A Good Surveyor: Priceless

First the good/bad news: we’re not buying the boat we thought we were.

I know, that sounds like bad news.  But really, our surveyor saved us. And so it’s a good day. And we’re still looking — after all, there are other boats for sale.

We had inspected the boat to the extent we could at the dock, but we knew that we were neither catamaran experts nor trained in inspecting boats.  And so we arranged for both a regular survey and also an inspection by a diesel mechanic.

I’ll admit:  it was a bit of a pain, as we had to take the boat approximately 40 miles to a boatyard to have it hauled for the survey — $50 in fuel, $100 for the seller’s friend to help us.  And then we had to pay for the haul ($8 a foot), pressure washing ($1.50 per foot) and the survey ($18 per foot for the hull survey and $86 an hour for the engine).

It starts adding up and we hadn’t even bought the boat!  It can be really tempting to say “hey, we don’t really need a survey; we can save all that money.”

But our surveyor found some serious structural problems with the boat and we decided not to proceed with the purchase.  While we were willing to deal with a few well-defined issues that might come up in the survey (and negotiate on the price due to them), we didn’t want a project boat that could turn into a money pit.  And that’s what the surveyor saved us from. So we don’t consider it a bad day or wasted money; he saved us from a potential nightmare.

As our surveyor said when we bought our first boat — he (or she) is the only one in the whole sale transaction who is paid by you, whether there is a sale or not.  So he’s the only one who is 100% looking out for you.  The brokers get paid if the sale goes through (and since they are paid a percentage of the selling price, it’s in their interest for the sale to go through at the highest possible price) and obviously the seller wants the sale to go through.

I posted on Facebook about the bad survey and had a couple questions about how we worked it so that we knew relatively soon about the major issues — by cutting the survey short, we saved about $600 dollars.

We talked ahead of time with the hull surveyor and asked that he check for major structural issues first.  He said that he would give us a basic report after about two hours and if he had found “deal killers” we could end the survey right there and he’d charge us $75 an hour for the time he’d spent.  It actually ended up being about 2-1/2 hours by the time we had discussed various issues with him and he had spent more time verifying the extent of some of the problems, so it was $187.50. A full survey would have taken about 8 hours and cost $612.

The engine mechanic began his survey about the same time as the hull surveyor, and as we realized that we might be facing some structural issues, we stopped him after he’d done only basic checks:  while we knew there might be a diesel issue, we didn’t want to pour more money into tracking its exact cause once we knew we had potential deal-killers in the hull and rigging. We paid for the one hour instead of the three estimated to fully check the engine.

We would recommend the surveyor we used (his name came up several times when we asked for recommendations for a surveyor in the Keys; he does travel some to other locations).  He was excellent at showing us what he was finding.

  • Scott Austin, Coastal Marine Survey, no web site

We used Catamaran Boat Yard for the haul and also used their diesel mechanic for the engine survey.  The yard has mixed reviews, with some people liking it and others not.

The basic complaints are that it is dirty, the bathrooms are less than ideal, and if you don’t have a firm quote for work the bill can add up. Yes, the yard is dirt, the bathrooms are simple but functional and there is a shower, and cruising in Mexico has taught us to get a written quote for everything and never, ever ask for someone to do something “as long as you’re doing that” without amending the quote. That said, it’s considerably cheaper than some of the other yards in the area, both for a haul/pressure wash and for storage. Further, you can live aboard and work on the boat yourself.

It is a little tricky to get in — the channel is somewhat confusingly marked and on the shallow side.  However, we felt that the yard treated us very well, helping us get in and letting us leave the boat at the dock (no extra charge) for the better part of two days since we had to get there the day before the survey and then when it went badly, had to wait while we contacted the owner to see what he wanted to do (the answer was to put the boat in the yard to do the needed bottom work and get a quote for the other repairs needed). Everyone was very friendly and helpful and, from what we could tell in our time there, skilled at their job.

Bottom line: you really don’t want to skip the survey unless you are fully qualified yourself.  There are ways to keep the costs down if it turns out to be a bad boat such as what we did with asking the surveyor to look at the potential deal killers first.  Instead of looking at it as wasted money if the survey turns up problems sufficient to keep you from buying the boat, think of it as saving you far, far more in the long run.  More likely, you won’t find deal killers but you’ll gain bargaining chips that will more than offset the cost of the survey.

A good survey is priceless.

  • Chris
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    Disappointing, I know! We bought a trimaran in 1974 w/o a survey. Our first indication one would have been a good idea was when the three hulls didn’t rise and fall in unison on our first sail after purchase. We were young…

  • Mark and Cindy - s/v Cream Puff
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    So sorry this one didn’t work out. But, as you said, better now find out now than later. When we purchased Cream Puff, our survey cost about $1,000. It was the best money we ever spent. We found only very minor problems. The survey gave us tremendous peace of mind.

