What Does a Marine Surveyor Do?

All surveys are incomplete at best. This is because a surveyor has  limited time and access on any given vessel. If a surveyor spent enough time to completely cover everything and open up all compartments the cost would be beyond what most would be willing to pay. Panels and cabinets would need to be disassembled and this is not something most owners would allow even if the buyer were willing to pay for it. For this reason most good surveyors try to reach a reasonable compromise. A good surveyor will strive to find major problems and things a perspective buyer may not notice on their own.

Not all surveyors do the same things in the same order but there are some basic things almost all will do.  The following is a list of basic things every surveyor should do.

Check hull structure and condition inside and out. This would include checking for delamination (this is where they do the tapping thing.)  Check moisture levels using a moisture meter. Moisture is something more likely to be found in a hull with a core but can appear in single skin hulls.  The surveyor will also look for delamination or broken bonds inside the hull. The stingers, bulkheads and other structural supports will be checked for delamination, stress cracking and other problems as well.


The deck should be checked for structural issues as well. Almost all fiberglass decks are cored with either a foam or wood core material. This is done to provide stiffness and a solid feel under foot.  Leaks from fittings can cause moisture penetration which if not corrected can lead to core rot and/or delamination. As with the hull, the surveyor will use a moisture meter along with acoustic testing (Tap out.) The hull/deck joint will also be inspected, although this can often be difficult as most builders do a good job of hiding the joint behind liners and cabinets.

Along with the hull and deck the vessels systems will be inspected. This will include  electrical systems as well as fuel, exhaust, and steering systems.  All these systems will be checked for basic compliance with ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) recommendations as well as USCG regulations. The electrical systems should be thoroughly checked with particular attention paid to aftermarket installations.  Power sources such as batteries, shore power inlets and generators need to be checked for correct wiring as well. The bonding system will be checked for general condition and connections visually checked.. Exhaust and fuel systems will be checked for leaks and general condition of the hose. Rarely can fuel tanks be fully inspected but an effort will be made to inspect what is visible and check for signs of leaks.


The engine and mechanical systems will be checked as well. This is where some surveyors differ in what they will check. Some surveyors will do compression checks on gasoline engines and outboards. I personally do not. I feel that if indicators point to in depth testing this is best done by a qualified mechanic. A quick compression check alone will usually only point out larger problems that can often be found during water trials. A proper compression test should also include a bleed down test, or a test to see how long a cylinder will hold compression, this will tell much more than compression alone. Equally import is being able to pull a computer reading from the engine to verify run hours and get a history of faults and over revs.  All this requires time and special equipment that is really beyond the scope of a normal survey. For this reason if engine hours or performance indicate a problem I normally refer my clients to a qualified mechanic to do the proper testing.


In water trials or sea trials are conducted during most pre purchase surveys but may not be done for insurance surveys.  A water trial is where the surveyor along with the owner or broker will take the boat out to test the engines as well as other equipment that can only be fully tested while underway, such as autopilot and trim tabs.  If no engine surveyor is aboard then hull surveyor will check the engines for proper operation and performance. Cruise and top RPM along with speeds will be checked against published specifications. The engines will be observed for leaks, vibrations or other unusual condition. Most surveyors will check engine and transmission temperatures with an IR thermometer as well.  Any propeller or shaft vibration or run out is noted while running at different shaft RPMS. The steering and control systems will be checked for proper operation as well.

The out of water inspection will require lifting the boat for a full bottom inspection. I have sometimes been asked if I can bypass the out of water inspection to save money on hauling fees. Unless the buyer has full and recent knowledge of the underwater condition I strongly recommend checking the vessel out of the water. I have also been asked if I would dive on the boat or hire a diver to inspect the bottom. Once again this would not result in a thorough inspection and I personally will not dive a boat for inspection, I just do not think you can really see what the bottom and running gear look like while underwater. While out the thru hulls and other fittings will be checked for overall condition and signs of galvanic corrosion. The Struts propeller shafts and propellers will all be checked for signs of corrosion and other damage. The bottom will be carefully inspected for signs of blisters or previous repairs. The keel should be checked for signs of hard groundings and the tops sides or hull sides are checked for signs of impact damage or repairs. Sighting down the lines of the hull and rub rail can also give indications of previous damage and repairs.

For sailboats a rigging inspection will be done. Most of this can be done at deck level and the surveyor will look for corroded or cracked fittings. The chainplates and surrounding structure will be checked for signs of leaks or cracked tabbing. Fittings and supports related to the mast step and base will be checked. Any sagging or movement will be noted. The running rigging and hardware will be checked and problems noted. If the rigging is older or problems found at deck level a full aloft rigging inspection would be recommended.  Surveyors who do this on a regular basis will have equipment to climb the mast unassisted.

USCG and safety checks should be done by all surveyors. All the life vests, flares, fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment are checked for proper working order and current inspection dates. This type of equipment is often over looked and not properly updated and certified by the owner.

