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.

Electroshock Drowning – Prevention

Electroshock Drowning, Prevention. A few days ago I received and enquiry on my Facebook page (thanks Brian) asking about the possibility of testing for stray electrical current leakage in the water at marinas. To that end I thought that I’d talk that very subject in this post.  To make a long story relatively short it is possible to test for this but to do so requires specialized equipment. You basically need a Digital Multi Meter which is very sensitive on the low side of AC amps scale and it needs to be equipped with precious metal test leads.

Unfortunately these test results are  only good at the time of the test. In other words you could be ok  today and not tomorrow Unless you are testing every day or so which is probably not going to happen.

In my opinion,  prevention is  much better and a more practical solution to the problem than trying to continually monitor for any stray current leakage. The good news is that it’s not difficult to do just that. There is a devise on the market which is easily retrofitted to just about any boat’s on board  shore power AC electrical system. It’s called an Electrical Leakage Circuit Interrupter or  ELCI . It’s simply a high capacity Ground Fault Interrupter (GFCI) which breaks the circuit if it senses stray current leakage to ground or in our case into the water. You all know what a GFCI is. It’s that AC plug installed in our kitchens and bathrooms in our home that have the little red and black push buttons in the center. If the red button pops you simply press the black button to reset the devise. If it continually trips then you obviously have a problem which needs to be corrected.

To understand how these devises function we need to go back to our basic electrical theory which states that on a properly functioning AC (alternating current) circuit there should be equal current flow on both the hot (black) and the neutral (white) wires. Any current leakage on the circuit, however small will cause an imbalance in this current flow and the ELCI will automatically open and break the circuit.

The main difference between the ELCI and the GFCI are the current levels at which they trip at. The GFCI trips at 5 milliamps which is really too low for to be any use to us and  the ELCI trips at 30 milliamps. Enough to serve our purposes but not enough to be harmful. (Remember .6 amps AC = heart failure). The reason  that GFCI’s are ineffective for this is that all boats plugged into shore power on any one dock are electrically connected through the shore power grounding circuits and properly functioning boats will usually leak small amounts of current into the water, even under normal conditions. In most cases these current levels are too small to be of any concern. The problem is that they are cumulative (they add up) and can increase to levels, that while are still not dangerous can cause nuisance tripping of the GFCI’s and be a real pain.  This is also why, in North America AC power services at the docks rarely have GFCI’s installed. I understand that in other parts of the world GFCI’s are sometimes utilized on docks.

Ok back to the ELCI. Installation is relatively simple. In many cases the main 2 pole circuit breaker at the AC main panel can simply be replaced with one that incorporates the ELCI into it. Otherwise they can be installed as a stand-alone in the main AC feed circuit between the vessel shore power receptacle  and the 2 pole main circuit breaker at the on board  AC panel. They also are not costly, average  about $2-300 USD. Additional  information on the ELCI can be found at

In addition to the installation of the ELCI it is recommended that the on AC and DC grounding circuits be connected aboard the boat. This is easily done right at the panel.

FRP Deck Repair, Rosborough 28 Part 2

Just a quick update on our Rosborough FRP deck repair. We decided that some additional cross bracing was necessary and we added that in addition to cutting and fitting of the plywood panels. All components will be liberally epoxy coated proir to the final installation and since its early spring here we may have to wait for the temperatures to warm a bit.

Rosborough 28 deck repair

Cross Bracing Installed. The side supports are a “starboard” like mateial and the braces are hardwood.

Rosborough 28 deck repair

The plywood panels cut and fit.




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