The Yacht Survey
Frequently people, when asking questions on buying or selling a boat, the subject of a condition and/or valuation survey comes up. Also, many marinas and boatyards now require boats to be insured before allowing them in - however, for many boats this will mean that the insurer will require a survey before issuing a policy.
Professional surveys are those carried out by "licensed yacht surveyors", whatever that should happen to mean in your jurisdiction. In most cases these will be required prior to the sale of a yacht or prior to getting insurance for a new or existing yacht. In many cases insurance companies will require a survey to be done professionally at intervals, often once every 5 years.
What You Should Expect From Your Surveyor
- Your surveyor should, upon demand, be able to prove his professional qualifications and experience.
- The surveyor is an unprejudiced third party participant.
- He should not get involved in emotional or political issues. Notwithstanding all interested parties he should not favour one party over the other, regardless of who is paying his fee. He will, to the best of his ability, represent your best interests, but it must be borne in mind his primary job is technical. He is there on your behalf to state and comment on technical fact only.
If you are considering Marine Insurance it is worth noting that Underwriters have toughened up since Sept. 11 and now require a survey prior to granting Cover. Most yacht owners choose to insure their vessels. Therefore the client must realise the surveyor is wearing a second hat and looking after Underwriter’s interests as well. It is a type of conflict of interest where the owner or potential purchaser is paying the surveyor to look out for someone else’s interests.
It is a myth that there are different types of surveys. A survey is a survey whether it be for purchase, insurance, bank loan or as a promotion document for selling. Surveyors often get requests such as Oh! We only need a quick and simple insurance survey. There is no such thing.
When a surveyor conducts an Insurance Survey the Underwriters want it all. The whole purpose of Marine Insurance is if the vessel sustains damage from an accident the Insured will be compensated and his vessel restored as original. If no survey exists how can the Underwriters know what they are underwriting? It goes full circle and everyone is a player. The Insured pays a premium based on an agreed value. Underwriters agree to provide Cover on the vessel under the Terms and Conditions of the insurance contract. If a valid claim is submitted and it falls within the terms, Underwriters pay. The Insured has a right to expect this. It is as simple as that.
The surveyor has not done his job properly if he does not provide a comprehensive report that protects the interests of all the parties. So, the second pre-requisite of your surveyor is that he should possess an in-depth knowledge of the insurance business.
If you are a purchaser, by the time the surveyor becomes involved you will already have been steered in the direction of your dream boat by your broker. Remember, the broker recommends a particular vessel based on information provided by you. Initially he is being guided by you. So it is important you research and try to have a clear idea of your particular requirements prior to visiting a broker’s office. This can save all parties a lot of time and money.
Your surveyor may guide you in narrowing the process to selecting the correct vessel (or a more suitable vessel than the one currently being surveyed) if he feels that for safety reasons the vessel is unfit for its intended purpose.
During survey he will inspect and comment on the condition of all the key issues namely:
- Structural integrity
- Watertight integrity
- Underwater condition including (for GRP hulls) electronic moisture content readings
- Electrical and power generation systems
- Mast, rigging and sails
- Steering systems
- Anchor equipment
- Safety and fire fighting equipment
- Electronic navigational aids.
At the end of the survey he will:
- Calculate a current market value of the vessel.
- Include a section entitled Surveyor’s Comments. These are helpful comments and observations and are usually preceded by the words Consideration should be given to...
- Include a Recommendations section. This is thunderclap. Recommendations apply to issues that could sink the vessel or are major structural or safety issues. They are not issued lightly. If a vessel was lost because of a Recommendation that was not complied with Underwriters are within their rights to deny Claim.
If problems or deficiencies are discovered in the course of the survey it does not necessarily mean it is a bad boat. There are a million reasons why boats develop problems - lack of routine maintenance, accidents, hard usage or lack of usage (this can be worse than hard usage). It simply means they have been identified. The surveyor can write up a repair specification with an estimated cost attached. Usually deficiencies are reflected in the price of the yacht or sometimes later negotiated into the price of the yacht.
