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Understanding Boat, Yacht and Marine Surveys


Buying a pre-owned boat can be a more economical way to boat ownership. But much like buying a home, it requires an inspection and evaluation to ensure that any problems or deficiencies are known to a potential buyer. Depending on the severity, the seller and buyer may be able to negotiate a lower price, agree to have it repaired or, simply withdraw the offer to purchase the vessel. In this article we will show you how to find a qualified marine surveyor and what to expect during and after the survey.

If you are the buyer, this guide will help you to understand what the marine surveyor will be looking for when examining the boat. If you are the seller, you should be going through this list before you list your boat for sale. If you want top dollar for the sale of your boat, address any items on this list before a potential buyer steps aboard.

Marine Surveyor Qualifications

Being a marine surveyor requires proper training and expertise, and preferably many years of experience in the marine trades. Many surveyors have worked as mechanics, captains, boat builders and  fiberglass technicians. There are professional designations that you should look for when hiring a surveyor. The Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) and the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) are names and abbreviations that you should look for when calling surveyors, in addition to the types of vessels that they specialize in.

Marine Survey Fees

Surveyors generally charge fees on a per foot basis. The bigger the boat the more involved the survey will need to be. You should expect to pay anywhere from $20-$30 per foot with a minimum fee of $400-500. That fee should include time spent conducting an open water sea trial. Additional fees may be charged for oil analysis, thermal imaging, engine compression tests or other specialty examinations.

Elements of the Marine Survey

Marine surveys for recreational boats and yachts can be broken down into four main sections including structural, mechanical, cosmetic and performance during a sea trial.

Structural Marine Surveys

The structural component of the marine survey involves making sure the boat is seaworthy and structurally safe. This includes making sure there are no leaks in the hull, decking and hatches. It also involves making sure that stringers, bulkheads and engine mounting areas are in good condition. Water intrusion may cause weak spots in the hull or deck or other structural components, and a qualified surveyor will have the tools and keen eye to detect these deficiencies.

Mechanical Marine Surveys

A mechanical survey aboard a boat or yacht starts with a visual inspection of the engines, transmissions, steering systems, propellers, shafts and rudders and fuel system. Oil leaks, cracked or deteriorating hoses, rust, corrosion, and missing or depleted zinc anodes are all part of the visual inspection. Depending on the boat, oil samples may be taken and sent out to a laboratory for analysis, which can determine if water or other elements are present that should not be.

The mechanical inspection also includes the electrical system including any installed electronics such as GPS, autopilot or radar. Batteries will be tested, as will any chargers or inverters. If the vessel is equipped with air conditioning, galley or head compartments, they will be examined as well to ensure that they are working properly.

Another component of the survey is an assessment of required safety gear. For a vessel to pass a survey it must meet the federal safety standards. This includes working navigation lights, fire extinguishers, life jackets, flares and any other safety equipment required based on the size of the vessel.

Cosmetic Marine Surveys

An important part of the marine survey is the cosmetic appearance of the boat or yacht. This of course includes wear and tear type issues such as dirty carpeting or a rip in the upholstery. But most importantly, the surveyor will look for more critical issues such as fiberglass blisters or hairline cracks in the fiberglass. While these aren’t necessarily structural issues, they may indicate other problems. The cosmetic inspection can also give a potential buyer an idea of how much care and maintenance a boat has received over its lifetime.

Sea Trial Marine Survey

Part of the boat or yacht survey involves the on-the-water performance of the vessel. This is often called the sea trial and is also the opportunity for the potential buyer to “test drive” the vessel. During the sea trial, the surveyor will make observations including the maximum speed and RPM of the vessel, steering capabilities and engine operating temperature. They will also look for water seepage around any propeller shafts or rudders. Surveyors will reference the specifications from boat and engine manufacturers and use them to compare the performance of vessels being surveyed. If the vessel performs within a close range to the specifications, it will pass. If an engine is running hotter than expected for example, a further investigation will be conducted and it will be noted on the final report. No vessel will perform exactly in line with specifications, as there are too many factors that can affect it.

Boat or Yacht Survey Report

At the conclusion of the marine survey, the potential buyer will receive a report, much like a home inspection report, that will outline all of the areas of the inspection and their scoring. The surveyor will also use images and in some cases video to show or further explain the conditions of the vessel. Areas of deficiency will of course be highlighted as these may be issues that need to be corrected as part of the sale or negotiated in the price. In some cases the potential buyer may reject the vessel and request their deposited funds to be returned.

Final Thoughts About Marine Surveys

Regardless of the type of boat or yacht you are considering purchasing, always have a survey completed to protect yourself when buying a pre-owned vessel. In most cases the seller is also unaware of the issues that may come to light in the survey process. In their mind the boat is near perfect. In some cases however, the seller is well aware of the issues and is hoping that you are not made aware of them before the purchase is finalized. When making an offer to purchase a pre-owned vessel, always include “subject to survey, sea trial and mechanical inspection” in the purchase and sale agreement. If you are using a professional yacht broker as part of the transaction, they will advise you to include those terms on their official purchase and sale agreement forms. If you are in the Naples, Marco Island or Fort Myers area of Florida and would like assistance with the purchase or sale of a boat or yacht, please visit our Brokerage Services webpage. We offer discounted sales commission rates and high-quality professional listing services.


*Disclosures: Captain Frank Lecardo is a Licensed Yacht Broker in the State of Florida and is affiliated with Knot 10 Yacht Sales. License information available upon request. Naples School of Boating LLC is NOT a brokerage firm and does not engage in the purchase or sale of vessels. All brokerage transactions are completed through Knot 10 Yacht Sales and are subject to their policies, procedures and commission rates. Fees and commission rates are available upon request. For more information please visit Knot 10 Yacht Sales or Contact Us with any questions.

Boat Yacht Survey Naples Florida

Boat Yacht Survey Naples Florida