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Professional Advice Consultations on the Marine Boat Survey

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A marine boat survey inspection is a comprehensive inspection carried out by a marine surveyor to assess the condition, value and seaworthiness of the vessel. The vessel inspection process is extensive. It is necessary to inspect the hull, deck, superstructures and fittings for damage, cracks and defects. It is important to evaluate the electrical and mechanical systems, and also test the propulsion system and steering. Safety equipment and compliance with regulations must be checked; assess general condition and maintenance history.

The inspector provides a detailed report outlining any problems, recommendations and the fair market value of the boat. Carrying out a marine survey is advisable when buying or selling a vessel, insuring it or ensuring its safety and seaworthiness.

Technical Recommendations for Inspecting Your BoatPrevious article concerns what to look for on your boat describes what becomes obvious to the experienced owner. But many of these areas of inspection need to be checked in greater detail. It is for this reason we turn to the professional surveyor of boats who has experience in finding problems with boat hulls. When the surveyor looks at many different hulls, he finds defects common to that particular type of hull material and construction. They may even know a particular model from a boat manufacturer and the experiences of other boat owners. Keep in mind a surveyor’s job is to find defects, and he is not very popular with the seller of a boat. Who wants to hear from a wise guy inspector who is going to tell you what is wrong with a boat you really like and in which you have invested a large amount of money?

The Recommendations for Choosing the Type of Boatprofessional surveyor may save you a great amount of money after you read the report of inspection. Isn’t it worth a $250 fee to find out you are about to make a $25 000 or $250 000 mistake? A boat dealer won’t be happy you have hired a surveyor to check out your new boat before delivery, but he does know the survey is a necessity your insurance company will require. Definitely, a survey report is vital for a used boat, no matter how good it looks. The insurer wants to know what type of risk it is taking when approving a casualty insurance policy. In this regard, they not only want to know the condition of the hull, interior, and engines, but they must have a list of all the installed equipment, especially electronics, so they can prudently insure against theft. It is important the surveyor see the boat out of the water so the hull can be properly inspected.

Photos of yachts
Photos of pleasure yachts
Source: pixabay.com

You may think you can check your boat as well as anyone, but you probably don’t have the experience of looking at many different hulls. Surveying is often a matter of two heads being better than one. The professional often finds problems others overlook, or are too distracted to identify. It is important to be present while the surveyor is doing his job, not to constantly look over his shoulder, but to listen to his comments and ask pertinent questions. Basically, the surveyor is trained to look at a very small area, make a judgment of the material and the manner in which it is installed, and move on to a new section.

You can find a surveyor by asking your insurance agent with whom he has worked. Look in the Yellow Pages, or ask your local boatyard. When you first contact a surveyor, ask about the fee for your particular boat and experience with that model. Often, a surveyor will not be familiar with sailboats and the rigging, and will not go up the mast to check the spreaders and the masthead. Be sure to tell the surveyor exactly what you want. Mention you plan to buy the boat, where you will be operating, and the name of your insurance agent. If you have any particular doubts about how something is put together, now is the time to ask. If the survey is prolonged, or if you have to wait for the boatyard to haul the boat, it might be very informative to take the surveyor to lunch and discuss what is happening in the world of boats.

The report of survey informs your insurance company of what they are insuring, informs you of present and potential problems on board, and may give you an idea of what repairs are required so you can get an estimate from the repair yard.

The surveyors will honestly list all defects they find, but they can only see what is there on the date of inspection. A bulkhead may later be found to have a loose glass fiber overlay to the hull which may, or may not, have been loose when the surveyor was on board. If a tank is empty, but is later found to have a leak, you could not have expected the surveyor to fill all the tanks – at your expense – to check for leaks. If a glass fiber hull has gel coat on the outside and is painted on the inside, it is impossible for the surveyor to see any laminate defects. An ultrasonic thickness tester may, or may not, detect any interior delamination.

Engine Mechanics

You can’t go anywhere without smooth running engines and it is usually difficult to get to the local repair yard when you most need them. When you consider buying a used boat, it is often money well spent to hire an experienced engine mechanic to run the engine with the boat in the water, even though he charges about fifty dollars per hour. The hull surveyors can usually see if the engine starts and runs smoothly, but they cannot be expected to know all of the preventive maintenance procedures and the signs of premature wear. The mechanic will have the test equipment to check all of the operating temperatures and pressures. When the engine is so important to your enjoyment of using the boat, it is a small expense to pay the mechanic to insure the equipment is in top condition.

