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Marine Surveyor

Part II

What does the survey entail?
A purchase survey normally begins with the surveyor inspecting the internal structure of the vessel. I personally like to start in the engine room because the engine will be cold and I can therefore do a thorough inspection of its installation. I then move to the keel area underneath the floorboards where I can look for signs of grounding damage or previous repairs before the vessel gets hauled out of the water. After that, I look at structural bulkheads and work from the front of the vessel to the stern. In the BVI, the vessel is normally hauled for a survey over lunch time and pressure washed as necessary, then the yard staff will go to lunch while the surveyor completes his survey.

During the out-of-water inspection, the surveyor will be looking for signs of osmosis and stress cracks. If the vessel has a structural liner, then he or she will be looking for disbonding between the liner and the hull in addition to delamination of the fibreglass. This is normally achieved with an acetate hammer, by pounding on the bottom of the hull.

We are often asked what delamination or disbonding sound like. Really, it can best be described by listening to the actual sound when you find it. Many boats with structural grids, otherwise known as “IGUs” (Integral Grid Units), will have some degree of separation of the liner from the hull; an experienced surveyor will know what is considered to be normal and acceptable. Areas of delamination are seldom found these days, although when they do occur they are usually of a serious nature.


Osmosis is caused by water penetrating the gel coat and dissolving the resin, and this can be a serious problem. Osmosis is found on many boats in the Caribbean. The boat that stays afloat 11 and a half months of the year is very likely to get osmosis. We have found that all boats are susceptible to it, but the problem is very easily rectified. The surveyor should not test the whole bottom with a moisture meter at this time because it will only serve to reveal that the bottom is wet. Of course it is—it has just come out of the water.  So for a moisture meter analysis to be of any value, the whole bottom needs to be washed with fresh water and allowed to dry for three days, at which time a moisture meter analysis can be carried out.

We are frequently asked how long a survey should take, to which my typical response is: how long is a piece of string? The survey of a normally equipped 45-foot sailing boat is likely to take all day. If there are problems found, this prolongs the process. The more complicated the vessel, the longer the survey will take. To give you an example, we normally start the survey at around 9:00 am. The boat is hauled for launch at 11:30 am. The out-of-water is normally completed by 12:30 pm, at which point we stop to have lunch. The survey recommences at about 1:00 pm with a sea trial, mast and rigging aloft, and then the survey is completed. Normally we finish at around 5:00 pm; however, on some boats the survey is not complete and if the light is not good enough, we have to continue the following day. If we find that the boat has been repaired or there are unexplained modifications, this will drastically extend the length of the survey. If something is wrong, we need to be able to work out why, and whether it is actually important that it is wrong. In short, a good surveyor is very cynical and only trusts what he or she can see, touch, feel or hear.

Code of conduct

The role of a professional surveyor carries with it a huge responsibility. As the prospective purchaser, you expect us to inspect the boat and determine that it is safe for your intended use. The surveyor has to establish that the vessel you are about to buy is not going to sink, catch fire or have the mast come down and cause injury to the people on board. In addition, you need to know that the amount of money you have offered for this vessel is appropriate. Most surveyors take this responsibility very seriously.


The majority of surveyors have access to Internet sites that are not available to the general public, where they can compare the recent prices of yachts actually sold together with the dates they were sold. This is very helpful in estimating the value of the vessel. The surveyor can only evaluate the vessel in its current condition and location. For example, if you bought a boat in the BVI and sailed it to California, it may have a high value there, but as we are based in the BVI, we must value the boat based on its worth in this location. We encourage clients who are buying a boat here and moving it elsewhere to have a second evaluation carried out in their desired location, where it may have a higher insured valued. And finally, keep in mind that a marine surveyor should be independent of any boat yard, repair facility, yacht brokerage, yacht management or sales agent. 

William J. Bailey
SAMS Accredited Marine Surveyor #461
International Association of Marine Investigators #2601
BVI Certified Marine Loss Adjuster
Tonnage Measurer (Unlimited) Transport Canada

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