Preparation/Information required from the Client
Whether he is Buyer, Seller or other interested party.
- The potential client will make an enquiry for a survey in writing. Email is the preferred method of communication.
- The surveyor replies with his Standard Letter and any other requested information along with an Order Acknowledgement quoting a price for the survey.
- It is important that an agreed Scope of Work is defined in writing prior to commencement of a survey.
- A time and place should then be agreed in writing.
- It is imperative that the Broker is in the communication loop as he may be directly involved in arranging for haul out and/or liaising with the seller. He may also have to arrange for the vessel to be delivered to the place of survey.
- The surveyor should be provided with as much documentation as practical prior to commencement of survey - in particular, the current Certificate of Registry, original Builder’s Certificates, Construction and Equipment Specifications.
What should the seller do to best prepare his vessel for survey and sea trial?
- A well prepared ship’s inventory is very helpful and saves all parties time and money. Generally it is better to remove all personal items or items that do not go with the boat before the potential buyer does his inspection.
- Cabin sole hatch boards should be made removable.
- Tanks accessible along with their contents.
- Electrical and batteries accessible.
- Engine tested and engine maintenance and service records available for inspection.
- Sails, winches and running rigging tested and ready for inspection
- List of any known deficiencies
- Certificates for all recent safety equipment inspections (Life raft, fire fighting, EPIRB’s etc)
- Anchor winches and other equipment tested
- List of special instructions where required if owner is absent for sea trial.
- Appoint an owner’s representative if owner cannot attend for sea trial. The broker can also fulfil this role.
Unless otherwise specified the basis for general yacht marine surveys will be for global coverage according to the mandatory standards promulgated by the USCG under the authority of title 46 United States Code (USC); Title 33 and Title 46, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and the Voluntary Standards and Recommended Practices developed by the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These Guidelines include the Propane Gas Installation Regulations as well as Category 1 World Standard for Safety Equipment.
Recognizing that modern yachts are becoming more complex every year Surveyors have on hand consultant Electrical and Mechanical Engineers to assist in fault finding and equipment evaluation.
Rates, Costs and Schedules
A full survey including the preparation of the report takes approximately 4 days. 1-2 days for the physical survey in and out of the water. 1-2 days for the report. A ½ day is allocated for meetings, discussions and other non-chargeable time.
A 48 hours notice period to allow sufficient lead time to mobilise a surveyor is appreciated. However surveyors endeavour to be flexible and sometimes have met deadlines as short as one hour. Obviously this will always be dependant on the location of the requested survey, availability of surveyors and/or flight/ferry schedules. In some cases prior research will be required. This can take time and will be discussed with the client on a case by case basis.
Surveyors schedule of fees for Marine Surveys is based on world standard rates. The fee schedule is sent out when an enquiry is received. Quoted figures are net of all taxes. If the envisioned work falls within an area where with-holding taxes apply such taxes will be in addition to these quoted rates.
In general a Surveyor will try to carry out several surveys simultaneously in each location and spread the costs. Expenses, if billed, are always discussed with the client first. Air travel will be economy class subject to seat availability and client project requirements. Hotels will be based on a fair and reasonable standard for business professionals. Payment for surveys is upon presentation of final report. Payment for other services is discussed on a case-by-case basis.
Pre-Cruise Survey (DIY)
When preparing for a cruise with a yacht it is normal to look only at the major items -- such as sails, engine, charts, antifouling, etc. It doesn't hurt to do a pre-cruise survey whether you hire a professional surveyor to do one or not. If you decide to do so yourself, here are some points that should be looked at.
Most of this section comes from tips offered by a retired surveyor, but isn't a replacement for a full survey by a properly licensed and qualified yacht surveyor. Caveat emptor.
You should probably make your own list using this as a guide -- over time you will begin to learn those things that require particular attention on your yacht and be able to make a more thorough inspection before each cruise using a checklist of your own devising.
