Boat Buying Part 6 The Marine Survey

Boat on Lift for SurveyIn 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.Dirty Transom

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.

Boat Buying Part 4

Lets continue our discussion of your first inspection of that potential new boat. We have already discussed a few items to look at on the deck how to spot potential problem areas. Next we are going to discuss going below and a few things to look at there.

As you go below and get your first glimpse of the cabin look around but also be aware of any noticeable odors. Mold and mildew may be apparent and smell is probably your first, best indicator. If present the source will need to be located and your surveyor may be able to assist. Remember this can be a serious health hazard and should be addressed. Dirty wet bilges are the most likely cause.

While we’re on the subject of odors also make note of anything that may be identified as possible black water / holding tank smells. These can be really pungent and can indicate leaks and possible deterioration of hoses.

Inspect the interior woodwork and joinery for visual condition and finish. Black spots on the surfaces usually indicate moisture intrusion and if left unaddressed it can lead to deterioration of the substrate material and sometimes expensive structural repairs. A good place to look for water marks is below all the ports, skylights and windows. Fresh water stains are usually easy to spot. Walk the wooden sole panels and note any soft spots. Open and close all doors, hatches and drawers. Note the function and fit. On a side note if your inspection takes place in the colder months wooden components have a tendency to swell somewhat and this can affect functionality as well so be sure to take this into consideration on your inspection.

Note the smell and condition of upholstery. Are there stains that a thorough cleaning may not address.

Take a look at all installed fixtures, such as toilets, facets and sinks. Note any staining and since these components also deal with water, mold and mildew may be apparent here as well.

Inspect the electrical panels both AC and DC. Do they look fairly original or are there any apparent add ons or accessories. This could be an indicator of potential bad wiring practices that may need to be corrected or replaced. Your surveyor will be able to assist in identifying these.

Open the engine compartment and give it a good visual inspection. Look for external fluid leaks on any of the components. Lines, hoses and cables should be neat and secure. Is the area in clean order or does it look like it has been neglected. This can be a good overall indicator of how the vessel has been maintained. Inspect the batteries. They should be clean, secure and all wiring should be neat and tidy.

As I have said before, as you go through your initial inspection make notes and take pictures. Load them up on your computer and look them all over again later away from the boat. On most of my vessel surveys I probably take 50-60 pictures and may only use 12 or so in the actual report but the rest are available to me for reference if I need them. You should do the same. Now your initial inspection is complete. And at this point you have to make a decision to make. Is this the boat for me or do we need to move on and see others. If you decide that you wish to proceed the next step will be to make an offer and negotiate the price with the broker. Always make the offer conditional on survey that way if your surveyor uncovers anything that may be considered a deal breaker you still have an out.

Next time we`ll talk about finding a competent surveyor, the survey report and process.

Boat Buying Part 3

In this post we are going to continue our discussion on boat buying and how to find that next boat. We’ll also go into some detail on the first preliminary inspection. Last time we talked about “curb appeal” and first impressions so that’s where we will begin. We’ll assume that its mid season and the boat has been launched and is at the dock.

As I’ve said before walking up the dock you will get your first glimpse of the boat and its right here the deal could be potentially either made or broken. The buyer’s emotions are running high at this point and a clean well-presented boat can go a long way to seal the deal so to speak. Remember this sellers.

As with any sailboat there will be lots to look at so try to break up you inspection into segments. As you board the boat try to stay on deck and start your inspection there. Walk the deck try to feel any soft spots and look for any issues regarding the condition of the gel coat. These will usually show up as small cracks known as spider cracks or crazing. These may or may not lead to more serious issues so make note of anything that appears questionable. Previous repairs should be noted as well and if possible question as to the history of why they were necessary.

Sight up the mast has look for any questionable issues there. Examine the standing rigging, looking for apparent issues such as surface corrosion cracked or bent swaged fittings. Give the furling unit s spin. Here a static test may not show any issues and testing under a sea trail may be the only way to accurately asses the condition of these units. Look at the running rigging, specifically polyester line. It should not be discoloured or feel stiff to when bent in your hands. Stiff polyester line means that breakage could eminent and replacement is the only solution. The condition of the running rigging is also a very good clue as to how the vessel has been maintained. Line replacement is usually not expensive and a well maintained boat will usually have running rigging in good condition so this is usually a good clue.

