Surveying fiberglass boats during the winter months poses some difficult issues. When the ambient temperatures are below freezing any moisture contained in fiberglass structures, such as boat hulls and decks freezes as well. During the freezing process crystallization of the substance occurs adding small air pockets which make electronic moisture detection virtually impossible. Also because the substance is frozen it becomes very hard rendering percussive sounding tests useless as well. It is for these reasons that I do not recommend surveying of fiberglass boats when the ambient temperatures are below freezing. Any surveyor who claims that their inspections are valid under these circumstances is in my opinion simply not being truthful and should be seriously questioned.
In preparing for a marine survey inspection be sure that your boat is clean and in shipshape condition. All cabinets, lockers and storage areas should be clean and cleared of all gear. Consider the general appearance of the vessel. It is important to give the surveyor the impression that you are proud of your vessel and have taken good care of it.
Have all paperwork and relevant documentation ready to present to the surveyor. This includes all ship’s registration papers and owner’s manuals for the vessel and all included equipment. Also be prepared to present to the surveyor any maintenance records which describe previous repairs and servicing with the dates in which these were performed. This can assist in inspiring a buyer’s confidence
The vessel will have to be hauled for bottom inspection so be sure to pre-arrange this with your marina or yacht club.
All gear and equipment included with the vessel should be made available to the surveyor for inspection and inventory. Any items not included should be removed.
Written authorization will be required if the surveyor is required to dismantle the vessel in any way for access to components or systems.
In our continuing discussion on used boat buying I’ll assume that you’ve found that next potential boat, you’ve negotiated with the broker or seller and have contracted the services of a marine surveyor. Now the next step is the actual survey itself.
If the boat is on the hard things are somewhat simplified meaning that a haul out does not need to be scheduled and that the boat has likely been out of the water for some time, meaning that all below waterline areas have had time to dry out. This will make the taking of moisture readings much easier for the surveyor.
If the boat in at the dock then a haul out needs to be scheduled and co-ordinated with the surveyor. If it’s in a busy season, the yard will probably not want the lift tied up so an hour or so is all that you may get. This means that if the boat’s bottom has multiple layers of bottom paint the moisture readings will no doubt be in the elevated ranges. This can sometimes be a bit misleading but any competent surveyor should be able to easily get a read on the condition of the hull as it dries out. If there’s a breeze this should happen fairly quickly.
If the bottom has any amount of bottom growth (which it probably has) then it will need to be pressure washed. It needs to be clean for the inspection. All yards do this routinely as part of the fall haul out process so it should not be an issue. There will be an extra charge however. Bear in mind that that only the below waterline areas and equipment, hull topsides and transom require an out of water inspection and the remainder is easily performed in the water so an hour or so on the lift should suffice.
The next question is should the mast be up or down. Of course down is always better but not always possible. Surveyors such as myself will not usually climb masts so a “from the deck inspection” is in many cases the best that can be accomplished. Binoculars can help but are not really a substitute for a thorough inspection that is possible with the mast de-stepped and on a rack.
Next up are the decks, cabin superstructure and cockpit. Again dry surfaces are the key so any standing water (from recent rain) needs to be removed and the surface dried. Inside the cabin should be cleared of all non-essential gear. This makes access for easier to lockers which is essential for inspection of the hull interior structure and components. All on-board systems should get power up tests so battery and shore power should be made available.
Any included but not installed equipment such as tenders, outboard motors etc. should be made available for inspection.
Sails are another item that may prove difficult to inspect. I myself usually require that the owner open and re-flake the sails themselves as I will not spread sails out in wet or dirty environments due to possible damage. Bear in mind that in many cases even this will only show that the sails are in one piece and a sea trial on a windy day is usually necessary for a proper evaluation.
