the money earned from the commission does not justify the extra time. While this makes sense over a large sample space for a high volume brokerage, the individual boat that fails during a sea trial wastes time, costs money and turns potential buyers skeptical.

The batteries on a 2017 Sea Ray were so low that the engine would not start.
A Catalina 30 engine had trouble starting, died repeatedly when being shifted into gear and did not come close to design wide open throttle specification.

A Bayliner 57 had two very common pretrial detectable problems, malfunctions of the autopilot and the HVAC system.

And a Mason 44 sailboat had a roller furling main sail that would not deploy.

All these are recent deficiencies found during the sea trials that could have been discovered during a pretrial. While clearly it is untenable to address all common marine survey findings (distress signal flares, required placards and functional through hull valves as some examples) the larger and more important systems can be relatively easily proven and a decision can be made by the selling team to either repair the problem or disclose the problem to prevent it from killing the deal.

During sea trials we usually request the engines be operated to wide open throttle. If the engines have not been operated in such a manner for an extended period of time, problems are displayed. Turbo charger and shaft seal related problems are common. During a recent sea trial a hose between the turbo charger and the after cooler became disconnected. This occurred while throttling the engines up, on our way to wide open throttle. A mechanic aboard performing a mechanical survey was able to use a spare hose which was part of the vessel’s inventory, replace the damaged hose and continue with a sea trial. The potential buyer had already decided to abort the haul out if the engines could not be properly tested and the deal was saved.

“I’ve never used that” is a poor excuse for a system not functioning. The next owner may want the generator to function.

We regularly encounter a component which is known to be broken, often with a new part aboard, but not installed. We all have pending to do items in our lives and need to prioritize the list. Most of the time my potential buyer clients see this type of decision as a lack of maintenance versus time management challenges.

Make sure the wireless remotes for everything have functional batteries, the davit works, the key for the tender is available and its battery is charged and we encourage testing the windlass (just in case). A stiff steering system is always a high hurdle to jump during the buying process.

When the significant systems function properly the inevitable smaller findings are more easily overcome. Several simple procrastinated repairs often appear as deferred maintenance, and leaves potential buyers wondering about what else was neglected. A simple pretrial takes an hour and the return on investment is usually worthwhile.

When a problem is discovered during the sea trial it often tests the skills and experience of the broker. Some come from a technical background and can easily replace a seawater impeller or a battery. Some rely on their deep network of professionals and willing sellers to facilitate a rapid repair, saving the deal. Some simply refer the problem back to the seller and disengage until the problem is resolved. While the latter has been viable in the last few years, the Covid 19 demand is uncertain and a return to normal best practices may be rewarded.