#56: What Should You Reasonably Expect a Surveyor to Find?

“Why weren’t the rotten stringers uncovered in your survey?”  Many of you have asked this question so I thought it would be good to talk about this and pose the question to my followers as I am not sure the rot in our stringers could have been or should have been discovered in our survey, but I pose the question to you all so we can all benefit from the shared experience of fellow cruisers: What should you reasonably expect a surveyor to find?  Please let me know your thoughts on this, and I hope you all find the dialogue helpful.

Wow.  First Gift of Cruising Goal reached.  That’s exciting.  A big thanks to all who donated.  I will announce the next Gift of Cruising and put it up on the website soon!  You never know.  The next winner could be YOU!   (I’m kind of on a “Santa high” here.)  Get on board!


14 thoughts on “#56: What Should You Reasonably Expect a Surveyor to Find?

  • Annie,
    A good survey would, should have caught the stringer issue. All survey’s are supposed to check the structural Integrity of the boat. And stringers are one of the most important parts of that. In our yard I have watched hundreds of surveys done. they always check the hull with a moisture meter and sound it out looking for voids and delamination. They do this on the decks as well. When they go to the inside they always pull the floorboards, they check the bilges and they always check the stringers. A surveyor is supposed to know the latest regulations according to ABYC So they not only are looking for structural issues they are looking for safety issues. wiring, lights, everything. They check the mast, they check the rigging they check the sails. basically all of it. So in my mind they should have caught the stringers and bulk head tabbing as well. It is their job to know and do all of it. That is why you pay them for it. Some are better than others and there are a lot of them out there. Ask around and get reference’s. It is all you can do.

    • Thanks Rick. Really appreciate the input. We’re not sure the rot would have been perceptible three years ago but I am no expert on the proper scope of a survey. It’s always good to get the point of view from someone like you who has witnessed hundreds. Thanks for offering your experience.

    • Hey Rick. Appreciate the input as always. It’s been interesting to see the varying opinions on this topic. As I know you’ve seen hundreds of surveys conducted, I take your advice to heart. I’m so glad you found my blog. It’s been fun having you along for this journey. Thanks as always for watching and for your support.

  • I know a couple of marine surveyors and I believe that they are not allowed to take anything apart, like unscrewing the floor boards ( this is just what I was told by a surveyor I know and that was maybe 10 or 15 years ago). They can remove the access panels in the floor boards to inspect what’s under the floor etc.. I agree with Rick’s comment that a moisture meter should be used to check the hull, deck and bulkheads and a sounding hammer to detect voids. I also agree with Rick’s comment that there are good and not so good surveyors. I am currently trying to buy a boat that is 600 miles away from my home so having the boat surveyed by some one I know will not be possible (anyone know a good surveyor in Waukegan, IL.?

  • Annie,
    I think it is an excellent idea to start this dialogue. First off, surveyors need to be certified by NAMS and SAMS and a good surveyor is not an apprentice. He/she has years of experience and surveyed many typical boats like the one you’re trying to purchase. As the new potential owner you need to interview surveyors and ask the right questions. Certifications, types and specific models of boats they have surveyed, references for past work completed, and they need to be well known in the area that they service. The worst think to do is to ask your broker for a surveyor recommendation. Remember, once the deal is done and the money has changed hands they have done their job. A good broker will carefully direct you on how and who to interview and stay impartial to the survey interview process and will be present at your survey. I think talking to the people that work and run boat yards is a valuable place to start as they see all the traffic and hear all the good and bad about surveyors. As the new potential owner and the person hiring the surveyor you need to be present in the survey and ask any and all questions you have concerning this boat. A good surveyor will be a PITA and cover everything and will share and advise you to what is found at the time of survey and where it will be beyond his scope to check something. I am going through this process currently and interview (5) different surveyors and talk to countless people about these surveyors before my selection. You want to review a sample of a similar boat that he has surveyed and review the content. The surveyor will run down the list of things to be covered during survey and will be so through that you will know what light bulbs don’t work and which doors are sticking when opened or shut. Because they survey so many boats they know the tell tale sign that indicate where more inspection is required. The report will list critical deficiencies that need immediate attention and those things that need to be done on the to do list. This is going to be your check up for the condition report of the boat on the day it was surveyed and also a statement to your insurance and financial lender as to the value and condition report of this vessel. Your stringers and keel bolts should have been caught in survey!!! FWIW
    Best regards,
    Bill Creadon

    • Wow. Thanks for your input Bill. Incredibly helpful. I will post these excellent comments on YouTube as well so they are available for all. Appreciate you taking the time to comment. Thank you!

  • I agree with all these comments but I also think the the scope of the surveyor’s job is huge! All the systems, structural, mechanical, electrical? It is such a huge job to check everything and the larger a boat is the more they have to check. What Bill says makes sense to me. Experience is key here. 15-20 years of experience in the field would be huge in knowing where to focus on specific makes and models. Boat yard people would be my first goto in an area and their certs are a big deal too. Don’t trust the brokers. It is not in their best interest, Unless they have flawless integrity making the sale is their priority and they will always push towards that end.

    • Thanks Tony. I agree it is a HuGE job! Theres a reason I don’t do it. But our broker has flawless integrity. He was incredibly patient and let us make all the decisions with only his insight and advice at the ready.

