What are the limits of a Pre-Purchase Marine Survey?

Surveys of all kinds have their limitations. Whether you’re booking a pre-purchase marine survey for insurance purposes only, engine only, or a full pre-purchase inspection, it’s impossible to know absolutely everything within a timely (and therefore cost effective) manner. 

You’re probably wondering why I would write about the limitations of a marine survey. It’s probably a topic that you wouldn’t hear from our competitors either. However, I believe it’s important to be transparent with anyone we deal with and communicate honestly if you’re considering hiring us. We want you to have clear and realistic expectations of your marine survey.

Whilst we do our absolute best job to provide the most thorough report in the industry, with the ability to cover everything that’s visible from bow to stern (including the engines), I cannot see through your hull or engine. We have numerous methods of detecting defects and problems on any given boat. There is always the possibility that there are “latent” defects that are not detectable without specialised machinery, major disassembly/cutting into the hull, or sometimes even removal and disassembly of mechanical components. You might be thinking, what’s a latent defect? A latent defect is one that can’t be uncovered with reasonable external examination.

What does a surveyor do?

marine surveyor checking propellors

A surveyor will do his best work when allowed to investigate the boat properly.  What does this mean for you? It’s in your best interests to fend off any agitated or distracting sellers and allow the surveyor to inspect. This also means allowing the testing to be completed. For example, we often get a quivering seller when asked to complete a test run at full speed.

The truth is, I’m not trying to blow your boat up, I’m just testing it properly for our client. Although rare, if anything goes wrong after purchase, we’re often the first ones to get the blame. It’s in our best interests to test it properly. An unhappy customer is a Surveyor’s worst nightmare. At BoatBuy, our aim is to provide a fair, honest and independent report that accurately reflects the condition of the boat on the day of inspection.

So, how can you ensure the best result possible from any surveyor that you hire? Here’s my thoughts from years in the industry completing inspections:

Step 1: Get a sample marine survey report

Before hiring a surveyor, ask them for a sample report and review the report that they send you. If there is anything that you don’t see on their report that you would like them to check or inspect, ask your surveyor before the inspection. You can also share their sample report with other reputable and knowledgeable trades to get their input, for example, your local mechanic that will be working on the boat after you purchase it.

Step 2: Communicate your concerns

Have you had a marine survey before and it wasn’t quite up to standard? Or maybe you’ve noticed something on the boat, and not sure about it? Voice these concerns to the Surveyor completing your job, before he visits onsite.  This allows both of you to discuss your expectations, so you can both have a similar understanding and level of confidence.

Step 3: Ask about the engines

Most surveyors are not qualified to inspect engines. Ask your surveyor if they are qualified to inspect the engines, and if they aren’t, you’ll need to hire a separate engine surveyor. Our team at BoatBuy are dual-certified surveyors and engineers and report on the condition of the hull and engines. 

Step 4: Review the service history

Reading a boat’s service history is like reading someone’s secret journal. It’ll uncover a lot about the boat without even stepping onboard. We highly recommend reviewing the boat’s history and asking any questions that you might have before the inspection. Your surveyor can give you insight on issues they see on a daily basis regarding servicing and repairs on boats with similar specifications. 

Step 5: Let the surveyor do their job

On the day of inspection, let the surveyor do their job properly. What do we mean by that? Whilst we welcome any potential buyers to attend on the day of inspection, it’s important that you limit the number of people that you bring along for the ride, as too many people can be very distracting. Save your friends and family to the handover day! Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but try to find times when the surveyor isn’t mid way through checking a component. Writing a list of questions and asking the surveyor to sit down and go through them all with you when they have a chance also works well.

Step 6: Consider the age of the boat

If you’re looking at purchasing a 20-30 year old boat, you should expect there to be some issues. How many people are driving around in 20-30 year old cars and find them reliable without any defects? A good surveyor will be fair to both parties, so their report will be comparative to boats of a similar age. 

Step 7: Consider the conditions of your marine survey

It’s important to also consider the weather conditions on the day of inspection. For example, if it’s raining, your surveyor will not be able to use their moisture meter on the exterior of the boat. In a similar context, a moisture metre cannot be used if the entire engine bay or underfloors are wet or flooded. If there are large swells or wind and you’re testing a small boat, you may not be able to test the engine out at full load. Is there oil and grease throughout the engine bay? Has the engine been running before the marine survey? These are all things that can affect the outcome of an inspection.

Step 8: Read your marine survey properly

Take the time to read your report properly, and make sure to ask questions if you don’t understand anything listed. Additionally, take the defect list seriously and understand the implications of each and every defect that is reported. A good marine survey will provide you with a general overview of the condition of the boat and engines. Sometimes listed defects require further investigation from appropriate trades, and occasionally more serious issues are uncovered. For example, it’s impossible to know the internal condition of a cooling system until you strip it down. If the surveyor has identified the cooling system out of date for servicing, this is a risk that you are taking on if you go ahead with the purchase.

The more cooperation you can get from the seller the better the outcome. This could involve having them service the cooling system before the sale. Similarly, you won’t know how bad the deck has rotted until you actually start cutting it up and repairing it, and it always seems to cost more than you think!

Step 9: Ask about items that are not inspected

Make sure you discuss unassessed items with your surveyor in the report. It’s important that you understand the implications of any items before you make a purchase. Some boats aren’t designed with proper access to vital components. As a result you will have to pay for extra labour to repair those  components . You’re also taking the risk by them not being accessible for inspection.

Step 10: Understand the cost of boat ownership

Owning a boat isn’t a cheap exercise, and isn’t the investment that a lot of people might think.  I love owning a boat but it is costly.  From storage costs, insurance, fuel, maintenance and repairs, they don’t say “boat” stands for “bring out another thousand” for nothing! Each boat will have different costs associated with it, so make sure you do your research and be aware of the cost.  You can learn about other peoples experiences on websites such as thehulltruth.com, boatdiesel.com and youtube.com.

At the end of the day, a good survey can uncover an array of problems and can save you thousands of dollars. Whether that’s from you avoiding purchasing a lemon or being able to negotiate the cost or conditions of the sale. Keep in mind, buying a used boat will never be the same as purchasing a brand new boat with warranty. Communicating with your surveyor is vital so you both get the best outcome! A surveyor’s worst nightmare is an unhappy customer.

If you have any questions about Pre-Purchase Marine Surveys, feel free to contact us.

Explore More

articles | June 21, 2022

Boat Batteries Explained

In this article, we are going to look at the differences between types of boat batteries. We'll also cover the jargon used, and some of the most common questions we get asked during surveys. Throughout, we will cover: Most common battery types Flooded vs seal lead acid batteries AGM and...

articles | May 19, 2022

Free Boat Purchase Contract / Bill Of Sale

Free Boat Purchase Contract / Bill of Sale Are you purchasing a boat privately and would like a simple boat purchase contract / bill of sale to formalise the purchase? Having a clear contract in place is important to protect both the buyer and the seller if there are any disputes....

articles | May 1, 2022

7 Key Points To Marine Diesel Turbo Longevity

Understanding Turbochargers To benefit from our 7 key points to marine diesel turbo longevity, we first need a basic understanding of what a turbocharger is, and what purpose it serves. Induction and forced induction Our marine diesel engines draw air into each cylinder by movement of the piston. The stroke of...