‘Tis the time of year when used boats are selling rapidly and almost all of them need condition and valuation surveys. Marine surveyors are harder to find these days since many have retired, and their reports are more expensive. However, insurance companies and some lenders want a survey, and you would be wise to have one before you buy, even if not required to do so.
Why Get a Survey
Skipping a survey is not a sound way to save money. We occasionally run into someone who wants us to sell their boat and who are very surprised when we find things wrong with it that are news to them. Guess what? They never had a survey when they bought the boat and were unaware of the problems it had. This is most often the case with private seller deals (FSBO), where the seller has no idea of what lurks below the surface of his/her boat. Other times they choose not to disclose it, either way it is a nasty surprise. So don’t skip the survey unless the boat is of very low value.
Interpreting a Survey
The primary objective we have when interpreting surveys for buyers and sellers alike is to put the findings in proper perspective. The surveyor’s job is to find and disclose any and all issues affecting the condition and safety of the vessel. They are typically good at this but are not always as good when it comes time to explain things so the client is able to understand what a finding really means. Nobody would ever buy a used boat if they took every negative finding as being a cause for concern. Some deficiencies are serious, but most are not.
Is the finding customary for a boat of this age? Often it is, and every other similar boat out there is likely to have the same issue. We prefer to review the survey with our clients, point out what they should worry about, and what they don’t need to. We also review the findings with the seller when there is cause for renegotiation of the price, or to set aside an escrow to pay for remediation. We have a solid understanding of boat construction, aging, and costing for repairs, or impact on vessel value. Our advice on these matters is one of the most important things we bring to the table for our clients.
New boats are wonderful, and if it makes sense for you to buy one you will avoid all the stuff that goes along with a used boat, but new boats are more expensive. If you are going the used boat route you should expect up front that anything you buy will have warts. You get what you pay for. That said, for many people a used boat makes sense, but don’t let a surveyor, or a well-meaning friend, tell you not to buy a boat because it is not perfect.
Allow me to use a personal example. I almost always sail a new boat, but this summer the boat that best fits my purposes is a J/105. They are not being built these days, so Tim set out to locate a used one for me. Before we began the search, we both clearly understood that any boat of this vintage and type would have some moisture intrusion. Expecting that from the beginning, I was not put off by the fact the boat we located (2000 model) had already undergone some core repair and still has some moisture in the core in spots.
The gelcoat in repaired areas is not a perfect match for the rest of the deck. However, buying a used boat is a matter of balancing the pluses and minuses. The pluses for this boat easily outweighed the negatives, and the warts won’t have any impact on our enjoyment on the water. Often people walk away from a vessel that is well suited to them because they are scared off by things that they shouldn’t be.