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Don’t Buy A Lemon

Don’t Buy A Lemon

A marine survey is the detailed inspection, survey or examination of a marine vessel conducted by a certified marine surveyor in order to assess, monitor and report on the condition of the vessel and the products on them. A survey typically includes the structure, machinery and equipment (navigational, safety, radio, etc.), and general condition of a vessel. The survey is also used to determine if the vessel is safe in conditions for which it was designed, and what maintenance and repairs are required, or are likely to be required in the future.

In this interview with Nicholas J Lockyer, an accredited yacht and small ship surveyor, he explains the basics and benefits of a professional marine survey for either the owner or the prospective buyer.


When should one hire a marine surveyor?

As soon as you decide to make an offer or go to contract, a marine surveyor should be engaged and any offer should be made ‘subject to a satisfactory survey’. You should only engage surveyors who are members of the Marine Surveyors Association or the International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS), as members are vetted for knowledge, experience and competency. There are courses conducted by the IIMS and some specialist surveying courses in Launceston, but these are generally for larger ships and cargo.


It is advised that before engaging a surveyor, ask the seller when the engine(s) was last serviced and collect paperwork verifying maintenance records and servicing for machinery, rigging, sails and electronics.


Who must commission the surveyor?

In most cases, the survey is commissioned by the intending purchaser if it is a pre-purchase report, or by the owner if it is for insurance renewal. On some occasions, the owner of a boat may commission a report prior to going to the market so he is aware of any issues that might affect the sale.


What are the benefits of a professional marine survey?

Just as an RACQ inspection of a second-hand vehicle provides you with an independent report, a professional marine survey is essential. Unlike motor vehicles, every boat is very different. A third-party unbiased inspection will provide the facts to allow a considered opinion.


How should the client prepare for the survey?

Clean the boat thoroughly and remove all personal and extraneous items so the surveyor can make a thorough inspection.


What is included in the inspection?

A professional surveyor will inspect all aspects of the boat that he can access without destructive testing or the removal of fixed parts. Some surveyors may specialise in doing just mechanical or electrical inspections, and some will do the ‘whole of ship’.


The time needed to conduct a marine survey depends on many factors. Even smaller boats can sometimes take as long as a vessel twice its size, as it may have more complex systems or can be more difficult to access. Generally, it will take a full day to inspect and report on a typical 40’ yacht or powerboat.


Most surveyors prefer to undertake their work unhindered. They meet with their client towards the end so a synopsis of their findings can be given, rather than providing a running commentary, which can complicate and extend the surveyors work. The professional surveyor will ask many questions in order to determine past use and operation, which will have a profound effect on the current condition.


Is there a survey report?

Most professional surveyors will email a secure report in PDF format which is preferred by most banks, and insurance companies. Reports are prepared for the party that commissions them, but remains the property of the surveyor. Survey reports for some inspections done for pre-auction or pre-sales use can be prepared and issued to multiple parties, but only with the consent of the surveyor who holds the copyright. A professional surveyor should only discuss his findings with the instructing party, unless instructed otherwise.


Will the surveyor inspect any repairs undertaken because of the survey?

It is not uncommon for the surveyor to inspect any repairs identified in his inspection so that the report can be re-issued without a list of defects that are no longer evident.


Should a buyer fear the list of problems with a used boat?

Not necessarily. Every boat, even a new one can have issues that need to be considered. Not having all the facts is what is most to be feared. Always seek professional advice before you make a decision. If you are unsure, ask questions.


Does the marine survey usually give the buyer advice to buy or not to buy?

A professional surveyor should only ever provide information to the client so he or she can make a decision based on all relevant facts.


Do surveyors determine the value of the boat?

Surveyors should only include a valuation statement if they are competent to do so, and only if requested, and for an additional fee. Most surveyors will avoid doing valuations, as this is a specialist’s field.


How are fees charged?

Surveyors fees vary but most are based on a per-linear-foot basis or a formula based on length x width. If the job is complex and involves travel the fees may be charged on a per day basis. Professional fees are similar to those charged by accountants and lawyers.


What are common problems of boats?

  • Most of the problems found in used boats occur as a result of lack of use and maintenance rather than over-use.


  • Osmotic blistering can be found just after the vessel is lifted and washed and is more prevalent in boats built prior to 1990. However, just because the boat has some blistering does not mean it has structural issues and should not be the only reason for not buying a boat.


  • Because most fibreglass boats use a polyester resin matrix (which is brittle), cracking is the most common issue.


  • Galvanic corrosion describes the wasting of a metal that gives up its electrons to protect a more ‘noble’ metal. Gold sits at the top of the Scale of Nobility while zinc is almost at the bottom, so zinc is used as a sacrificial anode to protect bronze, stainless steel and other alloys that sit above it on the scale. (Electrolysis, on the other hand, refers to impressed current breaking down compounds, such as water turning to hydrogen and oxygen.)


  • Paint adhesion issues are common and caused by poultice and galvanic corrosion because of poor preparation prior to painting or design/construction shortcomings by using dissimilar metals in close proximity.



Nicholas J. Lockyer is an accredited class 1A yacht and small ship surveyor (up to 40 metres). He is with the Marine Surveyors Association (Australia) and an associate member of the International Institute of Marine Surveying.


Editorial by Andy Kancachian


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