You’re Buying a Vessel. Why You Need a Marine Surveyor.

February 16, 2019

Frequently we have discussions with prospective clients who are in the process of purchasing a used boat or ship. These clients are understandably very excited about buying their vessels. However, we find with striking regularity that most prospective owners overlook obtaining marine surveys before purchasing the vessel. When asked whether they have one, they usually indicate they don’t. Sometimes they don’t even why know it’s needed, or why they should spend money on one.

What is a Marine Survey?

A marine survey is similar to an appraisal, except there are numerous types of marine surveys; all of them accomplishing a different goal. In the case of the purchase of a new vessel, a Pre-Purchase Survey or Condition and Valuation Survey is what should be performed by a qualified and certified marine surveyor.

Pre-Purchase and Condition & Valuation; What’s the Difference?

There are minor differences between a Pre-Purchase Survey and a Condition & Valuation Survey. To understand them, you need to know what the latter is. Condition and Valuation Surveys (or C&Vs, for short) are a combination of two parts – the Condition Survey and the Valuation Survey.

Condition Survey

During a Condition Survey, the surveyor will walk through the vessel and perform small tests on certain pieces of equipment. This can include turning on bilge pumps and turning over the engine and/or generator. They ascertain the current condition of the vessel, noting any physical and/or mechanical deficiencies that need to be repaired. Questions will be asked about the maintenance plan in place and when the last dry docking was done. If any upgrades were recently completed, these should be shared with the surveyor.

A tugboat in drydock.

Surveys can be done in-water or out-of-the-water. If the latter, the surveyor has the added benefit of viewing the bottom of the vessel. This includes examining the running gear (drive shaft, rudder, rudder post, propeller, etc..) and testing the bottom for structural weakness. Additionally, the bottom of the vessel will be examined for weakness. On a fiberglass hull, the bottom will be tested for fiberglass delamination using a phenolic hammer. On steel or aluminum hulls, thinning areas (wastage) will be searched for using an audio gauge. This is called an Ultrasonic Thickness Measurement Test. Galvanic Anodes (a.k.a. Sacrificial Zincs) will also be examined.

Valuation Survey

After the survey is conducted, the surveyor will assess the current market value of your vessel. They will do this by pulling comparables, a.k.a. comps. These are other vessels, similar to yours, that have sold within a certain time frame. He/She will formulate the current market value of your boat or ship using different methods. This is usually outlined on the survey report.

Pre-Purchase Surveys

Taking into account what C&Vs report on, Pre-Purchase Surveys tend to be a slightly more comprehensive. In addition to what’s done during a C&V, surveyors will test all machinery, electronics and vessel systems fully. The surveyor may also require a Sea Trial to be performed. A Sea Trial is when the vessel is taken out to operate either offshore or in a waterway, thus allowing the surveyor to monitor the vessel’s systems, performance and engines while running. Any discrepancies during operation are noted in the report.

The Final Report

Once completed, the final Survey Report is generated and delivered to you. This report tells you the current Market Value of your vessel and what current Condition it’s in. The surveyor may even have made a list of Recommendations. These Survey Recommendations are items the surveyor noted that need repair or attendance to. Sometimes they are critical to the seaworthiness of the vessel. Sometimes they are suggestions. Either way it’s considered good marine practice to repair them and insurance company underwriters will normally require these to be done as part of obtaining insurance.

Why Do I Need a Marine Survey?

When you buy a home, would you do so without an appraisal? The same applies for a vessel. Just like a house, a vessel is an investment. You want to make certain your investment is in good condition and doesn’t need a bunch of repairs. You also want to know what it’s valued at on the open market. Having this report can help you formulate an offer for the vessel.

The other thing the report helps with is insurance. Most, if not all, marine insurance companies require a C&V Survey or Pre-Purchase Survey as part of the insurance quoting process. The underwriter will use the survey to confirm the highest value they will insure your boat for. They also will require the Survey recommendations to be completed within a certain time frame. This ensures that the vessel is in the best possible condition to minimize risk while being insured.

Underwriters generally err on the side of caution. We tell our customers that the more information they can provide in the quoting process, the better the rate they will receive. Providing an application is good but providing a survey with it helps the underwriter consider the whole picture of insuring your vessel. If a survey is included in your insurance submission, you stand a better chance at being given a better rate than if you don’t have one.

Where can I find a Marine Surveyor?

Although there are marine surveyors all over the country, generally its best to choose one from either the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS), or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS). Both links have search capabilities to find surveyors in your area that specialize in the type of vessel or survey you need to have done.

These Association websites also highlight the qualifications and expertise of their surveyors, while noting how long they have been active. Each Association has a different tier class of surveyor. NAMS has three different tiers – Apprentice, Associate and Certified. SAMS has two – Associate and Certified. Generally, each tier determines how much experience that surveyor has with the Certified level being the most experienced.

Regarding cost, normally surveyors charge by the foot on the length of your vessel. They may also charge for travel costs depending on how far your vessel is from their office. Your best best is to contact a few surveyors for price quotes.

Our office can provide referrals if you are having issues locating a surveyor.


As you can see, obtaining either a Pre-Purchase Survey or Condition & Valuation Survey has many benefits and can help you when purchasing a vessel. Not only can a survey help identify issues with the vessel before closing on the sale, but it can also ensure you aren’t overpaying for it. There is also the added benefit that it may help lower your insurance costs.

For the minimal cost associated with a survey, it can save you from larger, unexpected costs and losses down the road.