While you have the mechanic on board, look at all the installed systems in the engineroom. After all, the engine spaces may contain one-third of the total value of the boat, and this equipment depreciates with wear. Certainly it is deserving of the best in inspection and maintenance. Don’t overlook the exhaust system that must be gas tight throughout its length. The mechanic can tell you about proper maintenance procedures: when to change the engine oil and filters, when to change the impeller on the water pump, when to change the transmission oil filter, and when to clean or change the fuel filters. Like the mechanic you use for your car, he can provide a necessary service if he knows your engine and realizes you want to have the best care for your equipment.

Electronic Technicians

If you require a small boat for afternoon trips, you probably won’t have much in the category of electronics, but even the smallest hulls may use a speedometer and depth finder. On larger hulls there may be many thousands invested in radar, communications gear, and safety electronics to the extent of one-quarter of the total boat value. New boats will have warranties to repair any defects, but used boats should be carefully investigated to see the operation is satisfactory. This can best be accomplished by hiring an electronics expert to check out every item.

The location of some types of electronics may cause interference with each other and with the magnetic compass. This is a situation where the technician can provide invaluable advice. Antennas must be located on the top of the deck house to provide good reception with little interference and the coaxial cable connecting the antenna to the transmitters must be of the proper size. It is an easy task to turn on a piece of electronics to see if it is operating, but it is another matter to check for accuracy. Is the speedometer giving a correct reading of knots? Is the fathometer accurate within two feet? Is the radar accurate within half a mile? Is the radio transmitter sending out peak power? All of these questions can be answered with the help of a good electronics technician, as he can make the necessary adjustments on the installed gear. Even the installation of the fathometer and the speedometer may profit from his advice. Magnetic influences from gear in the engineroom, or from a television set close to the connecting cable may adversely affect the accuracy of the readings.

It is both interesting and worthwhile to spend a few hours checking out the accuracy of your electronics. If you are about twenty to thirty miles from a US Coast Guard Station or a commercial marine operation, you can use the VHF radio to see if your signal strength is acceptable. You can drop a weighted line in the water less than ten feet deep, with the boat stopped. Measure the line length to the water when the line is vertical (a lead line) and check the fathometer accuracy. After all, we are only interested in the first six feet of depth, unless we are looking for a wreck or a school of fish. When you are a mile or two away from a point of land, a lighthouse, or a relatively straight section of coastline, you can stop the boat and accurately fix your position using three visual bearings. This can be compared with the radar range to see if it is accurate.

Speed determination is a lengthy and somewhat tedious process. This checks your electronics and gives you a permanent record of what speed to expect at a particular engine RPM. Usually, this must be accomplished in open water as we are not allowed to go full speed in the intracoastal waterways or in other protected waters. It is best to use a new nautical chart of your area and select two easily visible landmarks that are on the chart and which are a half mile to a mile and a half apart. Make sure you can run a straight course about a mile offshore that does not cross a rock or a shoal, and which has the two marks in sight.

Do not select a course between two buoys as they swing on their anchor chain and may be 50 yards away from their charted position. Also, there may be other boats in the vicinity of the buoys which makes a straight run impossible. Start your speed runs about a quarter mile away from the marks so you are at a constant speed and RPM when you pass the mark. Make the eight or ten speed runs when the sea is calm and the wind is less than 5 knots. Note the sweep second hand of your watch (or stopwatch) when the first mark is abeam (ninety degrees from your constant heading). Use a hand bearing compass to make sure the mark is exactly abeam. Continue on a straight course with constant RPM until the second mark is abeam and the time is noted in minutes and seconds. Normally, it is sufficient to make these speed runs at 1/3 RPM, 2/3 RPM, and at maximum allowable RPM. A graph can then be made and the speed interpolated for any RPM, for future reference.

Run each speed test in two directions and average the elapsed times, to cancel the effects of wind and current. If there is more than one knot difference in runs at the same RPM, the test should be repeated. The speed in knots is determined by dividing the distance between marks in nautical miles, by the elapsed time in hours. (Knots equals miles per hour.) Convert the seconds into minutes by dividing by 60. Further convert the minutes into hours by dividing by 60.

