Need to Know: Finding a Surveyor

Getting a survey done is a critical part of the boat-buying process: It’s your chance to know what’s going on with the condition of the boat in which you’re about to invest your hard-earned money. How do you find a surveyor that’s right for you? Here are three steps to the process.

1. Listen to advice from your broker. “You’re relying on him to find you a good boat, you should also rely on his advice on surveying as well,” says Malcolm Elliott of Florida Nautical Surveyors. “Because of liability, brokers can’t be seen to recommend one surveyor, but he should give you a list of surveyors to choose from.”

2. The only way to sort that list is to do a little research. And by the way, we’re all pulling for the new guy to make it—who doesn’t love the rookie with a home run in his first at-bat. But now is not the time to take a flyer on some unproven commodity: Go with the experienced guy. “Anybody can be a surveyor, so you should look into their qualifications,” Elliott says. “And not just their associations but also their actual marine qualifications.” It’s not every day that you buy a boat. And that newbie will get his chance—just not this time. Not with your next boat.

3. If your broker is worth his commission, that list will have some experienced surveyors on it. But not just any grizzled veteran will do. He needs to have experience in the type of boat you’re looking at. Won’t do any good if your IPS-powered boat is surveyed by someone who knows the name of every spar on schooner. He may know about pod drives too, but that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for. Instead it’s demonstrated knowledge of the boat in question. “Most bad surveys are the result of a surveyor who just didn’t have experience with that type of boat,” Elliott says. “I’ve got a $2 hammer, a $1,200 moisture meter, and a $30,000 thermal-imaging camera. And I rely on my $2 hammer to find all the faults in fiberglass boats. I confirm it with the moisture meter and record it with the thermal-imaging camera.”



6 comments on “Need to Know: Finding a Surveyor

  1. terry siemsen

    I sold a 35-foot Sea Ray last year and the buyer had it surveyed. The surveyor broke the power windlass during the sea trial and I was stuck having to pay to fix it. Any seller needs to have an understanding with the potential buyer that it’s a “you break it, you fix it” deal on a sea trial. Of course, an honest surveyor would be nice too….

  2. Dave van den Arend

    Good article and good advice. One other tip- beware of your well-intentioned friend who tells you “I used so-and-so and he did a great job on my boat”. Realize that your friend probably has not attended hundreds if not thousands of surveys like your broker has (presuming they have been around a while), so their knowledge base is extremely limited comparatively. They most likely wouldn’t know, for example, that “their” surveyor has developed a drinking problem or has been missing a lot of things lately because he or she is off their game for some reason in the last six months.

    If you are nervous having read other articles that say “don’t let your broker pick the surveyor”, then at least take the list your broker has provided you, call some other brokers from reputable firms in the area where the boat is and ask them who they use and see what matches. Please at least let us point you in the right direction- I want my client’s buying experience to be a good one- not the beginning of a nightmare.

  3. Gerald Pitts

    Perhaps there should be a requirement that the seller demand an insurance certificate from the surveyor the buyer has chosen – not just for liability and property damage, but also for workers compensation; just as you would require of anyone you may have doing work in or around your home. Allowing anyone upon your vessel should be at their peril, not yours. I imagine that NAMS and SAMS could arrange for reasonably priced coverage for all their members, thus enhancing NAMS and SAMS members as a viable choice for the buyer. Another remedy would for the buyer to accept full responsibility for their surveyor, who is acting as the buyers agent. I’m glad that you began your advice with ‘Listen to advice from YOUR broker’, and that presumes that you are referring to the BUYERS broker, certainly NOT the sellers broker. The SELLERS broker represents ONLY the seller, and NEVER FORGET THAT.

  4. Joel Severance

    Going to put our 33″ 1976 Egg on the market this fall. What is your opinion on having it surveyed in advance to see what I should fix before I list it?


  5. Dick Frenzel

    A good experienced NAMS-Certified or SAMS Accredited, Marine Surveyor will not operate the equipment or drive the boat!!
    That will be required to be done by the Owners Representative, whether the owner himself, his Broker, Professional hired Captain to run the boat in a seatrial,or etc. The Surveyor is to only observe, and interpret what he/she observes!!
    Our firm also turns down requests to survey SeaRays as we have found too many hidden defects in them over the past forty plus years!!

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