• From The Foerpeak: What Boat Surveys Do and Don’t Do–Part One

    Posted on April 20, 2015 by Paul Foer in Boat buying, Marine Surveys.

    This is Captain Paul Foer “From the Foerpeak” with more common-sense boating information for you. A lot of folks who are thinking about buying a boat naturally have questions about the boat’s condition. There are good sources online and in books for information about how to assess a boat’s condition and to understand where problems may occur and how to address those problem areas.

    However, it can take many years of owning, operating, repairing and maintaining boats to really have the insight and understanding needed to assess a boat’s condition. Professional marine surveyors are often hired as part of the boat buying process, to help appraise the current value or to advise on repairs or adjust an insurance claim following damage such as fire, sinking or perhaps a severe grounding.

    In recreational boating, most surveys are done on behalf of a prospective buyer once a contract has been signed with earnest money. That contract usually has a clause making the final sale dependent upon a survey. Following the results of the survey, the contract may be canceled or modified. I’ve written before about surveys and surveyors and while my experience with these professionals has generally been highly satisfactory, the buyer must be warned that in every case where I have come aboard a boat that was recently surveyed, I have found defects and issues that escape the surveyor’s attention. This is due to a variety of reasons, but is mainly because the surveyor simply did not crawl into a tight or dark and smelly area of the boat, but that is often where serious defects occur.

    As a coach or consultant for the prospective or the new owner or as a delivery captain, my goals are different than those of the surveyor who is mainly interested in assessing whether the boat will blow up or sink. Of course that’s over-simplifying and I mean to cast no aspersions on the profession, but it’s simply a matter of fact that if I am going to sea on a boat, I will be more careful than if I were simply writing a report. A surveyor is covered by errors and omissions insurance as well as a variety of disclaimers built into every survey. But again, while a surveyor may know technical and safety regulations and standards inside and out, he or she is not going out on the boat, except maybe for a sea trial.

    On the other hand, as the captain or instructor or consultant I am much more interested in whether or not this is the right boat for my client. Is he or she prepared to operate and maintain this boat? What special challenges or problems might he or she expect? Will maintenance and upkeep and operational costs be within my client’s budget? How experienced is my client? How “handy” is my client? Does this boat provide the proper storage space, or does it have the proper gear for the type of cruising that he or she expects to do? These are questions that really should be addressed BEFORE a survey because no matter what the condition of the boat, it may simply not be the right boat for the client. Many of the questions I ask are not generally posed to or answered by surveyors. It’s not really their job.

    This is where my professional advice can be most helpful and most economical. Also, since most serious or major defects that could “kill a deal” can often be found with the first hour or even less of a survey, I am able to provide an evaluation for a client for much less money than for a full survey, thus saving the client time and money. A surveyor’s job is not to understand the client’s needs or goals or abilities or budget or to assess if this is the right boat or not, but mainly to determine if it is likely to, again I say it, sink or blow up.

    I can give many, many examples of what I am referring to, but the most recent one will suffice to make my point. A young military officer hired me to teach her how to operate her newly purchased 47’ motoryacht. It was a 45 year old boat. My instincts taught me to be very wary for a variety of reasons. I reviewed her survey and found it to be one of the most detailed, complete and thorough survey I ever read. It was replete with photos and recommendations. This boat had her original Detroit diesels, one of which had undergone serious work a few years before.

    Rather than simply show up ready to take the neophyte and did I mention liveaboard client out for coaching in early Spring my instincts told me it would be wise to really go through the boat first with a technician before taking her out—and that was a good thing.

    There is more, much more to this story. That will be explained in Part 2.

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