It seems like everyone has their “guy”, usually a marine surveyor they either know personally or have been referred to by another boater (or someone in the marine or insurance industries). Marine surveyors are often hired based on this type of referral, rather than on the merits of their qualifications and skills. I often hear boaters express their displeasure about an experience where a marine surveyor “condemned” a boat, or the surveyor was viewed as unreasonable in relation to their recommendations. As a result, surveyors known to be less thorough and less detailed in their work tend to be favoured by boaters, especially for insurance surveys. That said, I have found that most boaters appreciate good information when it is presented with some perspective.

With pre-purchase surveys, cost of ownership is a key consideration for a purchaser, and detail is imperative, but the high number of findings and recommendations can negatively impact an insurance underwriter’s willingness to issue a policy. This conundrum can only be resolved by the surveyor reporting findings with integrity (the detail must be in the report) and perspective (the findings must be presented in the context of whether they are safety or regulatory concerns).

Ultimately, a good marine surveyor will identify both the obvious and the developing issues that could have some safety implications. Such issues may be found within the boat structure, rigging, electrical and fuel systems, machinery, and any other component of a vessel. If a marine surveyor cannot do this, there is no point in undertaking the marine survey.

So, how does one identify a good marine surveyor? Well, ethics and integrity are critical. Marine surveyors should be selected based on the following minimum criteria:

  1. The surveyor should be accredited, or at the very least a member in good standing, in a recognized association of surveyors (Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors, National Association of Marine Surveyors, International Institute of Marine Surveying). These associations have user-friendly websites that include membership directories to help you find an Accredited Marine Surveyor in your area.
  2. The surveyor should have technical certifications, preferably training offered through the ABYC (American Boat & Yacht Council)
  3. The surveyor should be fully insured for the type of work they are doing (many are not)

In addition to the above minimum criteria, I recommend that boaters avoid hiring a marine surveyor that falls into in any of the following categories:

  1. A marine surveyor recommended by your insurer who is not accredited or a member in good standing of a recognized marine surveyors association (such as SAMS, NAMS, or IIMS). Insurance companies and insurance brokers do not certify or provide accreditation for surveyors.
  2. Any surveyor who cannot provide proof of insurance
  3. A surveyor who cannot provide a sample survey
  4. Any surveyor who appears to have bargain rates (these surveyors are often not carrying the costs of association memberships and are frequently uninsured)
  5. The surveyor who advertises that they also do boat repair or service work, towing, lawn mower repair, hair styling, tire repair or liquor delivery service (or any other service that clearly demonstrates the surveyor is not fully engaged in the profession). This is particularly important in situations where the surveyor is prepared to charge you for repairs related to their own survey recommendations, which is clearly a conflict of interest
  6. Surveyors who cannot provide a timely report (typically within three business days of inspection), or those who charge extra for issuing a report in timely manner. Reporting is a significant part of the job, and the job is not complete until the report is finished.
  7. Surveyors who charge a premium for “emergency surveys”
  8. Any surveyor willing to sign-off their report on repairs they have not witnessed first-hand
  9. Any surveyor advertising “virtual marine surveys” where they issue a report without inspecting the vessel

Care should be exercised when selecting a marine surveyor. Of late, we are seeing an uptick in the number of unqualified people fraudulently advertising membership in a marine surveying society or association. This trend seems to be prevalent in Ontario, likely due to opportunity created by increased boat sales activity of the past couple of years. Allowing and encouraging unqualified marine surveyors to submit opinions on vessel condition and value significantly increases risk for boaters and insurers in the coming years. Professional marine surveying associations maintain an updated membership roster, along with recognized qualifications for each surveyor on their list. If in doubt, reach out to the marine surveying associations providing accreditation (or certification). Web links to the three primary marine surveying associations in North America are provided below.

Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors – SAMS

NAMSGlobal | An International Association of Marine Surveyors | The National Association of Marine Surveyors, Inc. | Find A Marine Surveyor Near Me | Training | Education | Certification | Referral | NAMS | NAMS-CMS

IIMS, The International Institute of Marine Surveying

Timothy J. S. Martin
Lewis Martin & Associates Ltd. (Marine Surveys Canada)