Choosing a Marine Surveyor

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)

Regulations & Construction Standards

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,, or toll free at 1-800-827-0835.

The Importance of a Sea Trial

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.

Why do I need a Marine Survey?

Click here to view the blog post pdf

By Tim Martin
Marine Surveys Canada

Whether you are an experienced boater or are purchasing your first boat, you are likely to end up requiring a marine survey at some point. By simple definition, a marine survey is a boat inspection. More specifically, it is a very detailed technical inspection and lengthy document that speaks to the condition and value of a boat. The findings of the marine surveyor typically establish whether or not a boat is seaworthy (safe to be in the water). Many unsafe boats will float and get a family to and from a favourite anchorage. Many appear to be perfectly safe, even to experienced boaters. In reality, marine surveyors often find issues with boats that come as a complete surprise to the boat owner.

In 2003, I ran a boat repair shop near Edmonton, Alberta. Often I had requests from customers for me to provide a ‘marine survey’ as a requirement to renew their boat insurance. Honestly, at the time I was as perplexed by the request as they were. The insurance brokers in the area knew little of what they were being asked by the insurance company they represented. The mechanical inspection reports I had provided to customers were not sufficient to meet the requirements for insurance companies, and some of my customers were left uninsured. Frustrated for my clients, I did a little research. What I discovered led me to a new profession in marine surveying. More than 15 years later, I can safely say I have learned a thing or two about marine surveys.

Marine surveyors are required to be familiar with safety legislation and construction standards. Experienced marine surveyors will provide important insight as to how the standards and legislation apply to a given boat. It is for this reason that insurance companies look for a marine surveyor’s report, which helps the insurer to determine the level of risk they undertake when they insure the boat. The marine surveyor will inspect the boat’s structure, electrical systems, fuel systems, safety and navigation equipment, and even the cosmetic items that can erode the boat’s value. A boat with a fuel leak that catches fire on the lake is a very expensive catastrophe for an insurance company, not mention a tragedy for the affected families.

The risks to a prospective boat buyer are much the same. As a major purchase, a boat buyer signing on the dotted line without having the benefit of a marine survey could discover they are on the hook for thousands in structural repairs in order to have the boat insured. Would you consider buying a home without a home inspection? In addition to a marine survey, a mechanical inspection done by a qualified marine service technician can also verify that the engines and mechanical systems have good serviceable life in them.

If you are contemplating that your next big purchase might just be a boat, be sure to hire a marine surveyor before you make the commitment. It might just be the safest boating choice you can make.

Wire Nuts on Boats

There you are just finishing up installing that new stereo or fish finder on your boat and all you need to do is join those last couple of wires and then time to hit the water with your newly installed electronics but AHH you look around and there are no more butt connectors left in your tool tray. What to do? As you look around your garage for something else….Bingo you spot a box of wire nuts (twist on connectors) and think you’re all set. Think again.

Wire nuts on boats are prohibited by ABYC and are not to be used in marine applications.

As per ABYC E11.14.5.6 “twist on connectors, i.e., wire nuts, shall not be used”

Even though many electrical components may come with wire nuts for install just turn around and throw them away or save them for your household project. Wire nuts on boats are one of the most common issues we see when surveying vessels and quick to be flagged and documented.

There are a few issues with wire nuts and why they are not allowed on boats, even though they are standard use in many other applications.

-Wire nuts work great on single strand wire, that is what they are designed for. As you may have noticed all boat electrical wire is multi-strand. When the multi-strand wire is twisted together in the wire nut the strands tend to break off making the connection weaker.

-Wire nuts are a great place for water to accumulate. Although we love being in the water we want to keep as much of it away from our electrical components as possible. An upside down wire nut is a great place for water to accumulate.

As the saying goes ‘you are only as good as your weakest link´ and that weakest link being that wire nut. Nobody wants to be chasing around electrical issues on their boat when they should be out enjoying it on the water.

The best option is a butt connector and preferably a shrinkable one. You could use a regular style butt connector and put a piece of shrink over it if it’s going to be located in a higher moisture area (ie. Bilge). Not a good idea to solder them together either, that too goes against the ABYC Standard. When stripping the insulation makes sure to use the proper tool and that none of the wire strands are damaged. If so cut the wire and strip it again.

Now that you have that electrical unit properly wired up and installed it’s time to sit back and know that you will have trouble free boating in your future….at least where that component is concerned!