The same can usually be said for exterior canvas as used in dodgers and bimini’s so assess these items as well. Replacement of these components is usually expensive. Open the anchor locker, if equipped and look at the condition of the rode and fittings.

Inspect the cockpit for the same surface issues as the deck and cabin superstructure. Open and look inside all lockers. Clean and tidy is what we want to see here. Give all the winches a spin and feel for tightness or rough operation. Cycle the line clutches and any installed cam cleats. As I noted above running tests of components such as furling units may be the only way to accurately asses their condition and the same applies to winches, clutches and cleats etc. A sea trial is usually the only way and we’ll discuss this more at a later date.

Note the condition and vintage of the instrumentation. A well maintained boat will usually have functional and fairly up to date components installed.

A thorough examination of the hull and transom may be difficult due to accessibility but give it a look as best as you can and note any issues such as abrasions gouges, previous repairs and question anything suspicious..

Next time we’ll go below deck and discuss and continue our discussion there.

Boat Buying Part 2

Last time we began a discussion on boat buying and how search out and locate that first or next boat. This time we’re going to continue and also look at some ideas on preparing your boat for sale.

Ok so now let’s assume that you’ve selected a model that meets your needs and found a candidate worth viewing. Let’s also assume that it’s listed with a broker and you have an appointment set up. It’s also mid-season and the boat is in the water and docked. While it’s not always possible, viewing a boat this way is usually a good thing. This way you get to see the finished product so to speak, boat with the mast up, canvas installed and power available. We’ll talk about bottom and rig inspections later. At this point you shouldn’t be worried about offers or surveys. You’re just at the looking stage for now.

Walking down the dock you get your first glimpse and this is where you experience the boat’s “curb appeal” and first impressions are formed. In many instances this can either make or break the sale. Remember that sellers.     At this point I’m going to go off on a tangent for a bit and talk to any potential sellers about preparing your boat to sell. I’m continually amazed at the condition of many boats that I board for pre-purchase inspections and the condition that they’ve been left in. I’ve seen dirty clothes left in lockers, bilges black with mildew, dirty dishes left aboard, and other things that I have literally tried to forget.        In real estate houses are staged prior to viewing and in the used car business cars are detailed in preparation for sale. This can make all the difference in the world to a potential buyer so why not do the same with your boat. I’m not saying that you have to give the boat a complete overhaul but simply remove any on board clutter that’s not needed, oil the wood, clean the bilges etc. On the exterior clean and polish the gel coat, clean the anti-skid, remove the black streaks on the hull. What this does is give the buyer (and the surveyor) the impression that the boat has been well care for and shows what we call “pride of ownership”. Yes it takes some time and effort but it will definitely pay off. In real estate they often take about a house’s “curb appeal” and trust me it’s no different with your boat. I head a saying years ago that goes like this. “You only have one chance to make a first impression”, so why not take full advantage. Whether it’s that first walk down the dock or in the boat yard that first impression can go a long way towards inspiring a potential buyer’s confidence.

I mentioned earlier about cleaning the bilges. I know that this is not a really nice job but here’s where you can get a lot of bang for your buck so to speak. Dirty bilges can produce bad odors especially if the boat has been closed up for a few days in warn weather and since our sense of smell is one of our strongest senses it’s the first thing that people notice when going below. Again it’s all about first impressions.

Most general purpose household cleaners, a rag, scrub brush or Scotchbrite and a little effort will easily do the job. Gloves are highly recommended. Rinse with clean water and pump it all out with the bilge pump or suck it up with a water vac. If you’re concerned about the watery mess that a garden hose can make down below, here’s a tip. Get one of those plastic sprayers generally used for garden pesticides (the ones with the hand pump) and use it to rinse out the bilges. They make great low pressure sprayers and will work anytime pressurized water is not available.

Back to that first viewing. I always recommend that you bring along a pen and note pad as well as a digital or cell phone camera. Take pictures of everything and I mean everything. Make notes of any issues and questions that you deem important. Let the broker or sales agent go over the boat with you. After this I always suggest that you ask the broker to let you examine the boat on your own for a while. Again take pictures and make notes. This way after you leave the boat you can load up the pictures on your PC or tablet and re-visit the boat after you emotions have settled down a bit. Notes and questions can be discussed with the broker or surveyor if you like the boat and get to that point in the process.

Next time we’ll discuss some of the specifics of that first inspection.

Reprinted From “The Seaworthy Surveyor” Ontario Sailor Magazine

Original Article By David Sandford AMS®

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