Timothy J. S. Martin, SA
Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors

I am frequently asked if I think it’s important that a marine surveyor attend a Sea Trial when one of our clients is buying a used boat. In very simple terms, not including your marine surveyor on a Sea Trial is a failure to complete the full marine survey. Many buyers believe they are obtaining a marine survey in order to make sure they can get insurance on the vessel they are buying.

Once the buyers receive their marine survey reports, however, most realize that the surveyor sees deeper into the condition of the vessel. Often, the surveyor finds a number of items that that the prospective buyer has overlooked. This is not only because the surveyor has knowledge and experience that is different from the buyer, but also because the surveyor is not invested (or emotionally involved) in the purchase. Surveyors see things that buyers don’t want to see, and sellers don’t want them to find. Once the boat buyer realizes there is significant value to having that extra set of eyes on the boat, the nature of the relationship begins to change (and this is why we receive so many referrals).

I am told by clients a few times each season that they wish they had hire me for the Sea Trial. These comments are usually heard when something has gone wrong, often a performance problem or major mechanical failure with an expensive repair bill. Most used boats do not come with a warranty, and yacht brokers are not responsible for providing warranty either. This is where bringing your surveyor on the Sea Trial makes good sense. A good surveyor will test everything onboard the vessel to make sure it is operational, and will note any items needing repair or maintenance, both at the dock and while underway. A good surveyor will direct the Sea Trial in such a way that allows evaluation of the structure, propulsion systems and running gear while underway. The surveyor does not captain the vessel. The surveyor is the inspector while the boat is in operation.
With few exceptions, I have found a number of additional deficiencies during Sea Trial after surveying the vessel out of the water. These additional items have had significant cost implications that could be addressed prior to removing the survey conditions. Below is a list of items with typically significant repair costs that are inspected during Sea Trial but cannot be tested out of the water in a Basic Survey:

  • Air conditioners
  • Propulsion engines
  • Transmissions and shafts
  • Steering system
  • Generator
  • Autopilot systems
  • Stressed vessel structure
  • DC battery charging systems (alternators)
  • Leaks at thru-hulls

Good surveyors will use all tools at their disposal to help identify problems that may be developing, including infrared temperature measurement and thermal imaging to help find hot spots in electrical wiring, and in propulsion engine and generator cooling and exhaust systems.

In order to capture the Sea Trial as part of the survey in the conditions of sale, we are now including the Sea Trial in our Full Survey option (the Full Survey includes out-of-water inspection, in-water inspection and Sea Trial. Typically, these are all scheduled for the same day, and the surveyor spends most of the day onboard. Arrangements should be made to have the vessel hauled, launched and plugged into shore power at dockside). Now, when a purchase agreement includes a condition for a satisfactory marine survey, that survey can and should include a Sea Trial, meaning the condition is not removed until the Full Survey (including the Sea Trial) has been completed and the results are satisfactory to the buyer. It is not always possible or practical to undertake a Sea Trial, therefore a Basic Survey inspection of the vessel out of the water is sometimes as much of a service as the surveyor can provide. However, when buying a boat, an out-of-water Basic Survey is not an acceptable alternative when it is possible to schedule a Sea Trial before removal of conditions.

Wherever possible, boat buyers should choose the Full Survey option that includes a Sea Trial, and take advantage of having that extra set of experienced eyes onboard while underway. Be clear with the yacht broker and the person selling the vessel that the Sea Trial will be included. It could very well prevent you as a buyer from assuming responsibility for someone else’s problems. It could save a good deal of time, money and frustration for the new owner of the boat. As a buyer, once conditions are removed, that vessel and all its problems are yours to deal with on your own.