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A full boat survey assesses the condition of the hull, mechanical gear and means of propulsion. The survey is carried out with the boat ashore in order to be able to properly inspect the hull and rudder.

A professional boat survey involves a thorough inspection that can take up to a day or longer. There are several types of survey that include a pre-purchase, condition and valuation survey; an insurance renewal and valuation survey; a damage assessment survey and a pre-sale survey.

While it is important to have professional surveys done when required, boat owners often carry out their own inspections or DIY surveys to ensure that any potential defects can be spotted early.

The following is an example of a typical pre-purchase survey of a GRP yacht:

  • The hull will be inspected for voids, de-lamination and damage. The surveyor will comment on the under hull condition, whether it has been gelshielded, antifouled and well maintained.
  • The surveyor will take moisture readings above and below the waterline and report whether these are acceptable level for the age and type of vessel.
  • All structural bulkheads and internal hull members will be checked.
  • The topsides will be checked and any repairs that need to be done will be listed.
  • The keel will be inspected for any defects and grounding damage.
  • The rudder and steering gear will be inspected, and the condition of the rudder mountings, bearings and pintles noted.
  • The stern gear will be inspected including the propeller, stern tube, stern gland and prop anode.
  • Deck hardware such as winches, cleats and stanchions, as well as the condition of the spars and rigging will also be recorded.
  • All skin fittings will be checked including the speed and depth transducers and the condition of the seacocks.
  • All seacock related pipework will be checked as will the condition of the sea toilet.
  • The shroud anchorage points will all be inspected, including the forestay fitting, inner forestay fitting and backstay fitting.
  • The engine beds and general condition of the engine will be checked.
  • The deck and superstructure will be examined by tapping with a small hammer over the outer surface. This is done to check for any voids or de-lamination.
  • Windows and hatches will be checked for any signs of leakage.
  • The stanchions, pushpit, pulpit and guardrails will be checked for the quality of fixings and whether they are all in a serviceable condition.
  • The deck gear will be checked.
  • The hull to deck joint will be checked for soundness.
  • The mast base will be checked.

Any defects will be recorded by the surveyor in their written report with recommendations given for any work that needs to be carried out.

Insurance renewal and valuation survey

It is normal practice to have a boat survey carried out every five years or so, possibly longer. Quite a bit can happen in the intervening years and this is where it can be very helpful for boat owners to learn how to inspect and troubleshoot defects and potential faults themselves.

Insurance companies will be particularly interested in knowing about any defects that could result in the loss of a vessel. They will also want a realistic assessment of the value of a vessel.

Damage assessment survey

A damage assessment survey determines the cause, nature and extent of an incident. This type of survey is usually required by insurance companies and the surveyors will often liaise with boat yards, engineers, insurance company and owner to determine the best option for carrying out repairs.

Pre-sale survey

A pre-sale survey allows the owner of a vessel to be in control of any issues that may be found when selling a vessel and avoid any nasty surprises. Potential issues can be resolved or discussed with potential buyers and brokers. 

DIY surveying

Doing your own boat inspections should not be considered a substitute for having a professional survey done every five years, which is a highly skilled process and a necessary part of your boat’s long term care. However, carrying out a DIY survey will help you identify and monitor potential problems at an early stage and to remedy them before they develop into a major issue.

For example, this might be knowing how to identify if there is excessive movement in the propeller shaft. How would you know if this is excessive movement if you had never checked the propeller shaft for movement in the past? If you are able to identify for yourself that this is excessive movement and has developed quite rapidly then you will know that this needs fixing and should be a high priority. If it has been the same for years then maybe it is not such a high priority but just needs regular monitoring.

DIY survey tools

Surveyors can often be found in boatyards tapping on the hulls and decks of boats with small hammers, listening carefully for sounds that indicate there could be a problem beneath the surface. While professional surveyors still do this, they also have all kinds of expensive, hi-tech moisture meters, ultrasound equipment, corrosion meters and various other testing gadgets. The good news is that carrying out a DIY survey requires little in the way of tools. These include:

  • Lightweight tack hammer – surveyors use hammers to search for signs of de-lamination in the hull. This is what they listen for:
    • As the hammer taps a GRP hull in good condition, a clear crisp sound should be heard and the hammer will bounce back.
    • A hammer tapping a GRP hull that has a wet core will make a dull, deeper sounding tone and will not bounce back.
  • Bradawl – a thin pointed tool like a bradawl is useful for prodding into cracks in a gelcoat and testing whether timbers might be rotten.
  • Scraper – a small scraper is handy for scraping away small areas of antifoul or flaking paint where necessary.
  • Duct tape – for marking spots or places that require attention.
  • Tape measure.
  • Notebook – for recording measurements and observations
  • Small mirror – an old dentist’s mirror is useful as it helps you to see into awkward places and around corners.
  • Magnifying glass – for taking a close look for hairline cracks
  • Head torch.
  • Smartphone – for taking photos. Also very useful as an additional torch.

Surveys are an important part of boat ownership, whether buying, selling or for insurance purposes. They are a safeguard that shouldn’t be avoided, don’t cost the earth and will prevent mishap at sea.

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