Pre-purchase surveys

For most marine surveyors, our main job is to provide pre-purchase surveys, also called condition or full surveys. This involves a full examination of the vessel's structure and equipment, usually taking about a day, which is then described in an objective report. We are primarily looking for things that will make the boat unsafe or which will cost you an unexpected amount of money to fix. The vessel has to be out of the water and most GRP boats can be lifted and held in a travel hoist for about an hour for this.

A typical yacht survey will describe the vessel and summarise the main issues up front. Underlying this is a detailed assessment of the hull structure, all electrical and mechanical equipment, underwater fittings, safety equipment, the engine and its associated systems, the rig and the quality of the construction and outfitting. For every item, there's a description of the structure or systems, how it was tested and what the results of those tests were. You can see examples of recent yacht survey reports here .

Recommendations are divided into items which must be dealt with before the vessel is used and those which should be fixed within the near future to prevent problems developing. This will be sufficient for you to decide on the purchase and what, if any, price negotiations are required. The main part of the report will include a description of faults and advice on how to put them right. Where a boat requires significant work, this will be drawn up as a specification that boatyards can quote against.

If you are considering several different yachts, I can carry out an initial assessment to help you decide which ones are worth taking further. I also provide partial surveys to cover hull and deck structures which can be helpful on out racing yachts or power boats which have a separate engineer's assessment.

On a typical GRP yacht or power cruiser, hull and deck mouldings are inspected, hammer sounded and checked with a 'Sovereign Quantum' marine moisture meter for any signs of osmosis, delamination or other damage. We often arrange for the sea trial to be carried out on the same day with the owner or broker and you onboard. This allows the engine to be tested under load, the rig checked for smooth operation and all the systems powered up. If the boat is ashore, we can still test most of the systems and it is usually possible to rig up a hose to check smaller engines on tick over speed.

Steel vessels are checked with a 'Cygnus' multiple-echo, ultrasonic thickness meter and a plating diagram drawn up to show the difference between the nominal (original) steel thickness and its current condition. This can be done within the day on a steel yacht or a canal boat up to about 40'. On larger Dutch barges, the hull survey alone will take a full day for which the vessel should be ashore, on a slip or in a dry dock. If you are in the London area I can advise on facilities. If required I can mark the hull with a fluorescent paint spray as a I go so that a welder can quote straight away on any problems found and you then have the option of carrying out the work before the vessel is re-launched if you decide to go ahead.

Classic boat surveys

For a wooden boat survey, the vessel should be blocked off ashore as it is not possible to carry out a useful assessment of the underwater hull during a one hour lift and hold in a travel hoist. It is possible to inspect a hull between tides provided the ground is firm. The survey will often require some dismantling in order to access hidden areas. Here, the focus is on any decay or deterioration from rot, marine borers or electrolytic action, and on the condition of the fastenings. It is important that we carry out as thorough an examination as possible by getting good access to the hull and frames. The costs of repairs can easily be beyond the market value of the boat so it is vital for you to get the best possible idea of what you are buying from the outset.

For older wooden boats I can carry out a one hour preliminary inspection to assess if the boat is worth lifting out for survey and what dismantling needs to be done. I have surveyed classic cruising yachts and power boats, both plank on frame and modern epoxy-wood construction, as well as traditional sailing fishing and cargo vessels. I've even got the scars from building and repairing a few over the years so if you have a project in mind, call or e mail and we can go through the options.

Marine insurance surveys and valuations

Marine insurance surveys look at the risk a vessel presents to an insurer. They do not include points that have no effect on safety or insurability so the emphasis is on items such as through hull fittings and fuel systems, rather than the quality of joinery. An insurance survey report costs about 30% less than a full survey. If there are any significant faults, these will be discussed with you so that you have the opportunity to fix them before agreeing terms with a broker and the report will be amended accordingly.

Valuation surveys are an assessment of the current market value of a vessel on a willing buyer, willing seller basis, taking into account the market for similar vessels, how they compare to yours and current variations between asking and achieved price. A short inspection is carried out to check the vessel's identity, ensure it is as described and has no major faults. Where these are required for court proceedings, the work is usually carried out as a 'single joint expert' on behalf of both parties.

