Filed Under (Boats and Boating Gear) by Debbie on 26-09-2007

If you’re getting ready to buy that boat, particularly if it’s a used boat, I hope you’ll be smart and get a marine survey. Depending on the cost of this boat, you may find you have little choice as your financial institute and/or insurance carrier may require one. While a marine survey is not cheap, they are worth every penny.

In my day job I tell my buyer clients to get an inspection before they close the transaction. Woe is the buyer who doesn’t heed that advice. After all, once you own it…you own the problems it has. A boat can be an expensive purchase and while you may buy a few problems you should at lease know about them.

A marine survey basically is an inspection/appraisal similar to that performed on real estate (my day job). The survey normally provides a complete report on the boat you’re buying, and should include identification of the boat including year, make, model, hull identification numbers, engine information, etc. This report also gives detailed information about the boat including description of the superstructure, fittings and equipment, electronics and safety equipment, galley (if there’s one), engines, electrical system, safety equipment, and fuel systems.

An engine survey is a separate report that specifically reviews the boat’s power and analyzes such areas as general detailed description, filters (fuel and oil), fuel and oil lines, exhausts systems, cooling systems, fresh and raw water systems, emergency stop and alarm systems and transmission data. This report should also include compression testing and oil analysis. It’s separate from the boat’s survey so expect to pay for it too.

A professional marine surveyor will be guided by recommendations of the American Boat and Yacht Council, as well as rules and regulations of the U.S. Coast Guard and statutory requirements. The Federal Rules and Regulations for Recreational Boats, and the voluntary Standards and Practices for Small Craft, both available from the American Boat and Yacht Council, form the basis for most marine survey reports.

Before you hire a surveyor, check with your insurance and lender as they may require the survey to be preformed by a SAMS® or AMS® marine surveyor.

You’ve got the survey lined up and you’re scratching your head as to what to do next. Be sure you’ve told the boat broker or owner that you’ve set up for this. If you’re looking at a larger boat that stays in the water, you’ll need to arrange for a ‘haul out’. When we did our sailboat’s survey it was already on the hard. We did however have to splash the boat and we had to pay for that. So just be aware you may need to pay a bit more than you first thought so ask the broker, owner or yard.

Depending on the type of boat you’re looking at buying some of the following may not apply. I’m going to list off the areas I’d expect a marine surveyor to inspect and report on. If you’re buying a sailboat don’t expect the surveyor to climb the mast unless they specifically state they do. Generally the standing rigging is visually inspected but you could hire a professional rigger. For most sailboat purchases, inspection by a professional rigger shouldn’t be necessary, but if you are planning long-distance cruising in your sailboat (particularly in the open ocean) you may want the additional protection and peace of mind that such an inspection could provide.

After Haul Out (which should include the hull being pressure washed) the surveyor will look for signs of grounding or impact damage, repairs, stress cracks.

Keel: Damage or signs of repair.

Swing keels: The surveyor will want to get under the boat with a flashlight to look up into the keel housing.

Hull: The hull inspection includes looking for blisters or signs of potential blistering in the fiberglass. Minor blistering generally isn’t something to worry about (ours had a few), most boats will develop some blistering over the years, but serious blistering can be a real problem and can be costly to repair.

Thru-hulls, sea valves: All thru-hull openings will be inspected for damage or normal wear and tear.

Propeller, shaft, and supporting struts: The prop should be sound, the shaft straight and true, and supports strong and sturdy without excess looseness. On a side note: If it looks like you’ll buy the boat, have the zinc changed before they splash the boat.

Rudder: The surveyor will be looking for smooth rudder movement, and also checking for looseness or wear in the hinges and for signs of water seepage into the rudder itself. They’ll also check the components associated to the rudder…the tiller or wheel. Also the wheel pilot or auto pilot if there is one.

Deck, topsides, cockpit, and rigging everything that’s reasonably accessible should be inspected.

Deck and deck core: Inspection includes visual examination for moisture penetration and delamination; sometimes they will use a moisture meter as well.

Hatches, lockers, and lazarettes: Will be inspected for fit and operation, signs of damage, and wear and tear. Ideally, all lockers and lazarettes will be empty, or can be emptied, so that the surveyor can get a good look at the entire interior.

Deck fittings such as cleats and chainplates: Will be inspected for soundness, water-tightness, damage and normal wear and tear.

Lifelines rails, lifelines, pulpit, stanchions, cleats, fairleads, winches

Mast and rigging

Mast, boom, and poles

Mast pulleys, welds, winches, and other moving parts

Rigging wire will be inspected for broken strands and chafing.

Turnbuckles and other connections

Eye terminals will be checked for corrosion, cracks, and shape

Spreaders and fittings will be examined for corrosion, wear, or chafing

Halyards, reefing, sheeting, leads, cleats and jam cleats, traveler, vang

Dodger, bimini, and other canvas attachments


Cabin floor will be inspected for damage and signs of leaks


Stove, oven, refrigeration

Propane or CNG storage and system

Sink and faucet

Notations will be made about sleeping accommodations, lockers, etc.


Electrical equipment (both AC and DC), power supply, and circuits

Installation: Is the equipment installed in compliance with safety requirements and sound practices? Ours wasn’t up to date and we had to bring her up to snuff.

Operation: Does all electrical equipment function properly?


Seacocks: Are all seacocks operational

Head: Toilet, sink, faucet, shower, drain, pump

Hoses, screens, and strainers: Are hoses cracked or brittle? What is the condition of screens and strainers? What is the condition of all hose clamps and supports?

Is there any moisture or any water puddles or stains anywhere that may be a result of any leakage or failure in the plumbing system?

Safety equipment

PFDs (personal floatation devices)

Fire extinguishers

Visual distress signals

Sound-producing devices (audible signals) depending on the size of the boat you may be required to have a ships bell too.

Navigation lights

Engine exhaust blowers and engine room ventilation

Oil discharge and garbage disposal placards

Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and first aid kits

Once the survey is done (ours took about 6 hours for a 30 foot sailboat) you’ll get your report, generally in a few days. It’s best if the marine surveyor can email you a PDF as the photos taken will be much better than if they fax the report. It’s not uncommon for the lender and insurance to want photos. The key things I’d expect you to find in this report are:

Boat’s Overall Condition
The report should have an overall rating of the boat, note whether the boat presents any permanent problems that can’t be repaired, and assesses the boat’s overall fitness for its intended use. Plus it should have a ‘replacement’ cost dollar amount…which I believe reflects the cost of a new similar boat.

Recommended Repairs
Most marine survey reports will not only cover recommended repairs, but will line out between repairs that would be desirable, those that are important for the boat’s operation, and those that are required for the boat to be in compliance with the law. You may find your insurance company won’t insure until the require repairs are done. Our surveyor does one re-inspect to confirm the repairs done so a report can be given to the insurance and lender.

Now you maybe wondering if our surveyor found everything…the answer is…of course not. Some items were so hidden that it wasn’t until we completely cleaned out the boat that we found them.  Yes, we’ve done the repairs ourselves. I’m not lying when I say I’ve been covered in grease! But by doing these things ourselves, we’ve learned our boat. Some of the issues we fix we had prior experience in fixing. Other things we had to study and pick brains for, thankfully our club has a plethora of knowledge which is generally given out for free although sometimes a beer can come in handy…

Be smart, get a marine survey, it’s money well spent even if you walk away from the boat.

3 Comments posted on "The Guide To A Marine Survey"
boat buying 101 on November 4th, 2007 at 11:18 am #

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