We just finished up a quick survey project for one of our customers in St. Petersburg, FL who was buying an older boat “sight-unseen” in Oviedo, FL. This reminded me that it might be a good time to share some of our experiences in helping customers through the hazards of buying an older vessel, and the benefits of the survey process.
For many, the first entry into the world of sailing / boating is the purchase of an older pre-owned vessel. So how does one know the value and safety of the vessel that one is purchasing? How do you know that the boat you are buying isn’t masking big problems under fresh polish and paint? The answer is an assertive pre-purchase marine survey. Naviguru regularly provides surveying services to our customers, and we thought it might be helpful to share our approach to these projects.
DETERMINING CONDITION AND VALUE
No one wants to overpay for a boat, so how can you get a good idea of its worth? For popular production boats, there are a few places that can help.
Nadaguides.com and bucvalu.com list values of hundreds of models. Naviguru customers can take advantage of our Naviguru Boat Value service that estimates of the value of used boats based on reported resale activity in Florida. Keep in mind that estimates from any service presume clean boats typically and appropriately equipped, with everything in proper working order. For boats with limited resale activity, reliable valuations can’t be developed until a model and year’s production has been circulating for at least three years. And remember that no one can give you an accurate value of a boat sight unseen; that requires a marine survey with the knowledge of an experienced marine surveyor, who spends some hands-on time on the boat. Less popular and custom boats will also need to have a qualified marine surveyor appraise them. For boats that don’t require a survey, online websites can help give you a sense of the value. Don’t assume asking price – there’s usually room for negotiation.
If you’re buying a jon boat or canoe, a visual inspection is probably enough to determine the overall condition of the boat, but few buyers are expert enough to know about all the systems in a larger boat. Fortunately, there are professionals, called marine surveyors, who are experts. If you’re going to to spend a few thousand dollars or more on a boat, you need to hire one; it could be the most important buying decision you’ll make.
A MARINE SURVEY, WHICH CAN BE A COUPLE OF DOZEN PAGES LONG, IS A SNAPSHOT OF THE CONDITION AND VALUATION OF A BOAT ON A SPECIFIC DAY.
A marine survey, which can be a couple of dozen pages long, is a snapshot of the condition and valuation of a boat on a specific day. Think of it this way: Buyers and sellers can speak for themselves, but an independent marine survey speaks for the boat. Because of its depth of information, it has several uses: It’s designed to give a potential buyer a clear picture of the condition of the boat with respect to U.S. Coast Guard regulations and nationally recognized standards, to provide a fair market value for the boat, and to document any potentially dangerous deficiencies in the boat’s systems.
A marine survey is also a useful tool for buyers when negotiating price based on what repairs or upgrades the boat needs. And finally, insurance and lending companies that
need to know the true condition and fair market value of a vessel often require it.
Insurance underwriters carefully read through a marine survey to determine whether the vessel is a good risk, and they may require an owner to address certain deficiencies.
GET THE RIGHT SURVEYOR
You wouldn’t hire a plumber to rewire your house; the same goes for surveyors. Finding a qualified marine surveyor or a specialist is a matter of knowing where to look.
• Marine surveyors are not regulated or licensed, so virtually anyone can call himself a surveyor, and many unqualified people do. A good indicator of competence is a surveyor who has professional affiliations with the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC), the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS), or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS).
• Choose a surveyor who is familiar with the type of boat you’re interested in. Some specialize in power, some in sail, others in wooden or metal boats. Never, ever, ever hire a marine surveyor referred to you by the seller or broker! A surveyor should have absolutely no affiliation with boat brokers, dealers, boat-repair shops, or others whose living depends on the sale or repair of boats — especially the one you’re about to buy.
• Never select a marine surveyor who offer to do repair / refit / remediation on your new boat post-purchase. Both SAMS and NAMS have very specific ethical guidelines regarding this, and Naviguru adheres to this to the letter. If Naviguru performs a survey for your vessel, we automatically preclude ourselves from any work on your vessel for a period of one year. It’s not that we don’t want you as a customer, we really do, but we hold ourselves to this standard. It’s about doing the right thing, and maintaining the highest ethical standards for our surveys.
There are three main types of surveys done on a boat you’re considering buying, and each requires special training to do them well. Sometimes one surveyor can do everything, but sometimes you may have to hire more than one.
GET THE RIGHT SURVEY
• A condition and valuation survey (C&V) covers the hull and structures as well as the boat’s systems. This type of thorough survey is usually required for insurance and financing; it’s sometimes referred to as a pre-purchase survey. Whether your insurance company or lender requires it or not, you should always get one before buying. A proper C&V survey requires the boat to be hauled so the hull and underwater gear can be inspected. Good surveyors inspect a boat top to bottom, fore and aft. They will look at the hull and deck and determine by sounding with a hammer and moisture meter whether there are voids or delamination, and can identify places in the core that may eventually rot and become soft (and expensive to repair) before they’re detectable by a buyer. A surveyor checks the condition of AC and DC electrical systems, plumbing and thru-hull fittings, deck hardware, propane and fuel systems, steering and controls, and safety equipment. A proper marine survey will be an in-depth written report that evaluates the boat according to U.S. Coast Guard regulations, as well as American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. A knowledgeable surveyor will also know if a specific make has a history of major problems. Don’t rely upon a survey prepared for a previous owner, even if it was done recently. A boat could have run aground or suffered other unnoticed damage since the last survey.