For example, if we time the run at three minutes and eighteen seconds, (0,055 hours), between marks that are 0,8 miles apart, speed is then 0,8 miles divided by 0,055 hours, which is 14,5 knots. One mile in 1 minute is 60 knots and 1 mile in 3 minutes is 20 knots. The modem method of speed measurement is with an electronic radar gun, but only if it has been properly calibrated.


This article on professional advice explained the necessity for a second opinion on the condition of your boat, new or used. Many owners think they don’t want the extra expense of a surveyor, but your insurance company will insist on a written report. The expense of having a mechanic look over the engine and all equipment in the engineroom not only affects your purchase but it gives you confidence in knowing exactly what is in top condition and what is in need of immediate repair. Your electronics deserve close attention to check their correct operation. We need all of the electronics when in an emergency or when trying to make port in a foggy or rainy night, and then is not the time to question their accuracy. Running speed tests between landmarks is a necessary procedure to check your speedometer readings and to have a permanent record of boat speed at various engine RPM.

It is logical to follow the example of commercial ships when considering safety on boats. The US Coast Guard inspects passenger carrying ships to see if they have the necessary safety equipment and to see that the crew are properly trained in emergency procedures. Most of the insurers require ships to be inspected by one of the classification societies such as American Bureau of Shipping or Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. By the same reasoning, we need professional advice to help us locate any Master the Psychology of Selling Your Boat: Essential Tips and Techniquesproblems with our boats.

Necessary Equipment

We are bombarded with advertisements for boat gear and it is hard to choose from the many types and manufacturers. Surprisingly, much of the equipment is eventually necessary for a large boat that does extensive ocean cruising. But a small boat under thirty feet may only need a few items. Actually, the gear you have on board is related to the area you frequent, no matter what the boat size. If you stay in the rivers, small lakes, and intracoastal waterways, you will need safety equipment, but not to the same extent as if you cruised the oceans. In this regard, we hasten to emphasize that the:

  • Great Lakes;
  • Long Island Sound;
  • Chesapeake Bay;
  • and Delaware Bay are not protected waters.

Weather conditions drastically change the boating scene, of course, in any part of the country. During the Summer, we can cross from Florida to the Bahamas on flat calm water, but the same trip in the Winter may encounter twenty foot swells when the wind is from the North, blowing against the Northerly flowing Gulf Stream current. Even a sudden Summer thunderstorm can cause many accidents to boats and to owners who are not well prepared.

Every boat must have the equipment required for safety:

  1. We need lifejackets (PFD) for each person, including small sizes for young people.
  2. Proper running lights even though you think you will not operate after sunset. An anchor light is also required.
  3. A horn, bell, or whistle for operating in fog.
  4. Fire extinguishers and emergency flares.
  5. Anchors and one hundred feet of line.
  6. Fenders and dock lines.
  7. Magnetic Compass and charts.
  8. Batteries for the electronics.
  9. Boarding Ladder or stem swim platform.
  10. Life raft or dinghy if going offshore.
  11. Stanchions and lifelines around the deck.
  12. Safety harnesses for the crew to wear and attach to the boat when moving about the deck in rough seas. The safe procedure to follow is not to fall overboard!

When considering electronics, there are many choices with all the latest upgrades and new features. If you are in protected waters, you made not need digital gear to distract you from enjoying the cruise. However, avid fishermen will probably have a fathometer. These depth finders can range from a basic measurement of water depth to a video presentation of the entire water column from the surface to the bottom, showing any fish movement in between.

If you travel in an area where ship channels converge, Radar is a reassuring safety factor, especially at night and in fog. Radar is a valuable navigation tool and can tell you when you are on a collision course, even in the worst of weather. Coastal cruising in rain or fog quickly shows the need.

Also necessary for coastal or Essential Tips for Boat Maintenanceoffshore cruising is a reliable means of communication. Many people use cellular telephones, but they have to make sure the batteries are fully charged and they are within 20 miles of a relay antenna. VHF radios are commonly used in many different ratings of power output (watts). These are line of sight communications with a range of 20 to 30 miles, if the transmitting power is sufficient. Single sideband (SSB) radio transmitters are used for higher power and longer distances.