  • It is a huge job and the cost reflects it. Around $22.00- $25.00 dollars / foot. More important is to take a boat to survey that you and knowledgeable help has thoroughly done their own inspection with an idea of what your buying. I visit a boat about (3) times and compare it against other boats for sale (that I visit) and weigh out the best candidate to take to purchase. Also, the broker I am working with I have known for 25+ years and has worked with many friends in buying and selling boats. When I determined what I was looking for I turned it over to her and she provided all kinds of information from contacts she knew in the industry on that model boat. I am fortunate that I boat and live on the Chesapeake Bay and have great resources to choose from. The other resource are the owners groups and are very helpful in identifying potential problem with that particular boat. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!! It’s a big investment and can become bigger $$$ drain if the defects are not identified in the pre-inspection and survey. Once you have bought the boat you are now in love and your wallet will suffer!!! In the buying process it is extremely difficult to keep your heart (emotions) and your head (practical thinking) in check. As you mentioned, this is a very exciting time and you need to enjoy the experience. For me it’s like getting married, for better or worst, in richer and poorer, until we part. I really have trouble selling my boats because I put so much into each one. It feels like divorce and it hurts when they are gone regardless of the $$$ I received. And I pray the future owner will be good to her,

  • What they said. Mr. Creadon and Vincent pretty much knocked it out of the park. Now, I would go back to your surveyor and ask him this same question. What does his checklist include. Also ask him what his notes say about the survey of your vessel’s stringers. They give you a report, but they also have their notes. Hey, everyone makes mistakessss. Might be something he forgot, might be something he mentioned would need closer review at the next haul out. They all (normally) keep copious records of their surveys as they are frequently sued by one side of the transaction or the other regarding their findings when one side becomes unhappy after the fact. I remember your early blog while you were still in the purchase phase (and you were still trying to figure out port from starboard) where you mention your surveyor and that he was tearing through the boat pretty well, but stringers are the bones, and I would expect that would have been high up on the checklist. It’s not even the hardest thing to check. Half the time if you have extensive rot, your nose tells you before you even get all the way into the bilge. Wood boat (internal framing) + moist conditions + poor air circulation = rot. Depending on how bad the above conditions, rot can progress very quickly, and other times you may just have a light surface decay that stays the same for years. So, I’m not sure how much your rot problem would have progressed in three years, but it might have been something you should have noted when you were in the bilge. Then, while your down there, give the keel bolts a good rap with a hammer. If it rings, then it may be in good shape, if they have a dead thud sound, time to check further. Stainless bolts embedded into wood + moisture is not a good thing due to crevice corrosion. I believe I heard one of your yard birds talking about it. If they are the original keel bolts, they probably saw their useful life. No doubt an experienced surveyor is best as they do gain in-depth knowledge of the various types, classes and builds of vessels over time and build libraries of info on where the problems exist (boat = problems everywhere). Some may even have surveyed the same vessel a time or two. Yet the old pro may get busy or complacent with something and miss something on the checklist. That’s why there should be a checklist so that they can verify they covered everything. However, while the freshly minted surveyor is still building their book, they are likely to be even more careful as they don’t want to screw up early on in their career. Of course this is with the understanding integrity is a given. Anywho, looks like you’ve gotten a little more salt on those mate’s stripes (guess it’s time for another book). Too bad it often comes in the form of $$$ instead of just sea time. So, let’s see, what do we have left? You’ve done the head, the dinghy, various sail and rigging fixes, deck fittings and trim, battery, tranny, mast, now stringers and keel. I don’t recall, have you replaced the shaft, the prop and the rudder or the various appurtenances affixed thereunto yet? Hmmm, probably time for a full engine overhaul. Then… then?… then you start over again. Happy boating!

    • Aaaahhhh. C.J. But, it should be J.C. cause you’re like the Jesus Christ of this blog. Good to see you here again. Thanks for the input. Agreed on many counts, mostly that I need to get on my next book. Once we get this dern boat back in the water, it will be high time!

  • Surveys vary appreciably in quality;referring to completeness, content and critical analysis. The most disappointing ones are not much more than an description and inventory. The next level, minimally so, but essential in my mind, is to operate each piece of equipment to determine if it’s operational or not. A survey who has value and earned his fee will go two steps further. For something not functioning, he’ll give a quick assessment of the potential causes. I wouldn’t expect him to diagnosis the problem but rather give me a range of potential remedies such as easy/inexpensive to difficult/expensive. The other aspect is to delve deeper than I would as a non-professional. This would include moisture readings and their interpretation (decks and hull, and in the case of Plaintiffs Rest, even the stringers below the mast as that isn’t an uncommon problem), a rigging examination including going aloft, a close examination of the diesel testing for voltage and temps around the engine, and key structural aspects that can be accessed (chainplates, rudder, cutlass bearing, thru-hulls, etc. For a typical boat in the 32-40′ range I’d expect close to eight hours of time spent. I really don’t care about the obvious but expect that in the final report. And weakness or deficiencies should be supplemented by his opinion on the proper correction and relative significance to the safety and value of the boat. Regarding the value, the surveyor should state his method, logic and recommended market value.

    • Very helpful and insightful. You clearly know your stuff. Thanks for offering your input. Hope you’re enjoying the weather down in Stuart!

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