Recommendations on a marine survey are often a source of inconvenience to boat owners, and because of this, survey recommendations often come under close scrutiny. Why, after years of trouble-free boat ownership, is it all of sudden imperative to repair these items, and some at significant cost? Ask five different marine surveyors and you may get five different answers. Most of the reasons provided, however, will most likely be related to safety, regulations or construction standards (or a combination of these). Keep in mind that recommendations from a surveyor are suggested, and are based on the knowledge and experience of the surveyor. The surveyor is not forcing you to make repairs. Your insurer is also not forcing boat owners to repair their boats. If you put yourself in the shoes of an insurance underwriter, though, you would likely consider many of the recommendations of a marine surveyor as pretty important to address before you agree to insure the boat.
Insurance policy renewals provide an opportunity for your insurer to add some conditions to the agreement, often in the form of a marine survey. As a boat ages, deterioration and lack of proper maintenance can increase risk to the insurance company. A marine survey provides a detailed analysis of the condition of the vessel. Unfortunately, opinions are as varied as the personalities who form them. How can we really establish condition when different surveyors are saying different things about their findings. Presuming all surveyors see the same level of detail when they inspect a boat, there will still be different opinions on how significant these findings are to the boat owner or insurer, and further still the urgency of repair.
So how do we achieve some consistency? Well, there are standards throughout the world for boat construction, safe operation, maintenance and repair practices. In Canada, we have these standards provided by Transport Canada and the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC), as well supporting standards from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Standards Organization (ISO), among others.
We also have regulations, which are laws that apply to all boats and boaters in Canada. Parts of the regulations make parts of the construction standards mandatory. Other parts of construction standards are voluntary, meaning that while they may be considered good practice, they are not enforceable by law.
The interpretation of these laws and standards can be complex. A good surveyor knows not only how to spot problems during an inspection (this is a bare minimum requirement for the surveyor), but also what the laws and voluntary standards say about a particular issue. Further, the surveyor must be capable of translating that information into useful information and recommendations for the boat owner.
Any deficiencies found on the boat that are not in compliance with the regulations, or standards deemed compulsory by the regulations, need to be clearly listed as such. Most surveyors will publish a list of essential repairs, or priority findings, which include any of the compulsory items. Essential repairs may also include items not specified in the regulations that may still pose an immediate potential endangerment to crew safety on the boat.
Recommendations related to non-compulsory standards should be listed separately. This category may be referred to as a “Watch List”. It may include deficiencies found that could become potentially unsafe if left unattended. I use this category to list items that may also have a significant cost to repair or replace, such as worn out canvas (worn out canvas may be considered an essential repair if its condition impairs safe navigation, such as severely weathered/damaged vinyl windows).
When an insurance underwriter reviews a marine survey report, these items are taken into consideration. Often, a boat may be considered by the surveyor to be in satisfactory condition, but the essential repairs will need to be addressed before the insurer is prepared to issue a policy or policy renewal. Sometimes, an underwriter will require certain non-compulsory items to be addressed as well (at their discretion, but often because of the wording of the survey recommendations). A good surveyor will be sensitive to wording of the recommendations without misrepresenting the details and severity of the problem.
As a marine surveyor, I completely understand that some of our recommendations may seem overly cautious. They have to be. Marine surveyors cannot control where or how their clients use their boat. Surveyors are a part of the greater boating industry, and we have a vested interest in helping boaters get out on the water safely. If you have a question about a recommendation from a survey report, feel free to reach out to us by email, email@example.com, or toll free at 1-800-827-0835.