MCA Code of Compliance Work

The Marine and Coastguard Agency's Code of Compliance for small commercial vessels sets out the legal requirements for anyone who operates a charter vessel under 24m and carrying up to 12 passengers (often called Coding). I am one of the YDSA's 'Nominated Surveyors' and can carry out inspections and issue certificate under this code which can be seen on the MCA website at http://www.dft.gov.uk/mca/mcga-mnotice.htm?textobjid=c423704ca95e9786

This covers sailing and motor charter vessels, commercial RIBs, workboats and pilot boats. The requirements depend on the nature of the vessel's operations, distance from a safe haven, limiting weather and whether overnight passages are undertaken. This usually involves an initial inspection with the boat out of the water, producing a report on any work to be carried out and then revisiting the boat to help you complete the necessary paperwork and certify that the vessel is fit for use. The inspection usually takes two half days for a typical charter boat although that can be reduced for fleets at the same location.

Tonnage Surveys

A tonnage survey is required to register a boat under Part 1 of the UK's Shipping Register for Merchant Ships and Pleasure Vessels. This is a proof of ownership, not a check of condition, and is needed if a loan or marine mortgage is secured against a vessel. It involves taking several various measurements against set criteria, an inspection of the ownership papers and a check of engine capacity. Fees are charged against a set scale. I provide this service through the YDSA. The measurements can be included as part of a pre-purchase survey if required.

Tonnage surveys can also used to prove the size requirements for status as a 'qualifying ship' for VAT purposes. The relevance of this is that ex-commercial vessels above 15 'gross registered tons' which are used as houseboats can be exempt from VAT charges on moorings, repairs etc. Ads a rough guide, in order to meet the size criteria, a traditional round bilged vessel has to be at least 15m long and a shallow draft Dutch barge or wide beam canal barge 18m long. Narrow boats are unlikely to qualify. Note exemption does not just rely on size; to qualify you have to show the vessel was designed for commercial purposes or permanent residential living. A sailing or motor yacht will not qualify no matter how big it is.

Houseboats

If you are looking at a houseboat, much of the value should be in the mooring. This can be freehold ownership of the river bank with mooring rights, or a long term mooring lease in a boatyard or similar. If the boat is offered with a normal mooring (e.g. payable every three months) then you are effectively only buying the boat or and it should be priced accordingly, particularly if it is old and no longer fit to go to sea. You are buying a depreciating asset and it is important you know the likely repair and maintenance costs from the outset. As a general guide, an iron barge or steel lighter will make a better investment than an aging wooden boat. Fixed houseboats, such as those on Shoreham Beach, can be checked on their moorings but there will be limits to the extent the underwater hull can be assessed.

Sea trials

For a full survey, all structures, machinery and systems are tested. For high value yachts, particularly performance power cruisers, I recommend the survey includes a sea trial. If this can be done on the day of the survey or is local to Brighton it will be included in your fee. This involves bringing the engines up to operating temperature and run for a period under full load. All instrumentation, systems and the installation will be closely examined along with any navigation systems. If a more detailed engineer's analysis such as compression testing is required, this can be arranged using local companies. Oil sample analyses can be carried out if required but should ideally be carried out as one of a series to check trends. A one-off analysis may highlight significant problems but ideally there should be information on the type of oil used, when it was last changed and the engine hours in between.

Fees

As a rough guide, pre-purchase survey fees range from £10 to £15 a foot length depending on the size, age and type of the vessel. There are many variables but essentially the charge is time based and that will vary with the displacement, the complexity and condition of the vessel and her systems and the construction material. You are not charged for travel within 50 miles of Brighton (i.e. Southampton to Folkestone and the tidal Thames). Surveys can be carried out throughout Europe with travel charged at cost using budget airlines from Gatwick plus an overnight stay. This is sufficient for yachts up to 60' in most North European or Western Mediterranean destinations. I do not charge VAT. Please use the enquiry form or call me on 07765 35 2364 for a quote.

Follow up phone calls and advice on any aspect of your survey are included in the fee as are insurance or mortgage valuations and tonnage measurements if required. Most people don't get around to renovating or upgrading their boats until some months after the purchase; it's still fine to call me then.

All boat surveys are carried out to the standards set by the YDSA. I carry full professional indemnity and public liability insurance and work completely independently of brokers or agencies. You will get a verbal or e-mail summary of the boat on the day with a full report delivered by e-mail and post. Although unusual, if early on in the survey I discover a major fault that would probably make you reconsider the purchase, I will contact you and offer the option of a short report rather than continue and incur unnecessary charges.

More details of the scope of a survey and a typical contract are here.

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