A brief explanation of line of sight communications may be helpful. All radio wave transmissions in the higher frequency range are limited in range because of the curvature of the earth. This includes Radar, VHF radio and television, cellular telephones. For the same reason, our vision is only to the horizon but increases greatly with our height above the surface. You may have looked out on the ocean and seen the masts and stack of a ship but were unable to see the hull clearly. The hull was below the horizon, but the taller masts were above the horizon. This is called seeing a ship hull down.

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A cruise ship
Source: pixabay.com

A very tall antenna will have a long range. An antenna ten feet above the water may send a signal 3,5 miles before it is at the horizon. If there is a ten foot tall antenna on a receiving boat, the signal may be heard at a distance of 7 miles. A four hundred foot tall TV transmitting tower may send out a signal for 23 miles but the range will be increased by the height of the receiving antenna.

Cruising Equipment in the Past

A short look at boating in the past may serve to put the subject of equipment in proper perspective. Recent television and movie presentations of old ship sinkings have shown just how little the old ships and boats had available. Before World War I, communications were only by Morse code telegraphy and then only when a long wire antenna was fitted and there was an operator listening for a signal. Short distance voice radio soon followed. Radar and Sonar were not developed until World War II and they did not appear on recreational boats until much later. It is still common for small boats to operate in protected waters and coastwise within sight of land without any electronic gear and with only minimum slow speed power.

The use of electronics on small boats really became prevalent after the development of the transistor in 1948 by three scientists at Bell Laboratories. Consumer, solid state electronics developed soon after with the use of printed circuit boards, integrated circuits, and eventually microchips. The weak point in all electronic circuits had been the glass vacuum tube, and these were fortunately eliminated. It is truly amazing to see the many advances in boat electronics in the past 30 years. There has been a great contribution to boating safety by the introduction of smaller, more reliable and affordable electronic equipment.

Many owners like to simplify their boating from the standpoint of investment and repair. Unless required for reasons of safety, you can enjoy boating without too much installed gear. Cooking on board is always a job no one wants and many still follow the old custom of heating soup, canned stew, and beans on a two-burner alcohol stove. An ice chest stays cool for two days, after which canned food becomes the only recourse. Some interesting menus can be made using canned or packaged foods that do not require refrigeration. When you have to stay alert on a boat for 16 hours each day, having a light meal four times a day is usually preferable (7AM – 11AM – 3PM – 7PM) to the alternative of eating too much three times daily. A large assortment of drinks can be found in cans and plastic bottles, and canned or dried fruit makes good snacks between meals or on a night watch.

Other Equipment

We have not mentioned some gear that is definitely considered by those who go offshore on rough waters. The degree of difficulty of an ocean trip is dependent on the sea conditions and not necessarily on the length of the voyage. The short trip from Los Angeles to Catalina Island (30 miles) may become rough at any time in the open ocean, but going from Miami to Bimini Island (60 miles) in the Summer usually is a flat calm crossing. Safety on the ocean calls for an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). This is a radio transmitter that sends out a signal on the aircraft emergency frequency when it is switched on. Aircraft can home in on this signal by taking bearings on their direction finder and thus locate the source. This is a worldwide system that has become a necessity. The self-contained battery must be replaced frequently to insure correct operation.

In addition, the modem system of navigation has become the Global Positioning System (GPS) because of the great convenience and simplicity of operation. By receiving signals from orbiting satellites, GPS shows your latitude and longitude. On some equipment, this position may be electronically combined with a video presentation of charts in your area so you can see your progress through channels and past buoys. New electronic navigation gear is being introduced every year.

Read also: Technical Recommendations for Choosing Engines for a Boats

All of this latest electronic means of navigation is excellent with judicious use in the proper situation. Do not expect it to be a cure-all. You should always have an alternative plan in case of gear failure. The most prevalent problem with all electronics is the failure of battery power, either self contained or from of the boat’s house battery. Also, electronics will usually fail if the equipment gets wet. Always keep spare batteries and be able to start the engine with a separate battery in order to charge the house load battery.

