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Surveys are a waste of money

Jan 7, 2011
2,911
Oday 322 East Chicago, IN
I have bought 2 boats in the last 11 or 12 years.

Hired a surveyor for the first one…also my first boat purchase. No issues with the survey or the surveyor. He didn’t flag anything.

2nd boat, I had seen an earlier survey but hauled the boat for a “below the waterline“ survey. Not much of concern found.

I don’t feel either surveyor was incompetent, but I also don’t know that there was much value in the surveys, other than to satisfy the insurance company.

Both of these boats were under $30k.

I agree that the more I know about boats, the better and I certainly feel more confident “pre-inspecting“ a boat to qualify it.

Greg
 
May 24, 2004
6,790
CC 30 South Florida
Lately insurance companies have been requiring surveys and Marinas require insurance. A licensed surveyor is bonded; if he misses something that significantly impacts the buyer either the surveyor or the bonding company can be made to pay and make the buyer whole. That is how the system is working; if you don't want insurance and don't care for the contingency that you may miss something big, skip the survey. Sometimes a survey is a negotiating tool. You have inspected the boat and agreed on a price subject to a survey. The survey report may point out a few things where you may be able to have the seller reduce the price to fix those problems.
 
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dLj

.
Mar 23, 2017
1,823
Belliure 41 Now on the Chesapeake
As in all fields - not just in marine surveyors - there are the good, the bad and the ugly.

Find a good surveyor and they are fantastic! I have learned an enormous amount from listening to knowledgeable surveyors! After a certain level of boat value, get a surveyor. I've no idea what that value is, perhaps each must decide that limit for themselves.

dj
 
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Feb 2, 2010
356
Island Packet 37 Hull #2 Harpswell Me
Disagree, you just have too be a lot more choosy and discerning when picking your surveyor . i have used the same person twice and he was excellent , most definitely wanted me there for the whole process so he could explain things and what he was looking at. I even got a dvd of the whole process as well as the comprehensive written report.
I think there maybe a bit of "cut and paste" going on when it comes to writing up the survey though.
 
Nov 22, 2011
980
Ericson 26-2 San Pedro, CA
A licensed surveyor is bonded; if he misses something that significantly impacts the buyer either the surveyor or the bonding company can be made to pay and make the buyer whole.
Good luck with that. Any survey I've ever seen has plenty of disclaimers to let the surveyor off the hook. Maybe this has happened, but I've never heard of it. I'd be interested to hear if someone could provide some examples.
 
Oct 22, 2014
16,088
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Alan,
Bonded: means the surveyor has put up some money to back his word. Most often it is with the association he belongs. One of the money making models for organizations is to offer members insurance benefits.
Significant Impact: You need to have a loss... Loss of life due to something missed on the survey would have a legal beagle salivating.
How to recover money? Litigation. You need to engage a pit-bull/viper who can understand the issues and intimidate the insurance company who is holding the bond.

As you say... Good Luck.
 
Jul 27, 2011
4,530
Bavaria 38E Alamitos Bay
I believe there can be distinctions (regarding value) between a pre-purchase survey that reports to a prospective buyer and an owner’s survey for insurance requirements that reports to the owner, and one for the insurance company itself that reports to Company. Of course, “wrong” is “wrong” regardless, but expectations for the report itself might differ. In the pre-purchase the surveyor is limited to what is visible. The prospective buyer gets a report of only what can be seen and evaluated w/o “intrusion” unless the owner gives written permission. An example is rust spots showing through the paint on a cast iron keel. The prospective buyer may wish to know the extent of rust under the paint which would require chipping it off. The surveyor would not be able to investigate or report that unless the owner agreed. Good luck with that!! So, did the prospective buyer get his/her money’s worth in a survey report that shows a picture of what the buyer can clearly see but with no critical evaluation of it? Humm. Not in my opinion.:snooty:
 
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Jul 27, 2011
4,530
Bavaria 38E Alamitos Bay
I believe there can be distinctions (regarding value) between a pre-purchase survey that reports to a prospective buyer and an owner’s survey for insurance requirements that reports to the owner, and one for the insurance company itself that reports to Company. Of course, “wrong” is “wrong” regardless but expectations for the report itself might differ. In the pre-purchase the surveyor is limited to what is visible. The prospective buyer gets a report of only what can be seen and evaluated w/o “intrusion” unless the owner gives written permission. An example is rust spots showing through the paint on a cast iron keel. The prospective buyer may wish to know the extent of rust under the paint which would require chipping it off. The surveyor would not be able to investigate or report that unless the owner agreed. Good luck with that!! So, did the prospective buyer get his/her money’s worth in a survey report that shows a picture of what a buyer can clearly see but with no critical evaluation of it? Humm. Not in my opinion.
Why is it important to know about the rust? B/c if a repair is needed in a yard, you could be talking $5K to $7K to “make it right.” Without knowledge of the extent the buyer has only a weak hand for further negotiation, potentially leading to a costly mistake if the purchase proceeds. If he/she walks away from the boat that in fact did not have extensive rust damage under the paint, then that survey money was thrown away—i.e., wasted. Yet here, nobody did or said anything that would be “wrong.” Caveat emptor!