Engine evaluations can also sometimes be an issue. Some surveyors can handle this aspect of the process themselves but many will refer you to an experienced service technician. Inspections can be difficult if the boat is in the hard because in order to run the engine for any length of time cooling water will need to be supplied to the engine or damage can occur. This is another aspect of the process that is more easily performed in the water in conjunction with a sea trial.
As for the aforementioned sea trial this is part of the survey and vessel evaluation process that is often overlooked. Remember that a considerable amount of your hard earned cash is on the line here and this is not the place to skimp. In many cases systems and components can only be evaluated while under actual operating conditions. I recommend that if at all possible a proper sea trial be included in the overall evaluation process.
As you can see proper a vessel evaluation and survey can be a complex process and with all the scheduling involved it can take some time. I get calls each year from buyers that have an accepted offer and need the survey completed “by the end of the week”. This can make things very difficult and sometimes impossible. Most surveyors have a turnaround time of 2-4 days for report completion alone. I always recommend to allow for at least 2 weeks to complete a proper evaluation. Remember it’s your money so be patient.
More on my thoughts on boat buying. In our sample scenario we have already performed a personal inspection on that potential next boat. We have decided that it meets our needs and we are ready to move forward.
The next step in the process will be to discuss price and make a formal offer to purchase. If a broker is involved they will lead you through these next steps but if this is private sale you are pretty much on your own. In that vein there are a number of items that should be considered. I`ll list a few here.
1-Make the offer conditional on survey. You are going to have the vessel surveyed, right? I’ve talked about this before and each year I get involved in a number of deals where a boat was purchased without survey and after the sale the first thing that occurs is that the insurance company requests that the boat be surveyed. During the survey if a major issue is uncovered it is in most cases the buyer that is on the hook for an expensive repair.
2- Make the offer conditional on financing. If this is going to be a factor get it in black and white as part of the offer.
3-Make sure that storage, launch and transport fees are spelled out as to who pays for what.
4-The boat may need to be hauled and the bottom washed for the survey so make sure that is covered as well.
Now we get to the point where to offer has been accepted and now it time for the survey and the next step is to find and hire a competent surveyor. This may prove to be more difficult that you might think. Here’s why.
In most countries marine surveying is an unregulated profession and as a result marine surveyors come in all shapes, sizes and in varying degrees of knowledge and expertise. So how do you find a good one? Here are a few tips.
1-Look for surveyor with recognised credentials or accreditations. There are many supposed certifications out there but in my opinion (and the opinion of many insurance companies) there are only two. The Society of Accredited marine Surveyors ® (SAMS®) and The National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS Global). Also look for a surveyor that is a member of, or better yet standards certified by the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC). This important because the ABYC have re-searched and written almost all of the marine construction and safety standards currently in use today. Boat manufacturers, Transport Canada and the United States Coast Guard listen to these people and any surveyor worth his or her salt needs to be current on all of this. ABYC affiliation is the only way.
2-Ask to see a sample of their work. Examine it and decide if it will provide all of the information that you will require.
3-Compare pricing. Surveyors of quality and integrity will show similar pricing. Any significantly lower or higher should be held in question. Cheaper is not always better.
4-Last but not least consult your insurance company about the surveyor that you plan to hire. If they won’t accept the surveyor’s work there’s not much point now is there?
I can’t stress enough how important this aspect of the process is. I come across survey reports every year that are an absolute joke. Chances are that by now this endeavour is getting expensive and this is not the time to cheap out on a surveyor with inferior skills and expertise.
Here’s a point to keep in mind if this all takes place during the winter months.
When ambient temperatures are below freezing any moisture contained in fiberglass structures, such as boat hulls and decks freezes as well. During the freezing process crystallization of the substance will occur. This adds small air pockets which make electronic moisture detection virtually impossible. Also because the substance is frozen it becomes very hard rendering percussive sounding tests useless as well. It is for these reasons that I do not recommend the surveying of fiberglass boats when the ambient temperatures are below freezing.
Next time we’ll take a look at the survey report and what it should include.