    You are giving your readers VERY good advice. We have an acquaintance who purchased a boat in Mexico and used an older survey provided by the current owner. They did not have their own survey done. That have had serious problems. The mistake has cost them tens of thousands of dollars.

    We wish you the best of luck on your continued boat search and hope you find the perfect boat.

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

  • Rusty Barnett
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    Thought it was expensive at first…then saved MORE than the survey cost once final price re-negotiated, based on survey. Hope you have better luck with the next boat!

  • David Holbourn
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    keep looking you will find what your looking for…..

  • tami
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    I can’t emphasize enough how valuable a good survey is. The survey, in our experience, drove the price down some 33%.

    A good site to learn how to do a pre-survey, and in some cases save yourself any survey fees, depending:

  • Lynn Kaak
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    A good survey is worth the surveyor’s weight in gold in the end. Whether it stops a deal, or gives you a new negotiation angle. or at least warns you about what you are going to have to do.

  • Chris Wick
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    Good to hear that you ended up with some good people to help you out and they had your best intrests at heart.
    I will be buying a boat end of next year but havent even narrowed it down to type of boat yet. So I have a long way to go.
    Whats in mind so far is, a built for blue water sailboat, at least 6′ headroom and not a massive project to undertake before sailing it.
    Now you talked about deal killers.
    What are the deal killers and the second guessers in your book.
    Thanks and good luck on finding the perfect sailboat.

  • V Page Escallier
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    Agreed 😀

  • Beth Tyler
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    Riip and I walked away after surveys back in 2003. Still glad to this day we did not buy that boat. the boat we bought instead …. WAY BETTER. Later when we went to sell that boat, the 1st buyer walked (not due to boat condition), that hurt at first, but the 2nd buyer came quickly and the replacement boat we bought was much better than the one we would have bought had the 1st deal gone through. It wasn’t meant to be, you will not know why yet … but you will and will be glad!!

  • Dave Tew
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    It’s not like baseball. Another pitch (boat) will come along and you get to look each one over for as long as you want to stay at the plate. Swing only when your pitch comes in.

  • Georgia Green
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    You could try to recoup by offering the survey report for sale to other potential buyers

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

      Since we stopped the survey partway through, there isn’t a full survey report, so nothing to sell. Good idea if you have a full survey though.

    • Lawrence Collins
      Posted at 10 April 2014 Reply

      Think of it like a home inspection. Money well spent.

  • Mark Sierakowski
    Posted at 09 April 2014 Reply

    Well done. Can’t get over how cheep everything was. It would have cost a lot more here in Darwin Australia.

  • Dave Tew
    Posted at 10 April 2014 Reply

    When you contract for a survey and then wish to sell it to a subsequent potential buyer, please contact the surveyor just so he can advise. He may have lncluded language in the report or contract with that forestalls you from doing that without his agreement. People have sued regarding surveys (legitimately or not) and you don’t want to become an involved party to any of that. Just saying.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 10 April 2014 Reply

      Yeah, I believe in contacting the surveyor. Being honest about things brings good karma overall!

  • Marie Lamb Rodgers
    Posted at 10 April 2014 Reply

    Surveyed and rejected 2 boats before buying our current boat.

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 10 April 2014 Reply

    Excellent post. These are very helpful tips and knowledge sharing.

  • Paula Clark
    Posted at 10 April 2014 Reply

    I wish I had the same results with our surveyor. We had basically a clean survey with only minor issues. We decided to have the rigging surveyed and this surveyor found major issues with the mast, and mast butt. (The owners fixed the problems per the sales agreement). Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE our boat but unfortunately all of the systems are failing and we have only owned her 5 months. We have had to replace the heads, the entire heating system AND all of the duct work, the galley stove, a ton of electrical and on and on. If it is really like a house inspection I would have assumed these things would have come up. This is our first boat but boy howdy, have we learned a lot.
    In the Pacific Northwest getting ready to go South!!!

  • PJ Billilng
    Posted at 16 April 2014 Reply

    My husband is a ship inspector for The American Bureau of Shipping. Surveyors ARE PRICELESS for sure! Watch for us on the news as we get ready to launch Fall of 2014 our ship the SS Deo Gratis! Husband hand built, hand welded this 70′ solid steel Junk Rig Schooner by himself over the last 30 years!

  • Connie Downs
    Posted at 08 May 2014 Reply

    We just bought our first sailboat and our surveyor cost a little over $700, but ended up getting our purchase price down by $15,000! His survey was VERY detailed, and he was pretty hard on the owner as he had not done regular maintenance in the last 2-3 years. We have been able to correct most of what he noted on the survey for about half the $15,000 he saved us. Well worth the investment!!

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