Marine Survey: Why Do You Need One?

We highly recommend that every prospective buyer of a pre-owned yacht get a marine survey done before any money changes hands! A marine survey is a detailed inspection of a yacht by an accredited marine surveyor to determine its current condition.

More importantly, it will determine the yacht’s seaworthiness and whether the vessel is safe to operate in the conditions for which it was designed.

How to Use Your Marine Survey

Many boat buyers think of a marine survey as a way to find all the needed repairs so they can negotiate the final terms of their purchase. But, a survey should help you cement that this is the right vessel for you. It should convince you to buy or to walk away.

Often walking away can feel brutal after a long hunt for your dream boat, but keep this option in mind and your emotions at bay during the survey period as it may be the most prudent decision.

Boats and how they are equipped vary widely so creating a standard for a survey checklist is not practical. That is why it is important to hire an experienced and well-informed surveyor. Our recommendations for how to find such a surveyor follow. And though not exhaustive, we have shared a sample marine survey checklist.

A good surveyor will be able to point out major problems, e.g., de-lamination or blisters and smaller deficiencies like gel coat repairs or hatch leaks. With this list in hand, one can make a good determination of what it costs to take care of the major issues and whether the smaller issues are easy enough to deal with over time. Once you determine that the major stuff is not a deal breaker, you can move on to figure out from the survey results, what else is needed to put the vessel in good working order as well as repairs / maintenance / replacements likely to be required in the near future such as new sails or new lines.

So the survey will give you a good evaluation of the general condition of the yacht and give you a good insight into the maintenance required to keep the boat in good shape. Most buyers are not experienced enough and cannot make an adequate evaluation of the condition of the boat and therefore need a survey.

A marine survey is buying peace of mind. Not only will it give you a good idea of exactly what you are getting into with your boat purchase, it is unlikely that you will be able to secure insurance or financing without providing the insurance company or lender with an acceptable survey. So it totally makes sense to pay for that survey. It is cheap at the price for your peace of mind!

Where To Get A Survey for Your Boat

There are several surveyor organizations such as the National Association of Maine Surveyors (NAMS) or Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS), but keep in mind that membership is not a true indication of of competency.

Note that because these associations have rigorous examinations for membership, marine insurance underwriters will accept value surveys or pre-purchase surveys from these surveyors in these associations.

As brokers, we give our clients a choice of 3 or 4 surveyors that we have experience with in the area the boat is situated. We ask our buyers to research the surveyors’ reputations online as well as look for others’ recommendations. Then once they have a short list, buyers should directly contact surveyors to interview them and decide who they want to work with. The surveyor is the buyer’s trusted advisor and you should never hire a surveyor based on the recommendation of your broker…including us! It is important you are confident there is no conflict of interest and that you can communicate well with the surveyor.

While interviewing surveyor candidates, be sure to emphasize this is your one and only chance to identify issues to negotiate or that prompt you to walk away. The only way to ensure you have the best possible list of flaws and concerns is to require the surveyor to test every bit of functionality and each piece of equipment. Engines, genset, winches, windlass, sails and sheets, navigational equipment, galley equipment, mechanicals throughout the boat such as faucets, drains, and light switches. Reiterate that you expect the surveyor to fully test everything. If you get push-back or an unsettling feeling this is not what the surveyor usually does, move on to the next surveyor on your short list.

A few things to consider asking a potential surveyor:

  • Are you in good standing with your surveying organization? Keeping proper membership usually always requires completion of continuing-education credits annually which means they should be up to date on their skills and industry information.
  • Do you belong to the American Boat and Yacht Council? Many boat buyers may not consider this, but this is a sign that your surveyor has the knowledge and tools to evaluate your boat you are considering against ABYC standards. And that is definitely what you want.
  • Have you earned any certifications? This shows that the surveyor is serious about the quality of their services. Though not a requirement, it would definitely be a differentiator as ABYC certifications such as “Systems”, “Electrical”, or “Engines”.
  • Can you evaluate the vessel for compliance with all relevant, current ABYC standards? (more on this below)

Note you should check any memberships or certifications before hiring the surveyor.

Evaluating a Boat for ABYC Standards

When your surveyor discusses the results with you, you want to know if the vessel inspection revealed any ABYC standards violations. Often these will be “violations” because the boat was built before the standard was implemented. And that is an acceptable answer from the seller or broker, especially since there is no legal requirement that the standards be followed such as sound signaling devices, emergency equipment, or navigation lights.