Always keep in mind what you might do if the boat loses power to the communication and navigation gear. A good Dead Reckoning (DR) plot on a paper chart is invaluable for keeping track of where you have been and to suggest a future course. It may seem improbable, but oarlock sockets can easily be installed on a boat less than thirty feet to provide a safe trip home by rowing when there is a loss of engine power.

Keep Your Trip Safe

1 Always slow your speed if you see a boat to your right (starboard). You are required to let them pass ahead of you.

2 Stay out of ship channels. Assume all ships will not change course or stop, especially in the open ocean.

3 If you meet a boat head on, change your course to the right (starboard). The other boat should do the same, to his right.

4 If another boat overtakes you from astern, (he is moving faster) keep your course and speed and allow him to pass.

5 If you stand in one position and sight over a stanchion or fitting on your deck three or four times, you can see another boat’s bearing moving to the right or to the left, or having no change in relative bearing. A hand bearing compass does a better job. When the bearing is unchanged, the danger of a collision exists. If the boat is on your port side, proceed with caution to make sure he slows to let you pass. If the other boat is on your starboard side, see Number One above, and slow your speed.

6 If you meet a boat that is fishing or SCUBA diving, slow your speed and turn away from their position. Their nets and divers may be some distance from their boat.

7 Sailboats have the right of way only when sailing, but they often get close calls from speeding powerboats. This is a dangerous practice as it keeps the powerboat operator’s attention away from other boats and other dangers. As on the highways, speed kills.

8 When in rain or fog, slow to a minimum speed and listen for other fog horns. Sound your fog horn and use your radar. If inland, try to find a protected anchorage area to use temporarily, preferably in shallow water where deep draft boats will not enter.

9 Proceed slowly at night and constantly look for the lights of other boats. Observe the above procedures and take bearings of other boats to see if the danger of a collision exists.

10 Keep in mind the mantime General Prudential rule. The fact a collision occurred shows neither boat took sufficient action to prevent it.

11 When in a crowded waterway or a narrow entrance channel, keep to the right, just like on the highway. Don’t hog the middle.

12 Get to know the lights and buoys in you area so they will be more familiar at night.

13 If you see another boat in need of help, stop and try to assist. If you can’t provide help, at least radio to the US Coast Guard. A very small boat can slowly tow a vessel four times its length.

Author photo - Olga Nesvetailova
  1. Cruising World, Subscription Service Dept., P. O. Box 953, Farmingdale, NY 11737.
  2. Motor Boating & Sailing, P. O. Box 10075, Des Moines, IA 50350.
  3. Multi-hulls, 421 Hancock St., N. Quincy, MA 02171-9981.
  4. Nautical Quarterly, 373 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016.
  5. Sail Magazine, P. O. Box 10210, Des Moines, IA 50336.
  6. Sailing, P. O. Box 248, Port Washington, WI 53704.
  7. Small Boat Journal, P. O. Box 400, Bennington, VT 05201.
  8. Soundings, Soundings Publications, Inc., Pratt Street, Essex, CT 06426.
  9. The Practical Sailor, Subscription Dept., P. O. Box 971, Farmingdale, NY 11737.
  10. Wooden Boat, Subscription Dept., P. O. Box 956, Farming-dale, NY 11737.
  11. Yacht Racing/Cruising, North American Building, 401 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19108.
  12. Yachting, P. O. Box 2704, Boulder, CO 80321.
  13. Beiser, Arthur. The Proper Yacht, 2nd ed. Camden, Maine: International Publishing Co., 1978.
  14. Chapman, Charles F. Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling, 56th ed. New York: Hearst Marine Books, 1983.
  15. Coles, Adlard. Heavy Weather Sailing, 3rd rev. ed. Clinton Corners, N.Y.: John De Graff, Inc., 1981.
  16. Pardey, Lin and Larry. Cruising in Seraffyn and Seraffyn’s Mediterranean Adventure (W. W. Norton, 1981).
  17. Roth, Hal. After 50 000 Miles (W. W. Norton, 1977) and Two Against Cape Horn (W. W. Norton, 1968).
  18. Royce, Patrick M. Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, 8th ed. Ventura, Calif.: Western Marine Enterprises, Inc., 1979.
  19. Kinney, Francis S. Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design, 8th ed. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1981.
  20. Street, Donald M., Jr. The Ocean Sailing Yacht, Vols. I and II. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973, 1978.


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