How Long Does a Boat Survey Take?

How Long Does a Boat Survey Take?

Understanding the time commitment for a boat survey is an important question asked by buyers and sellers before a sale. Having inspected over 1,500 power boats across Sydney, Darwin, Gold Coast, and Melbourne since 2015, my experience offers insights into the duration of boat surveys for various vessel types and sizes.

Factors Influencing Boat Survey Duration

Several critical factors determine the time it takes to complete a boat survey:

Boat Size: Larger boats, over 50ft, often need more time for a survey due to their complexity and the number of onboard systems. Conversely, you can typically survey smaller vessels, like trailer boats up to 25ft, on-site within 2-3 hours.

Boat Age and Condition: The survey duration may extend if older boats or those in poor condition reveal more issues. However, regular maintenance and good upkeep streamline the survey process.

Accessibility: Smooth and quick inspections require easy access to all boat areas, especially the engine compartment. Restricted access can pose challenges and add time. Distance to boat ramps needs to be considered on trailer boats.

External Factors: Logistics like slipway proximity and scheduling, weather conditions, and the boat’s readiness (including fuel levels and hull cleanliness) also significantly impact the survey time. A boat with a dirty hull takes much longer to get to the slipway than one with a clean hull.

Types of Surveys and Expected Timelines

Pre-Purchase Inspections: These thorough assessments typically take a full day for boats under 50ft. Larger vessels might need two or more days, depending on complexity, scope and condition.

Insurance Inspections: These quicker surveys focus on the boat’s structural integrity and safety, usually excluding sea trials and often conducted “out of water” only.

Streamlining the Survey Process: Preparation Tips

Preparation can smooth the survey process. Cleaning the boat hull for barnacle growth, removing personal belongings, and ensuring all systems are operational can expedite the survey. Also crucial is confirming arrangements with slipways and minimising distractions on the survey day.

The Survey Process: A Step-by-Step Breakdown

The comprehensive survey process includes initial engine checks and compression testing (for petrol engines), thorough inspections of the interior, exterior, out of water and all systems during a sea trial. The specific requirements and conditions of each vessel can significantly vary the timeframes.

Example 1: 2012 Sea Ray 175 Sport Hull and Mechanical Inspection

Sea Ray 175 boat in boat yard for sale
Sea Ray 175 inspected on a trailer prior to taking on a sea trial

Surveying a 2012 Sea Ray 175 at the customer’s residence, including a comprehensive check, compression testing the engine and sea trial, took about 2.5 hours on-site. Compiling the detailed survey report required an additional 1.5 hours, not counting travel time. This efficiency exemplifies inspecting smaller, well-maintained boats.

Example 2: 2006 Clipper 50 Hull and Mechanical Survey

2005 Clipper 50 inspected out of water for survey at BoatWorks, Gold Coast

In contrast, surveying a 2006 Clipper 50 took a full day (8 hours) on-site, reflecting the intricacies of larger vessels. Documenting findings and recommendations in the report took another 3 hours, emphasising the effort needed for sizeable vessels.

These examples highlight the variable nature of boat survey timelines, influenced by the boat’s size, age, condition, and specific inspection requirements. They provide benchmarks for prospective boat buyers or owners to plan and prepare.

After the Survey: Reporting

My detailed reports are delivered within 24-48 hours, offering a comprehensive overview of the boat’s condition and recommendations. Larger or more complex vessels, such as super yachts, or those with significant defects will require longer reporting times. In another example, we inspected a Lloyds 105′ that took 3 days for survey inspection and report writing in total.

Choosing the Right Surveyor

Selecting a surveyor with a proven track record, relevant qualifications, and a comprehensive understanding of mechanical and structural boat aspects is crucial.

There are three main types of marine surveyors:

  1. Hull Surveyor: They give a detailed review of the boat’s overall condition, systems, and performance. To qualify, they must hold a professional surveying qualification and belong to professional bodies like AIMS in Australia.
  2. Engine Surveyor: These experts focus on engines and machinery. They evaluate the state of engines, generators, and mechanical systems. Engine surveyors need a trade qualification, gained from an apprenticeship and years of engine repair work.
  3. Commercial Surveyor: They ensure boats comply with national and state laws. In Australia, they’re typically AMSA-accredited.

Some surveyors can handle both hull and engine inspections. For example, my marine mechanic background and a marine surveying diploma let me do both hull and engine surveys, but not commerical.


In summary, the question “How long does a boat survey take?” depends on multiple factors, including the boat’s size, age, condition, and the type of survey. The most efficient process incorporates in-water inspection, slipping, out of water inspection and sea trial in an order that allows minimum hold ups. The bigger and older the boat, the longer the survey will take. If you’re interested in getting a pre-purchase survey in NSW or QLD, please reach out and we can assist further.

About the Author

Aaron O’Donoghue is a qualified Marine Surveyor & Engineer with nearly two decades of experience in the industry. He is an experienced boater from Sydney who grew up on the waters of Sydney Harbour. He left school at 15 to complete an apprenticeship as a Marine Mechanic. In 2015, he founded BoatBuy, where he has inspected thousands of boats and is passionate about helping others enjoy their time on the water. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field. Do you have a boating related question? Feel free to reach out to me via email here.

How can I prepare my boat for a survey to ensure it goes quickly?

To significantly expedite the survey process, it’s important to remove all personal belongings, ensure the batteries are fully charged, clean the hull, and verify that the engines are in working order before the survey takes place.

What are the most common issues found during boat surveys?

The most frequent issues identified in surveys typically involve structural defects in fibreglass boats, engine overheating and performance problems, and electrical issues.

Can the weather affect the duration of a boat survey?

Yes, bad weather can extend the duration of the survey. This happens because adverse conditions can slow down the journey to the slipway, make docking the boat more challenging, and necessitate extra measures to safeguard the boat from damage.

Is it possible to be present during the survey?

Indeed, it’s quite typical for buyers to be present on the day of the survey. This attendance offers a valuable learning opportunity. However, it’s essential to allow the surveyor to work without interruptions, especially during critical moments of the inspection. It’s not advisable to bring the entire family to examine the boat during the survey, the number of people present should be kept to a minimum to enable the surveyor to perform their duties effectively.

How often should I get my boat surveyed?

It’s advisable to have your boat surveyed before buying it and then every 3-5 years to confirm that everything is in proper condition. Larger, older boats require more frequent surveys. A survey allows you to gain a precise understanding of the boat’s condition, enabling you to plan effectively before undertaking any major maintenance tasks.

What should I do if the survey uncovers significant issues?

If a survey reveals significant problems, addressing them promptly is crucial. Depending on the nature of the issues, there are different approaches: you might choose to disclose these major problems and sell the boat “as is,” or immediate repairs may be necessary to ensure the boat remains safe and operational. If you’re uncertain about the best course of action, it’s wise to have a thorough conversation with your surveyor. Ask for their advice on what steps to take and the reasons behind them. A competent surveyor will outline the advantages and disadvantages, helping you to make an informed decision on your own.

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