But, decide for yourself if any particular lack of compliance with a standard means the boat is not for you. You can still buy homes built with old electrical wiring techniques that are risky for electrocution or fires. Would you live in that home with those risks? Probably not, since an investment of time and money could eliminate the risk.

The same should hold true for any ABYC violation found on the boat you are considering. Plan to eliminate any unnecessary risks either by negotiating with the seller to have the proper technician make the repair or to reduce the price so you can do so.

Learn More about Marine Surveys

For more interesting reading about marine surveys, try reading this great article, Marine Survey 101, Understanding boat surveys: What is pre-purchase or Marine Surveyors Earn Their Fee and here is a pre-survey checklist when considering a yacht to help you weed out the good ones from the bad ones BEFORE you spend any money.

Typical Marine Survey Checklist

Surveys vary a bit from firm to firm but they basically include a review of the condition and working order of the structure, finishes, and systems. Download our Marine Survey Checklist to get a better understanding of what to expect. It is also a great list for you to use to prepare your boat for sale as you can eliminate many of the price negotiation points ahead of time by repairing any deficiencies.

Survey Checklist Done
Run & test port start/idle/full ahead/astern/stop
Run & test stbd. start/idle/full ahead/astern/stop
Is alarm system operational?
Proper instrument readings.
Observe exhaust water discharge for proper volume
Feel exhaust hose for heat as evidence of H2O restriction in exhaust elbow
Smooth operation? Excessive smoke exhaust, smell in & out of engine room
Operational bilge blower
Sea trial-check for vibrations & misalignment
Preseason dive/hull inspection
sound insulation
engine grounding plate
tie down & labeling
charge level
switchover – emergency start
Test operation of Lectrasan (check correct gauge reading)
Check through hull valves for leaks, free operation & corrosion, check hoses & clamps
Hoses double clamped?
Open & service in-line strainers, check for leaks, remote bilge & sump pumps & filters.
Automatic Bilge Pumps-confirm operation of float switches.
Manual Bilge Pumps-confirm operation and strainer installed at pick up, handle secured?
Sump Pump-confirm operation, strainer cleaned & installed, float switch operation?
Fresh Water Pressure System-confirm operation of pump & all related fixtures.
Head operation-confirm operation, check for leaks, lube as needed.
Y-Valves-confirm operation, lube as needed, handle restrained per USCG?
Age of hoses (under 5 years)
Holding Tanks-check for leaks & odors, deck pump out cap free, tank empty? Flush with clean water.
Macerator: confirm operation, leaks or odor, momentary switch at pump
Macerator: verify pump actually discharges liquids
Wire tie head Y-Valve discharge to prevent direct dumping from heads
Bilges clean/free of debris
Rust in engine compartment
Clean engine room
Steering-check cable tension routing & condition (chafe).
Steering-Hydraulic, check fluid level in reservoir, check for leaks, inspect hoses & rudder linkage.
Engine controls-proper adjustment smooth operation.
Engine Exhaust System double clamped, hoses checked.
Engine Hoses & cable inspected for chafe.
Sea Strainer checked; service strainer & O-rings
Stuffing Box-check hose, double clamp if needed, is there adjustment left or does it require repacking?
Corrosion on adjacent surfaces? Spray deflector needed?
Windshield wipers & motor
Electrical DC
Check battery condition with load tester
check operation of all lights in cabins
check operation of all courtesy lights
check fan operation
Check battery fluid level, terminals clean & tight
Cables neatly organized (they don’t block battery fill caps)
Battery boxes secured & covered
DC switch panel-test all circuits, lights, pumps, electronics, etc. (all switches labeled?)
Navigation lights checked-running lights, steaming light, anchor light, compass & instruments
12 Volt plug in at or near each steering station
Do all switches work?
Stock of distilled water for Batteries
electrical grounding
Electrical AC
Power cord condition, cord end fittings & receptacles
Operate major AC appliances: H2O heater, cabin heat, refrigerators, chargers.
GFI installed in galley, heads & exterior?
AC adapters-15-30 AMP & 20/30 AMP in ships inventory? 50 AMP?
Operate AC generator & confirm proper output.
Extension cord adaptor
check shore power connection/generator switchover (correctly labeled)
Dinghy & Accessories
O/B Mounting Bracket
Oars, patch kit, plug, pump, gear bag
O/B fuel can – mark with fuel type
Inflatable dinghy-hold pressure
Name & hailing port
