Buying a Used Boat? Don’t Skip the Marine Survey

Spring is a great time to buy a used boat. Owners looking to trade up or down already may have made a deal on a new vessel, and dealerships that take used boats in trade are looking to free up space.
Boat For Sale courtesy iStock

Spring is a great time to buy a used boat. Owners looking to trade up or down already may have made a deal on a new vessel, and dealerships that take used boats in trade are looking to free up space. Some owners may be getting out of the boating lifestyle and want to avoid the expense of spring launch or summer storage.

Whether buying from a private seller or a dealer, there is one step in the purchase process that should not be overlooked. Hire a professional marine surveyor to inspect a potential purchase. 

A marine survey is a thorough inspection of a vessel’s structural and mechanical integrity, plumbing and electrical systems, and other components. Professional surveyors check the overall condition of the vessel and also look for specific problems that might decrease the boat’s value or create unsafe conditions.

Good surveyors are like detectives who follow clues left by water leaks, corrosion or stress cracks to uncover costly problems. But there are no regulations governing surveyors that can guarantee a prospective buyer has hired a qualified individual.

Two organizations, the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) and the Society for Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) have become the accepted authorities for professional marine surveyor testing and certification. Based in Holland, Nick Everse has been surveying boats professionally for 2 years. After graduating from a course in Marine Surveying from The Landing School in Maine, he became certified by both NAMS and SAMS.

Finding a qualified surveyor is really important,” Everse said. “Banks and insurance companies are even starting to require surveys from SAMS- or NAMS-certified surveyors before financing or covering a vessel.”

When a buyer is interested in a boat far from home, a surveyor near the vessel also can be retained to perform a preliminary inspection to see if the boat matches the information in an advertisement. Sellers may use the best photos they can to list their boats, but those photos may not be accurate representations of the vessel’s current condition.

Once the boat has been visually inspected and fits the buyer’s expectations, a surveyor can again be hired to perform a more in-depth inspection. A thorough marine survey should be performed before any price discussions begin since the findings can help with negotiations once the vessel is found to be seaworthy.

Boat courtesy iStock
A good-looking boat out of the water can hide a multitude of problems.

Hiring a surveyor in the spring provides an advantage over other seasons. It’s impossible to perform a thorough survey while the vessel is in the water; a floating vessel must be hauled out to have the hull checked for damage, water intrusion or other structural issues. Shafts, struts and outdrives also cannot be properly inspected while the vessel is afloat. But the opposite also is true. Inspections done on land cannot include important steps like a sea trial, and without one, there is no way to be sure a vessel runs properly from idle to wide-open throttle. 

A survey started in the spring while the boat is on land can be completed once the vessel has been launched, potentially eliminating haul-out costs to the buyer. Since surveyors charge a flat fee, most will return to complete an inspection at no extra cost.

Many buyers consider water intrusion, which can destroy the structural integrity of fiberglass or wood, to be one of their biggest concerns, but some surveyors believe it’s not the most important consideration. 

A wet hull or stringers isn’t going to kill anyone,” Detroit-area surveyor Bill Dunk said. “Our job is to look for safety issues, too, like bad wiring, fuel leaks or faulty safety equipment. Gas in the bilge and a spark — that’s what kills.” 

Whether buying a trailer boat, schooner or trawler, the buyer’s very first step should always be to hire a professional marine surveyor. No one wants to see their new boat sitting in the shop for a month waiting for unexpected repairs — the Michigan boating season is short enough.

Chuck Warren is a boating writer and licensed captain who lives in Grandville.

*Photography courtesy iStock

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