How To Get A Better Marine Survey


Every time I post about structural issues or refits the subject of poor surveys of used boats comes up. Now I’m sure there are many reputable surveyors out there striving to do the best job they can, but on the other hand I am hearing a distressing number of stories about surveys that were sketchy at best.

And this is simply not good enough, since many boat buyers are trusting surveyors, rightly or wrongly, to make sure that the boat they buy is safe and that they won’t find a bunch of undisclosed defects after purchase that will eat them alive financially.

Further, given my belief that we have a major problem with keels that may fall off suddenly (that will probably only get worse as the afflicted boats age), the need for good surveying is probably more urgent than it has ever been.

Obviously, one area of effort that can improve this situation is to upgrade the qualifications required to call yourself a marine surveyor. I believe that progress has been made in recent years in this area, although I suspect that much more could be done. But that’s not what this post is about.

Rather, this is about a simple tip that may save you from getting a bad survey and then a suggestion for a small business start up that could help too:

John’s Rule of Surveyor Selection

Let’s start with the tip:

Do not even think about using a surveyor that the yacht broker recommends. Do not, do not, do not!

If you think about this for just a moment, the reason is blindingly obvious: Do you really think that the broker, who is trying to close the deal to sell you a boat, is going to send you to the best qualified most stringent surveyor out there?

In fact, ethically, since the broker’s fiduciary responsibility is to the seller, not the buyer, he or she should recommend the most half-assed, slipshod, unqualified surveyor on the planet.

But the crazy thing is that, as I understand it (admittedly anecdotally), buyers take the broker’s surveyor recommendation in many (most?) boat sale situations. This is simply nuts. It represents a huge conflict of interest since a surveyor that wants to get recommended by brokers will not have that happen if he or she blows up too many deals by finding a problem with the boat in play.

OK, if you can’t ask the broker to recommend a surveyor, who do you ask? Well, you could go to one of the surveyor certifying bodies and pick a member from their list. This option is certainly better than asking the broker, but what does it really tell you? You first need to figure out which of the certifying groups is doing a good job—no, I don’t have any idea—and even then what have you learnt about the surveyor’s due diligence and ethics? Not a lot.

And yes, you could ask your insurance company or insurance broker to recommend a surveyor, which might be the best option, but it’s also an option that’s rife with opportunities for conflict of interest too.

A Business Opportunity

So here’s my business idea for a better way:

An independent, for profit, web based registry of yacht surveyors that includes the ability for clients to review surveyors.

Surveyors would be able to join the service for free. In fact, the service provider would download the membership list from all the surveyor associations that publish them and set up a login for each surveyor and then send them an email inviting them to join (and upload a short resumé).

(And no, I don’t believe this would contravene any anti-spam legislation since the surveyor is being contacted in his or her professional capacity; however, a lawyer should check this.)

Sure, at first surveyors will resist, but with time, the good surveyors are going to realize that this web site is the best thing that ever happened to their business because it will reward them for being tough and diligent. The first time that’s ever happened in the history of the profession, I’m going to guess.

So how does the web business get paid? Like this:

  • Any buyer of survey services can leave a review of the providing surveyor for free (after setting up a free login) and even enter a new surveyor into the database.
  • But to see reviews other than his or her own, a member must pay a fee.
  • Said fee will also let the members see surveyors’ answers to reviews—yes, surveyors will be able to answer and their answer will always be shown with the review; it’s only fair.

Yes I know, crowd sourced reviews are anything but perfect. But before you write this idea off, think about the improvements in Intracoastal Waterway services, particularly marinas, that have come about as a result of Jeff and Karen Siegel’s Active Captain, as an example of the potential positive effects of such a service.

Priming The Pump

But wait, you ask. How is anyone going to know about this site?

Simple, if you want to set this site up, we at AAC will promote it with a post and provide a banner ad for six months for free! And that provides exposure to a quarter of a million boaters from all over the world each year.

It’s a Start

That’s the bare bones of the idea. But one thing I know after a lifetime of starting businesses, is that it will change and get refined in the crucible of the real world. In fact, let’s start that process now. If you have ideas to improve or expand on my basic idea, please leave a comment.

Please keep it positive. Just telling me my idea won’t work, without suggesting a better alternative, does not help solve what I believe is one of the most pressing problems facing recreational boating today.

One other thing, please don’t suggest that we set up this business, we have our hands well and truly full with AAC!

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Meet the Author

John Harries

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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