Why Paying For A Survey Will Save You Thousands

February 7th, 2021 by team

by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor) 

If you’ve read our articles on boat buying, then you’ve heard me jumping up and down about surveys and why you should almost always get one. I’m a huge fan of a professional survey by an accredited surveyor.

But they are expensive and time-consuming, and there is a temptation to skip them and save the expense, especially with an older and less expensive boat. Because…how bad could it be, really? You’re not spending that much on the boat, right?

The Infinite Well of Money

Though we all love boats, let’s be frank for a moment. They’re expensive, and from a financial responsibility perspective, they are utter madness.

The problem is that just because a boat is inexpensive, it doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Even if you only spend a few thousand dollars on an old plastic fantastic from the seventies, things can go wrong with it that cost more than the boat is worth.

Replacing a blown inboard on an old boat? That’s one. Major delamination, keel problems, rig failures – the list goes on. There’s no “but my boat was cheap to buy” discount on parts and labor to fix those things.

Even if you get one of those big dollar problems and decide not to fix it, the boat will still keep costing you money as long as you own it. Storage charge, registration, taxes, insurance, and other ownership costs keep piling up. If you can’t find someone to donate it to, you’re going to need to pay to get it hauled away.

Given the large potential downside of undetected problems, spending a few dollars before you commit to the boat to make sure risks are low is worth it.

Finding Problems the Easy Way

The time to learn that your battery charger doesn’t work isn’t the Friday afternoon before you leave for your first outing on the boat with your family. Or that the windlass jams, the engine smokes when you bring it to speed, or the halyard sheaves are all baked.

Any used boat will have flaws. The surveyor is going to look for the deal-killers, the deep flaws that will make you regret buying the boat and cost you money.

But a side effect of this is that a good surveyor will check and run almost every system on the boat for you. He won’t get everything, but odds are he’ll flip switches, push buttons, open lockers and lift floorboards in a more methodical way that you might. And he know what he’s looking for.

It’s nice to know coming into a new-to-you boat what does and doesn’t work. And if something doesn’t work, it’s even nicer if the seller fixes it for you or gives you a break on the price so you can get it fixed.

Your Detailed Walkthrough

A good surveyor will let you watch, and a great surveyor will explain things to you as he finds them without slowing down his work. You will get a detailed write up after the survey, but nothing compares with seeing it with your own eyes.

Similarly, pictures rarely do the situation justice. You will have a much better understanding of what those rust stains mean if the surveyor shows you where they came from than you’ll get from looking at a picture of a grotty locker with a paragraph explaining it.

You’re the customer, you can ask questions. Don’t want to get in the way and frustrate the surveyor, but be clear on what you’re seeing because you’re going to live with it.

Sure, a showing with the owner is nice. But having an expert look in every locker and under every floorboard with you? That’s worth something.

Your First Work List

My favorite part of the survey is the recommendations list at the end. It’s your first work list, and it’s already there and ready for you.

Don’t want a work list? Fair enough, but even if you’re paying someone else to do everything for you, you need to tell them what to do. Why not start with a professional overview?

Approaching a new boat with a mind to keeping it up is a daunting task when you don’t know the boat. A good starting work list keeps you busy and helps you learn the ropes.

It’s Not About Honesty

Most sellers aren’t trying to cheat you; that’s not why you’re getting a survey.

But most owners are not experts in boat building or boat systems. They may know their boats well, but there still may be hidden problems with their boats they aren’t aware of.

Boats are always quietly deteriorating when we’re not looking. We don’t check every detail of every system every day. If something works when we flip the switch, most owners don’t give it a lot of thought or go looking for pending problems.

That’s where a good surveyor is a huge help. Not to stop a seller pulling a fast one – most people are honest, and the sellers most serious about swindling you are going to be cagey about letting a surveyor on board. But all boat owners are human, and the odds are high there are a couple of things wrong with the boat that they don’t know about.

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