• Engine surveys cover the operation and condition of propulsion and generator engines. Typically, they include inspection of controls, electrical, cooling, and exhaust systems, as well as engine mounts. Compression, engine, and exhaust temperatures are also checked, and engine surveys typically include tests of oil samples, too. But how do you know if you need one? Joel Anderson, Naviguru’s chief surveyor with extensive experience in diesel and gasoline power systems recommends: “An engine survey is warranted for particularly expensive or complex engines, and those with obvious lack of maintenance,” Anderson adds: “Many larger engines built since about 2006 have electronics and onboard computer systems that can be read by surveyors armed with the right technological expertise. A quick scan for computer faults may be a sign a more detailed analysis is needed.”
• A rigging survey looks at the condition of a sailboat’s mast and boom and associated rigging. Inspections are made of attachment points, welds, standing and running rigging, and the mast step. Rigging surveyors either go up the mast or inspect the rig when it’s off the boat. Whether a rigging survey is needed depends on the age, prior use of the rig, and its intended purpose. Red flags that would signal the need for a rigging survey include a rig more than 10 years old, frayed stays, cracked swages, weeping chainplates, and turnbuckles that are bottomed out. The rig also needs to be surveyed if the boat will be used offshore or heavily raced.
HERE’S WHAT A GOOD SURVEY PROVIDES
• The condition of the boat and its equipment: A marine survey determines the condition of the boat’s visible components and accessible structures at the time of the inspection. A survey provides a list of deficiencies as well as needed repairs and focuses on safety. Deficiencies in a survey can be used to renegotiate the sales price or scrap the deal altogether if needed repairs are too expensive or complicated.
• The value of the boat: Surveyors use pricing guides along with their vast experience in valuing boats. A seller or broker may think a boat has a specific worth, but until a survey is performed, those figures are only guesses. Banks and insurance companies use the survey value to determine loan and insurance hull value amounts. This is also a great tool for price negotiations and can easily pay for the cost of the survey.
A budget for repairs and maintenance: Nearly any boat will have some defects and deficiencies; knowing what they are beforehand makes it easier to know how much to budget for the future. Surveys typically provide a list of recommended, prioritized repairs. The most important ones are critical to safety and usually your insurance company will require them to be completed. The rest are things that can be done as you find time and money.
Recommendations are just that — issues the surveyor found on the boat that may need to be addressed. It’s the “may” part that’s important here. Typically, a surveyor will list recommendations in order of importance, often as A, B, or C.
A-list recommendations (more properly called must-dos) are the most important ones to pay attention to. You can be sure your insurance company will — not just for your boat, but for the safety of you and your crew. These are issues that, unaddressed, can cause your boat to sink, burn, become involved in an accident, or cause serious injury. Even if you’re not financing or insuring a boat, these recommendations need to be addressed before the boat is used:
• Worn or damaged below-waterline hoses, seacocks, and thru-hull fittings that pose a sinking hazard.
• AC or DC wiring deficiencies that could cause a fire.
• Lack of or nonfunctioning USCG-required equipment such as fire extinguishers, flares, or navigation lights.
• Propane system deficiencies that could cause an explosion.
• A vessel with too much horsepower that could make it unstable.
• Lack of operable carbon-monoxide alarms. Unsecured batteries or fuel tanks that could break loose and damage the hull, or cause a fire.
• Missing oil-spill and waste-management placards. These are required by law and will be checked during a USCG inspection.
These tend to include either (1) items that are not an immediate risk but will pose an unacceptable hazard if left uncorrected for too long; or (2) things that may enhance the safety, value, and enjoyment of your boat. Some of these may cross over into A-list recommendations as far as underwriters are concerned, and may also need to be addressed before your boat can be insured. For the most part, they’re things you’ll want to do, anyway. Here are some examples:
• Hoses and wires that are chafing or not installed to ABYC standards
• Worn cutlass or rudder bearings.
• Stiff or corroded steering or control cables.
• Engine maintenance needed to forestall a larger problem.
• Cleats or stanchions that need to be re-bedded to prevent deck-core rot.
• Heavy corrosion on fuel or water tanks.
The C-list generally includes normal upkeep items that should be addressed as you can. Examples include:
• Water leaks through ports or hatches.
• Anodes in need of replacement.
• Loose or worn engine belts, hoses, and engine mounts.
• Cosmetic issues.
• Winches in need of service.
Keep in mind that while surveyors inspect a boat with an eye toward industry safety standards, such as those written by the ABYC, they recognize that newer standards were not in place when older boats were built. But some of those standards, like the need for carbon-monoxide or proper wiring, are critical enough that insurance underwriters may still require boats to comply with them.
All of the recommendations can be used as negotiation points for buyers. Any purchase contract should specify that a sale may be voided if the survey results are unacceptable to the buyer. In some cases, a seller may choose to do the required repairs before a sale, but make sure the boat is reinspected before the sale is finalized. Typically, surveyors will reinspect specific items for a fee, once the sale is made, and sign off that they have been properly done. If, after the sale, the buyer chooses to make the repairs, insurance coverage can begin immediately, while the repairs are in progress. But, either way, the insurance company will usually require proof—a written statement from the owner, or yard bills—to confirm the recommendations have been completed correctly.