Mar 12, 2020

2005 Ocean Alexander 58 PilothouseBy Mike Schwarz

Pause for a moment and ponder this question. How much is your life and your safety at sea worth? Most people would say priceless and impossible to put a value on. And yet many people seem to misunderstand the worth and principle role of a marine surveyor, whose very job it is to ensure your safety at sea by surveying, inspecting and reporting on your expensive, potential new purchase. Instructing a marine surveyor to work on your behalf should never be seen as a distress purchase where price is the all-important factor, rather it is an essential requirement.

So, if you are about to invest a five or six figure sum let’s say, why would you be concerned about several hundred dollars for a survey to be undertaken by a professional to ensure the vessel is sound, fit for purpose and worth its price? In reality a survey is one of the best investments you will make as part of your boat or yacht buying process.

Marine surveyors come in all shapes and sizes and from various backgrounds with a huge variety of different skills sets. However, as professionals they are bound by a common code of conduct, accompanied by a passion for their work. By using his/her skills, knowledge and forensic expertise, he/she can determine if you are about to make a serious and potentially financially disastrous mistake, or not. So why would you not pay a fair price for this invaluable service?

As a provider of a highly technical, professional service, it could be argued that a marine surveyor is no different from professionals in other industry sectors who have learnt their trade; e.g. an accountant, a solicitor or a financial adviser. They provide excellent services and charge an appropriate fee for them; therefore you should not expect a marine surveyor to be any different. In many cases a marine surveyor has cut his/her teeth and learned their profession over many years.

So what tips and advice can be offered when you need to instruct a marine surveyor? There are plenty to choose from and individual standards vary for sure.

Choosing a surveyor that’s right for you

Instructing and engaging a marine surveyor, even for an experienced and knowledgeable yachtsman, or boater, can be daunting, let alone for a first timer. Logically, many people, although by no means all, will choose a marine surveyor based on location. It pays to shop around too as prices can vary, but beware – someone who is considerably cheaper than the rest may not be the best and, as in most walks of life, you generally get what you pay for!

A good tip and starting point is to only engage a marine surveyor who is a member of a professional body, or specialist surveying membership organisation. There are several in North America and around the world and some (although not all) vet their members prior to granting membership. It is probably wise to avoid those who are not part of a recognised marine surveying organisation.

It is essential to choose a marine surveyor who has the right skill set and competency to survey your particular vessel and to successfully fulfil your brief and instructions. So, for example, if you are planning to purchase a heritage, wooden boat, choosing a marine surveyor who specialises in modern production GRP (fibreglass yachts), will not be the right surveyor. A quick check on the marine surveyor’s web site should give you an indication and a listing on one of the professional institute or surveyor membership web sites can also help. Ask about his/her experience of handling projects similar to yours. The sometimes misused phrase ‘caveat emptor’ - the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of the service before a purchase is made – most certainly applies here.

Rudder MaintenanceHow current is the marine surveyor in the market?


Technologies are changing fast. New models come on to the market regularly, some boasting the latest technological developments. New composites and materials are being brought to market all the time too. Are you sure that your chosen marine surveyor is equipped to deal with these? The International Institute of Marine Surveying helps to make this a little easier. Those members who are up-to-date with their continuing professional development are highlighted with an approved roundel on their web site listing.

How much should you pay and what are you being charged for?

There is no fixed price for a survey and you will find marked variations from one quote to another. Sometimes you will be quoted a price per foot, or per metre. Others will quote a set price for the job. Every surveyor has their own methods and way of working. One good piece of advice is to ensure that once the survey is underway, you and/or the vendor are not present as distractions may cause the marine surveyor to miss something. They need to concentrate and focus on their work, so whilst it is understandable that you want to be on hand and are eager to know the outcome of the survey, the best advice is to remain absent and let the marine surveyor complete the job in isolation.

As a rule of thumb for a medium sized, production yacht, expect a marine surveyor to be on site for much of the day conducting an in-depth survey and gathering the data he/she needs to compile his/her report. Most marine surveyors will spend a further full day compiling their report and recommendations, ensuring its accuracy before submitting it to you. So, you are paying a professional practitioner for two days of his/her time.

In conclusion

Being a marine surveyor can be a challenging, tough and uncompromising job at times. Once instructed every marine surveyor will want to deliver the best possible survey and report on completion of the job. However, not always will you like their findings and recommendations, and as with any other professional in other walks of life, sometimes they must deliver bad or unpalatable news. But that is always preferable to knowingly letting someone put to sea in a vessel that is not fit for purpose, or which may not cope with the extreme demands of the sea, potentially jeopardising your life and property.

Mike Schwarz is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Institute of Marine Surveying.

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