Once the onboard inspections are complete the office work begins. Writing a report takes several hours even if the surveyor uses a canned format or software.  Some research is required to check the results of the onboard findings with those published by the manufacture. Vessel valuation requires comparison with sales prices of like boats in like condition. All this is compiled into a report that is required for insurance and financing.

A survey is a statement of the vessels condition at the time the surveyor does the inspection. It is as complete as possible given the limited scope and time a surveyor has. Granted some surveyors are better than others and spend more time than others. A good surveyor can go through a boat in a systematic method, being as efficient as possible, to cover as much as possible. Most surveyors develop an eye for spotting trouble areas, they learn to sight small inconsistencies others may over look. That said no survey is perfect and the goal is not to catch every little problem but rather focus on those problems that will lead to bigger or expensive problems.  A good survey will be valuable in keeping the vessel safe, seaworthy and in good condition.

Capt. Wayne Canning, AMS


Types of Surveys

Pre-Purchase/Valuation Survey

This is the most comprehensive type of inspection, and is strongly advised when purchasing a new or used vessel. Condition and the overall operation of the vessel should be examined. This would include such items as structural integrity, out of water inspection, sea trials, electrical systems, propulsion system, fuel system, machinery, navigation, misc. on board systems, cosmetic appearance, electronics, and overall maintenance. The Valuation is based on market research of similar vessels, combined with the condition of the vessel. In other words, if there is paint peeling off the sides, and mold growing on the interior cushions, do not be surprised to see a lower value. If the vessel is in good condition with lots of extra goodies installed, then the value will be higher.

Insurance Survey

This inspection is performed so that the insurance company can determine whether or not the vessel is an acceptable risk as well as to establish value. The insurance company is  interested in structural integrity and safety for its intended use. Most insurance companies require a survey on boats more than 10 years old. They will also want to know the vessel’s fair market value. Not all insurance companies will except this type of abbreviated survey so check with your underwriter before requesting this. The main difference in an insurance and pre-purchase survey is that a full water trial is not performed and most minor cosmetic issues will not be written up. Some insurance companies require an out of water inspection and others do not so it is best to check ahead of time. For sailboats you may be required to have a full aloft inspection as will for an additional cost, once again check with your agent. The Intrepid Powerboats site offers all the needed information online.

Damage Survey

This is performed to assess the extent of damage, recommend repairs, estimated repair cost, and if requested, the probable cause. This type of survey requires a lot of careful attention to detail. Damage in one area can effect many unseen parts of the vessel. If there is damage to your vessel do not rely on the judgment of an insurance adjuster or yard personnel alone, all parts of the repair must be carefully considered, or you could find yourself in a position of cost overruns that the insurance company will not cover. Most insurance companies will reimburse you a set amount based on yard estimates. If the yard estimated wrong, then the additional costs could be out of pocket.

Galvanic Corrosion Survey

Wires in bilge water, changes in your dock’s wiring, additions over the years to your boats electrical system, even problems from other vessels near your boat, can cause excessive zinc use, and/or possible damage to metal components underwater. A thorough galvanic and stray current corrosion inspection can resolve any concerns and save costly repairs in the future.

Rigging Inspection

A full rigging inspection will require the surveyor going aloft to carefully check all fittings. If your rigging is more than 10 years old or you are planning any long distance or offshore passages a full rigging inspection is recommended.



Brief Professional Resume

I have been involved in the marine industry for almost 39 years now. I started at age 17 working for Seafarer Yachts in Huntington NY. From there I worked for some small boat builders on Long Island until 1978 when I moved to NC. After arriving in Wilmington I worked for Bradley Creek Marina. After a couple of years there I opened my own business repairing sailboat inboard auxiliaries. Since my business needs me to travel sometimes, I get help organizing myself with these uk visa business plans. This was a niche market no one else was filling at the time. I did this for better than 6 years till my father passed away in 1986. I moved back to NY to assist my mother for a year before coming back to NC. Upon returning I was hired by Liberty Yacht Corp. (a small sailboat builder) as shop manager. In 1987 I was hired as a production engineer by Carver Yachts, then opening a plant here in Wilmington. I worked Carver for 3 years before they closed the plant due to financial problems. After leaving Carver I opened a cabinet shop building commercial cabinets, mostly for the near by Marine bases. For many reasons this venture did not live up to expectations, so I return to what I do best, boats. I went to work for Bennett Bros. Marine here in Wilmington, as a project manager with in charge of the design and construction of a semi-custom 46′ convertible sport fisher. I left Bennett Bros to work with Baker Marine as a special project manager. I worked there until 2001 when I returned to school full time to complete a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I graduated in the spring of 2003. After completing school I returned to the marine industry as a marine surveyor. From 2004 to 2008 I worked as an independent quality consultant for Cruisers/Rampage while still doing pre-purchase surveys. When KCS closed the Rampage plant I continued on with the new owner US Marine while they built Bayliners and Meridians. In 2009 due to the poor economy US Marine closed that facility. About this time I started doing some freelance resume writing for marine publications. I have since had more than 30 repair and maintenance articles published in national magazines and I am now have a couple of book projects in the works.


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