Survey First… not last

It’s a familiar story around our office; the client has already purchased a vessel and now finds themselves in need of a survey. Occasionally, the client did not know the trade of marine surveying existed; more often they decided to save the expense of the marine survey when buying the vessel. Most often the boat fits on a trailer and will be stored in the driveway. The surprise comes when they decide to insure the vessel (or get a loan or a slip).oh_no

Many insurance carriers require a marine survey before binding the coverage. Underwriting criteria differs, but can include length, age or value of the vessel. Whatever their criteria, insurance underwriting often dictates the need for a marine survey. That is when we get the call.

Client, “My name is Mark H., and my insurance company needs me to get a marine survey on my vessel. I bought the vessel about two months ago and have been fixing it up; it’s in great shape”.

Surveyor, “O.K. Mark, we have just the product for you, a slightly less extensive inspection and shorter report, designed for owners seeking insurance. Price is slightly less than the survey we offer buyers, on your 25’ vessel that will save you $100.00”.

“Great, let’s schedule the survey for tomorrow morning so I can have my insurance in place for this weekend” Mark replies.

Everything is smooth so far and then I arrive at the vessel. Within moments I notice a group of unusual stress cracks on the starboard forward chine. After a brief introduction I begin the survey and point out the unusual stress cracks. Mark explains “I bought the vessel from a friend and went fishing on it several times, I am sure it is in good condition”.

Thirty minutes later I feel like the doctor bringing bad news to the patient’s family, in the waiting room. “Well Mark, I have some bad news. I found the cause of the stress cracks on the chine, the wood coring for the stringers is deteriorated”.

“That sounds bad, is it repairable?” Mark asked.

“It’s repairable, but it is going to require some time and effort or money; and you won’t be going fishing this weekend”.

This is a true story and though perhaps more drastic than the average findings, it is illustrative of a typical situation. Mark saved about $100.00 on the cost of the survey our company would have performed for him by being an owner versus a buyer. He chose to effect the repairs himself, the cost of material alone was significantly more than his savings, in fact the materials cost was equal to the cost of a pre-purchase survey. Mark’s labor cost was 16 hours, spread over three weekends. In Mark’s case that was equivalent to four rounds of golf, eight surf sessions or twelve long bike rides with the wife and children.

Many boat owners are not as fortunate as Mark, and don’t possess the skills to repair deteriorated stringers or other significant problems and must hire professionals at labor rates often approaching $100.00 per hour.

Mark just purchased a new boat; he hired us to inspect it before he wrote the check. He said “this is the best insurance I can buy!”

Marine surveyors provide benefits to boat buyers, not just buyers of large yachts. Surveys are often required for insurance and finance and lately by many marinas. Mark’s case illustrates a common misconception that a survey isn’t necessary. Check with your insurance company, lender or marina to see if you will need a marine survey, even if you don’t want one. Carefully consider the benefits of a survey against the expense, before you buy the boat and then choose your surveyor wisely.


This article was edited on March 1, 2015.