On the other hand, a rusting cast iron keel may provide serviceable use for at least a couple of decades. Would it even matter to just “let it go” for a boat only 15 or so years old? Let the next buyer deal with it—the one who gets the boat from “you.”:doh:
 
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Sep 23, 2009
1,455
O'Day 34-At Last Rock Hall, Md
I have had surveys only three boats but agree with OP s points. SAMS is of no value. Yea they pay their dues but so what the fine print relieves them of all resposiblity? A marine survey that excludes the engine mechanicals is akin to a home survey that exludes the heating system. A marine survey that excludes the rigging....yea the mast top...is akin to a home survey that excludes the roof. Time for the industry to clean up its act. Only one of my surveys was worth the money, and he was spot on, the other two missed multiple serious issues they should not have missed, but one did notice a ground wire on the fuel tank was the wrong color.
It is good to have a third party look at a boat, but they are anything but near perfect.
 
May 24, 2004
6,790
CC 30 South Florida
Yes surveys can vary in scope, but a recent pre-purchase survey seems to be accepted by Insurers so there is no need for multiplicity.
 
Jan 4, 2010
982
Farr 30 San Francisco
Not to be all cynical and all, but a good surveyor ought to be able to come up with lots of expensive problems on more or less any boat they look at. So that allows you to lower your offer, pointing to the issues found by an impartial 3rd party.
 

capta

.
Jun 4, 2009
4,306
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
I am going to put this out there for anyone who is considering whether or not they should pay for a survey. If you have common sense, a basic tool set and a reasonable understanding of mechanics and electronics, I think they are completely and utterly a waste of money. I base this off of my recent experience finding and buying a boat. I looked at several if not dozens of boats for sale before I purchased my current and second sailboat. Many of them had been surveyed by certified SAMS and NAMS surveyors. Every single one of the surveys I read had discrepancies in either equipment type, condition or specifications. My insurance company required a survey before they would issue a policy, so I paid $875 to a SAMS surveyor to survey a Lord Nelson 35. I get the survey report back and it has the wrong hull ID, the wrong year, several items listed as "unkown" that could have easily been looked up, the wrong brand of spars listed, the incorrect location and material of tanks listed, wrong condition information etc.... So if you are not required to have a survey by your insurance company and are contemplating whether or not you should get one just go get yourself a copy of Don Casey's inspecting the aging sailboat and rest assured you did a better job than any "certified" surveyor and saved yourself a boat buck. If you're a surveyor and this post makes you angry then I bet if you sent me a copy of a recent survey you completed I could pretty much guarantee I could find something wrong with it or something you missed.
I completely disagree.
I had my own survey company in St. T. back in the early '80s. As far as checking out a boat, its systems, rig and engines, there's not too much I do not know (sorry, that sounds like I'm blowing my own horn). But I would never accept my own survey of a boat I'm interested in purchasing. As buyer I'm way too emotionally involved to do a proper survey. "Oh, that's nothing, I can fix that easily (what, you've never said that about a job aboard your boat?) so I don't really need to mention it." A surveyor is a non-interested party's opinion which can be very helpful.
However, neither alphabet organization has any official standing, any more than ASA does. They are only a group of surveyors who got together in an attempt to police their own industry. The result is exactly what you described. It is the responsibility of the purchaser to research the individual they are considering to survey their boat, not just look at the letters behind a name as his/her bona fedes. You wouldn't hire a captain just because he's got a piece of paper from the USCG certifying his competence would you? And that's a government agency certifying them, not a group of surveyors who have banded together to certify themselves.
I've had very good luck finding a reliable surveyor through the local boat brokers, especially in an area I am unfamiliar with.
Of course, if someone is only spending a couple of grand on a boat, perhaps a survey isn't worth it if one actually has the knowledge to do it themselves. However, most boaters I know don't have a couple of g's to throw away.
 