O/B Motor HP
Serial #
Check lower unit oil
Fittings greased
Moving parts lubricated
Rust preventer   sprayed on all engine & metal parts
Are all metal parts rust free?
Are water drain holes in gear housing open so water can drain out?
Engine starts and runs
Spare shear pins & spark plugs
Canvas Covers
Dinghy Covers
Chafe Strips
Snaps & Fasteners
Barbecue Cover
Table Cover
reef points
lazy bag and lazy jacks
UV covers
sail numbers/markings/decorations
mainsail. jib, gennaker, spinnaker
Running Rigging
shrouds and turnbuckles
lines storage
mast base
ball bearing luff cars (operation, condition, spares)
running back stays
mast/through deck fitting
mast mounted equipment
chafing gear
cotter pin and locks
lighting protection
antennae and radar mounts
deck, nav, search lights
Mooring & Anchoring
Anchor chain markings
spare line
Anchor packages (2) (stowage system for 300’ mooring line)
dock lines
Spring lines
Boat hook
Anchor windlass operation
Fenders (4) & Spares (2) (optional)
Windlass handle
Markings both primary and secondary chain/rode-distances noted in manual
Measurements of both size & length for chain/rode-noted in inventory/manual
Extra mooring line length ft. Size
Exterior Condition
Storage lockers/drains and ventilation
Gel Coat Repairs (kit)
Bright work Varnish
Venturi/Wind Screen
Teak Decks
American Flag
GB Burgee
Bow Staff
Flag Staff
Canadian Courtesy Flag
Interior Condition
Window tracks
Woodwork finish
Shower curtains/teak grates/shower sumps
Cabin sole
Curtains/tie backs/snaps
Head Compartments
Door & locksets (interior & exterior)
Refrigerator Drain Plugs
Refrigerator Shelf hangers/clips
Stove knobs & pot holders
Machinery: Main Engines & Generator
Check fluid levels-glycol, oil, trans oil
Inspect water fuel separator for contamination
Check belt tension & condition
Inspect air intake screen or filter & replace or clean as needed
Determine oil & filter service history. Service required Y N
Electronics & Navigation
VHF radio(s)-test operation on CH16 & 68, antenna connection tight
Depth sounder in good operation, clean knot meter paddlewheel
Loran/GPS & Radar-test operation
Chart plotter-test operation, inventory cartridges
Stereo-test operation of received & tape/CD deck, check all speakers
Compass alignment needed? Deviation table posted
TV/VCR test operation of both
Are operation manuals on board for all equipment
Weather boots/covers on exposed switches
Laptop connectors
Equipment Inspection
Spare Parts inventory complete (see attachment)
Spares in storage box (put in proper storage area)
Tools: condition, adequate inventory in box (put in dry storage area)
Spare keys (6)
Stove LPG /Electric System to code
Propane compartment open to living spaces
Weather boots on all exposed toggle & push button switches
Expiration date for old propane bottles
Deck Hardware & Hatches
check trampoline condition, lashing
Check hatches – mounting, drains, locks, location
deck hardware backing plates
vents – drainage
lockers and latches
stanchions and mounting
Galley Equipment
sink and drain
saltwater/fresh water system
trash compactor
bar- icemaker
Miscellaneous Equipment
Check heater operation
Check air-conditioning operation in each cabin
Salt water wash down & hose
washer drier operation
Check davit winch; proper lead? frayed cables? Remote Control.
Check O/B for operation; locking method.
Operation Manuals-are they in with the other ships papers? Do they cover operation of all systems
Safety Equipment
check life raft expiration, location, access, lashing
deck lifelines
under hull/bridgedeck lifelines
transom boarding ladder and access from water for re-entry
PFD’s sleeping capacity plus 2, plus 2 child’s (optional)
Flares-3 handheld or 3 meteor flares, check expiration date (3 years from the month indicated on the
Ships bell-all boats
Air horn-all boats (back up handheld for power boats)
Fire extinguishers-how many check expiration date – –
Throw able ring or horseshoe with line or life sling
First Aid Kit-contents & condition, replace as needed
Life lines & railings-tension & condition of cables, stanchions, railings & gates
USCG auxiliary inspection
emergency tiller
Barbecue securely mounted to rail
Check tanks for condition-rusty? Securely mounted? Enclosure vented? Bottle expiration?
Operate all propane appliances – all stove burners & oven
Check hose & connections for wear or chafe from tank to appliance


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1 thought on “Marine Survey: Why Do You Need One?”

  1. Thank you for explaining what role a surveyor plays in buying a boat. I’ve been thinking about getting a boat for our family to use on the lake. I’ll be sure to hire a surveyor when we start narrowing down our options.

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