Written by Mike Schwarz
Photography by IIMS
Pause for a moment and ponder this question. How much is your life and your safety at sea worth? Most people would say it is priceless and impossible to put a value on. And yet many people seem to misunderstand the value and role of a marine surveyor, whose very job it is to ensure your safety at sea by surveying, inspecting and reporting on your potential new purchase. Instructing a marine surveyor to work on your behalf should never be seen as a distress purchase where price is the all-important factor.
If you are about to invest a six or seven figure sum, it’s well worth a few hundred dollars for a survey to be undertaken by a professional to ensure the vessel is sound and fit for purpose, and worth its asking price. A survey is one of the best investments you will make as part of your boat or yacht buying process.
Marine surveyors come in all shapes and sizes and from various backgrounds with a huge variety of different skill sets. However, as professionals they are bound by a common code of conduct, quite often accompanied by a passion for their work. A surveyor’s skills, knowledge and forensic expertise can determine if you are about to make a serious and potentially financially disastrous mistake, or not.
It could be argued that, as a provider of a highly technical, professional service, a marine surveyor is no different from professionals in other industry sectors who have learnt their trade; such as an accountant, a solicitor or a financial adviser. They provide excellent services and charge an appropriate fee for them; you should not expect a marine surveyor to be any different.
So what tips can be offered when you need to instruct a marine surveyor? There are plenty to choose from and individual standards vary.
Choosing a surveyor who’s right for you
Instructing and engaging a marine surveyor can be daunting for an experienced and knowledgeable yachtsman, let alone for a first timer. Logically, many people, although by no means all, will choose a marine surveyor based on location. It pays to shop around too as prices can vary, but beware – someone who is considerably cheaper than the rest may not be the best and, as in most walks of life, you generally get what you pay for!
A good tip and starting point is to only engage a marine surveyor who is a member of a professional body, or specialist surveying membership organisation. There are several around the world and some (although not all) vet their members prior to granting membership. It is wise to avoid those who are not part of a recognised marine surveying organisation, accredited with AMSA and at least one other certifying authority. A professional surveyor should also have professional indemnity and public liability insurance.
It is essential to choose a marine surveyor who has the right skill set and competency to survey your particular vessel and to successfully fulfil your brief and instructions. So, for example, if you are planning to purchase a heritage, wooden boat, choosing a marine surveyor who specialises in modern, production, GRP yachts, will not be a good fit. A quick check on their website should give you an indication of specialties and professional memberships. Ask about his/her experience of handling projects similar to yours. The sometimes misused phrase ‘caveat emptor’ – the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of the service before a purchase is made – most certainly applies here.
When you are selecting your surveyor, you should ask:
1. What hands on experience do they have?
2. What is their practical training?
3. Which regulating body do they belong to?
4. Can you review their insurance certificate if you wish to contract them?
How current is the marine surveyor in the market?
Technologies are changing fast. New models come on to the market regularly, some boasting the latest technological developments. New composites and materials are being brought to market all the time too. Make sure you check that your chosen marine surveyor is equipped to deal with these.
How much should you pay and what are you being charged for?
There is no fixed price for a survey and you will find marked variations from one quote to another. Sometimes you will be quoted a price per foot, or per metre. Others will quote a set price for the job. Every surveyor has their own methods and way of working. One good piece of advice is to ensure that once the survey is underway, you and/or the vendor are not present as distractions may cause the marine surveyor to miss something. They need to focus, so while it is understandable that you want to be on hand and are eager to know the outcome of the survey, the best advice is to remain absent and let the marine surveyor complete the job in isolation.
As a rule of thumb for a medium-sized production yacht, expect a marine surveyor to be on site for most of the day conducting an in-depth survey and gathering the data he/she needs to compile the report. Most marine surveyors will spend a further full day compiling their report and recommendations, ensuring its accuracy before submitting it to you. So, you are paying a professional practitioner for two days of their time.
Being a marine surveyor can be a challenging, tough and uncompromising job at times. Once instructed, every marine surveyor will want to deliver the best possible survey and report on completion of the job. However, not always will you like their findings and recommendations, and as with any other professional in other walks of life, sometimes they must deliver bad or unpalatable news. But that is always preferable over knowingly letting someone put to sea in a vessel that is not fit for purpose, or which may not cope with the extreme demands of the water, potentially jeopardising your life and property.
Mike Schwarz is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS), formed in 1991. Membership of the IIMS is over a thousand from over ninety different countries.