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Boat Survey: What It Is, Who Pays, Do I Need to Spend the Money?

Is a used boat survey worth the expense? It’s a valid question that many people ask when considering buying a used boat. After all, buying a boat is an expensive undertaking, and anywhere you can save money during the process is a bonus. So, do you need to lay out the extra money for a marine survey before signing on the dotted line? The answer is likely a yes, unless it’s a small, very inexpensive boat and the risk factor is low. Take a look at the questions surrounding why a boat survey may be essential:



What is a Boat Survey?

Before we look at why you need a boat survey, let’s look at what exactly a boat survey is. Also referred to as a pre-purchase boat survey, it involves a professional marine surveyor giving your prospective purchase a thorough inspection and producing a report detailing areas where there may be faults or damage. Surveys aren’t limited to high end superyachts, and all used boats–and indeed new boats which may have been sitting in a yard for a long time–can benefit from having a survey carried out.


Types of Boat Survey

There are several types of boat survey, including:


  • Insurance Survey

This tends to be the most basic of the surveys and is a general overview of the value and/or condition of the boat which is required by an insurance company before they will offer coverage for it. Do you need a boat survey for insurance? In most cases for used boats if you want to insure the boat itself (as opposed to getting liability insurance) the answer will be yes. 


  • Finance Survey

This is similar to the insurance survey. Marine mortgage lenders or finance institutions will usually ask for a survey to be completed before signing off on finance to ensure that what is essentially their asset (or partly their asset) is a good one. 


  • Pre- or Post-Transport Survey

This assesses the condition of a boat before or after being transported and is again used for insurance purposes.


  • Full Condition Survey

Also referred to as a pre-purchase survey, this is the most comprehensive type of survey and will delve deeper into the condition of the boat, checking everything from its structural integrity to the electronics, safety systems, interior cosmetics and more. While all boats will have different requirements, essentially a full condition survey will look at the hull, transom, engine, mechanical and propulsion gear, communications equipment, fittings, and electronics. Things such as cracks, osmosis, signs of accidents, and water damage will be looked for, as well as general condition, age related wear and tear, connections, and deck fixtures. 


See the article: Types Marine Surveys: Pre-Purchase, Condition and Damage


man checking a boat


Who Pays for a Boat Survey?

The buyer is responsible for paying for a marine survey, as they are the ones undertaking the ‘risk’ of purchasing a used boat. Whether or not the boat is bought via a broker, there is unlikely to be recourse if, after purchase, issues are found with the boat. It is the responsibility of the purchaser to ensure they have done due diligence and had their prospective purchase thoroughly checked. 

Another point worth noting is that if you, the buyer, organize and pay for the surveyor yourself, you know they are impartial. It is worth being wary of a seller offering to pay for a marine survey with a surveyor of their choosing (read our guide Buying a used boat from a private party). 


Why Do I Need a Marine Survey?

Outside of insurance or finance lenders requesting a survey, you should be getting a marine survey to ensure that your asset is a good one. Whatever budget you have for a boat will be proportional to your income, and the last thing you want is to buy a boat that costs you far more than it’s worth, or is worth less than what you will have to invest into it. 

A marine survey will flag problems there may be with a boat, but also let you know about all the things that are good with it. Far from a report of doom and gloom, it should ultimately ensure you feel reassured and prepared to take the final step to purchasing, or to feel justified and relieved in walking away from something that didn’t feel quite right. 


Can I Negotiate the Price?

Once you have your report in your hand, take your time to read through it and query anything you’re unsure of with the surveyor. It is important to note that the survey is for you. Armed with the recommendations and status report, you may want to then use it to negotiate a better price or ask for certain work to be carried out before purchasing. Be sure to get accurate estimates for the work that needs doing before negotiating the price. While it might seem like you can grab a bargain if the seller is willing to drop the price considerably, you need to keep in mind the work that requires doing both in terms of time and cost. Check out our guide to Buying a Cheap Boat, Is it is a Good Idea? 


sailboat check


How Do I Choose a Marine Surveyor?

If you’re going to spend money getting a marine survey, then you want to ensure you’re getting a good service and a thorough report by an experienced surveyor. Again, it’s always best to use a surveyor you find yourself or are recommended by a trusted friend as opposed to one recommended by a broker or the seller. While their intentions are likely to be good, impartiality is best here.

When choosing a surveyor, you want to ask the following questions:

  • Are they registered with an official surveying organization which regulates its members? In the U.S. the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) and the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) are the two main organizations and in the UK, these include the Yacht Designers & Surveyors Association in the UK and the International Institute of Marine Surveying. These organizations hold lists of members in different regions, and so it is a good place to start looking. 
  • Do they have specific experience in surveying the size, style and construction of the boat you are considering buying? There are specialist surveyors in sail boats, wooden boats, sports boats, etc.
  • Do they produce clear reports? Ask to see a sample report to see the layout, detail, and wording they use before deciding if it is right for you. You want a clear report which offers definitive recommendations or opinions.
  • What do they charge? Be sure to get official quotes as well as their terms and conditions before agreeing to a marine survey. You also want to ensure that they carry indemnity insurance. 


Do I Need to Be There for the Marine Survey?

You don’t have to be present for the survey, but it is a good idea to be present if possible. You will learn a lot about the boat you’re buying as you watch the surveyor work, and they can show you things as they discover them, which is easier than reading about it in the report later. 

We know that finding the perfect boat can seem like a daunting task. But armed with our library of practical information, advisors on hand to talk you through the process, and of course thousands of boats for sale all over the world, Rightboat.com will ensure you find the perfect boat for you. 


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Written By: Rightboat Team

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