CarlN

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Jan 4, 2009
577
Ketch 55 Bristol, RI
What do you care if he got the brand of spars right in the written report? I tell them to leave all that stuff out. It just gives the insurance company more excuses to question a claim down the road. I always accompany the surveyor and tell him to to spend his time only on: Structural issues, evidence of partial sinking, delamination, evidence of major repairs especially collision, wet core, rot, keel bolts, leaks, running gear, rig. I also always try to find a surveyor who has experience with the same boat model. The survey tends to be much better if he is comparing it to something he's seen before.
 
Jul 27, 2011
4,530
Bavaria 38E Alamitos Bay
What do you care if he got the brand of spars right in the written report?
One would hope for a survey where the surveyor demonstrates a broad knowledge, as in: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” I might not care much what brand of spar is on the boat, but I might care whether or not my guy knew one from another if that’s going into the report.:doh:
 
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Feb 6, 1998
11,436
Canadian Sailcraft 36T Casco Bay, ME
150% Disagree. You chose a poor surveyor and are now bashing the entire industry. There are bad doctors, lawyers, electricians, surveyors etc., but it does not mean the entire industry is bad. We have some tremendous surveyors here in Maine and every survey we've had has cost us $0.00.

A complete survey consists of the following:

Rig Survey
Electrical Audit/Survey
General Survey
Engine Survey


If you have common sense, a basic tool set and a reasonable understanding of mechanics and electronics, I think they are completely and utterly a waste of money.
Until you need insurance, which nearly every marina requires. While I, or my company, is certified to do electrical audits/surveys by most all insurers, I'm not able to conduct my own survey, for insurance purposes even though I am significantly more qualified to do so than any surveyor I know of. Insurers require a SAMS or NAMS certification and I just don't have the time to waste on getting that certification.
 
Oct 28, 2013
3
Catalina 504 Ladys Island
After reading the 'standard' limitations of a few surveys, a couple of things stand out. First, the survey reports on visible things only. Removing a screwed in access panel for example is not included. In that case, the shrouds connected to the hull by SERIOUSLY rusted metal plates--flaking off. In the same survey, the fuel system was shockingly assembled--likely a prior-owner add on. The same was true of the battery/wiring installation. Many items listed on the survey were NOT on the vessel--he'd used a prior survey as his basis. eg. that 160 amp alternator was really a 55 amp alternator from 1975. I still bought the boat--I already knew of some of the issues from my own inspection, but I'd 'counted' on the surveyor to find the rest.

In another survey, post lightning strike, the surveyor was unable to find the exit 'wound'. The owner of the haul-out yard and I were very amused. The boat was properly grounded and every thru-hull was missing a three-inch donut of Micron-66 antifouling. When we pointed it out, he said it was 'electrolysis.' Just ignorant!

More examples? I was on a newly purchased old boat that was just surveyed. The deck around the mast was cracked and depressed, and knocked 'hollow'. No mention on the survey. No moisture meter was used. I could go on--abundant problems.

My overall impression: Find a good surveyor by asking around. Do not provide a previous survey. A surveyor can give a useful second opinion, but buyers are responsible. A used boat is NOT perfect. Expect to spend money. Look for the big ticket costs. Finally, you won't get insurance without a survey.

The Problem: There is no required education just a licensing exam set by the membership organization. Try to find the core content and past exams. A lifetime of experience with powerboats does not carry over to sailboats, and vice versa.The surveyor associations strike me as pay-fee-for-membership set up to limit access to non-members, aka trade unions. Compare this to getting a Captain's license or becoming a hairdresser.
 
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Feb 6, 1998
11,436
Canadian Sailcraft 36T Casco Bay, ME
The Problem: There is no required education just a licensing exam set by the membership organization. Try to find the core content and past exams. A lifetime of experience with powerboats does not carry over to sailboats, and vice versa.The surveyor associations strike me as pay-fee-for-membership set up to limit access to non-members, aka trade unions. Compare this to getting a Captain's license or becoming a hairdresser.
For SAMS & NAMS this is not the case at all....
 
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Oct 28, 2013
3
Catalina 504 Ladys Island
For SAMS & NAMS this is not the case at all....
I am sure you are right. However, I'd like to know where I can find a copy of the core content covered in the examination for SAMS® Yachts and Small Craft examination, for example. Ideally, I'd like to see an actual past examination and pass-fail rates. The credibility and professionalism of marine surveyor 'clubs' is questionable when it appears to be a guild/trade union whose function is erecting barriers to entry and standardizing fees.
 
Jun 9, 2008
1,647
- -- -Bayfield
There are good surveyors and bad surveyors. Hopefully the bad surveyors don't last long, or they finally learn their trade so they become good surveyors.