Mast and Rigging
Stainless steel wire rigging, by far the most common choice, gives little or no warning before it fails. The best way to ensure that the rigging is OK is to replace it at least once every 10 years.
Galvanised rigging will show signs of needing replacement by showing rusty marks. Rod rigging, the other stainless alternative, is not as reliable as wire rigging and probably shouldn't be used on cruising yachts.
Shackles used on rigging should be properly secured, with mousing wire if appropriate. Snap shackles should probably be affixed to a rope using a sennit which is less likely to snag than a bowline. Running rigging should all be checked over and any frayed rope ends should be attended to.
Blocks and sheaves on the mast should be lubricated periodically with spray grease. Any sheaves with broken bearings need to be replaced -- the same goes for blocks on deck such as the blocks that the jib sheets run through.
Stitching on all sails should be given a check over. Pay special attention to any areas that could possibly be sun damaged through exposure.
Furling systems need to be given a check over as well. Add a bit of lubrication where required and check over any strips of cloth used to hold down boom furling systems, boom bags, etc. Lazy jack ropes are particularly prone to wear and should be checked and potentially replaced periodically.
Check all guardrails for signs of rust and/or wear. Guardrails like rigging will wear out after time and need to be replaced at intervals.
Check over all harnesses, jack lines and lanyards. The best way to survive a man overboard incident is to not go overboard, and the best way of ensuring that you do not go overboard is to have good safety equipment.
Check the hoses on the stove, to and from the gas bottles for any signs of chafing or cracking. The gas bottles must be properly stowed on deck or in a drained locker (LPG is heavier than air, so ensure it can drain out downwards). The drain from the gas locker must run downhill all the way to the exit or water will collect in the low spot.
There should be a gas detector fitted. This should be of the type that will sound an alarm if the sensor gets covered with water or fails in some other way.
Ensure that the stove can't jump out of the gimbals even if the boat turns through 360 degrees.
Ensure that any plastic skin fittings have been screwed in only hand-tight -- any tighter and they will eventually crack or break off. Any fitting above the waterline will eventually be damaged by sunlight so these should be checked for cracks and replaced regularly. There are black fibre reinforced skin fittings that are OK above the waterline because they are UV stabilised.
The best material for skin fittings is good quality bronze.
Gate valves need to be checked especially if the spindle is made of brass -- these will eventually corrode.
Wire steering must have wires that are in good condition with no rust or spikes.
Stops must be fitted to the steering system to prevent it from turning too far.
Any hoses in hydraulic steering systems should be checked for leaks. The steering pump should also be checked for leaks periodically, as well as any pumps connected in series with it (e.g. hydraulic pump connected to an autopilot).
Access through the cabin sole and into the engine bay must be easy and quick. If there are many screws needing to be undone to get access to the engine bay or if swelling in the cabin sole has made it too tight then this needs to be fixed.
Paper labels (and toilet paper!), dead bugs, dust, etc, in the bilge should be cleaned out periodically. If you spring a leak then this can all be swept into the bilge pump, jamming it and sinking the boat.
Corrosion is the major reason for electrical problems -- usually at the connections. The best way to avoid it is to keep all of the wiring and contacts dry. Silicone rubber can be used to keep salt water away provided it's neutral cure -- acid cure silicone will corrode the copper.
Untidy electrics can be caught and broken when working near them -- best to have these tidied up.
Checking the liferaft itself is a professional job but some attention needs to be paid to any webbing straps or similar holding the liferaft to the deck. As these are exposed to UV they will degrade over time.
Fuel and Water Tanks
If possible, examine the insides of your fuel and water tanks for any sludge. Fuel tanks can develop sludge as moist sea air is drawn in to the tank to replace fuel as it's used, depositing water in the tank and building up a water/fuel layer to grow various bacteria. Water tanks are just as prone to sludge build up as are fuel tanks.
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