Having a yacht survey can be stressful without the right preparation. Ben Sutcliffe-Davies explains how to get the best advice for your money

No-one likes unnecessary expense when it comes to boat ownership, and having a yacht survey done is a cost most people would rather avoid.

Most boat owners have a survey done when they purchase a vessel, but there are other times a craft may need one.

These include when insurance companies request an inspection, perhaps because of time elapsed since your last survey.

An empty locker on the deck of a yacht ahead of a yacht survey

Emptying lockers will give the surveyor more time to focus on important things. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Or if you have done something to your boat and think it is worth getting a professional in to check.

Not all surveys, or surveyors, are equal, however.

If you instruct a survey on price alone without first establishing what you are actually paying for, you may come away feeling short-changed, or blissfully unaware of significant issues.

At the point of purchasing a boat, regardless of if you are buying privately or from a broker, a survey is wise.

You need to know that what you are buying is structurally in the condition you are expecting, whether it is a top notch luxury craft or a known project boat, 
and that it is going to last without any nasty surprises.

Instructing a yacht surveyor

Before employing a surveyor, be mindful of what you may need; for instance, is the craft at an age where the insurance of the vessel will require a survey?

This will generally be the case on boats from about 30 years old, but some underwriting companies are requesting to see surveys on boats of 25 years or older.

A yacht in a sling at a boat yard

Give the surveyor as much time as possible when booking a lift slot. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Rob Carter

Your insurance underwriters 
may also expect a surveyor to hold membership of a recognised association.

These include the the Yacht Designers and Surveyors Association (YDSA), the International Institute of Marine Surveyors (IIMS) 
or similar.

Insurers may even specify what level of membership your surveyor should hold.

It’s worth checking with your intended insurer before you engage a surveyor.

Underwriters may also provide a list of what they expect 
to be covered in a survey report, though a good surveyor will cover this.

Lastly make sure whomever you are employing has proper professional indemnity insurance cover.

The broker you are buying the boat from will provide a short list of surveyors that they have worked with before, but you are by no means bound by this list.

One last word on choosing a surveyor; watch out for the word ‘Qualified’.

YDSA logo

It is a good idea to choose a surveyor who is a member of a professional body

There are very few formal qualifications to undertake surveys on craft and there are a few surveyors who don’t actually have any proper training at all other than a distance learning course.

Unbelievably all someone needs to be a marine surveyor is a customer.

But don’t be 
put off: there are a good number of very good marine surveyors who have a long background of being in the industry.

Continues below…

Some have even been involved in building, fitting out or designing.

If you are paying for a yacht survey it is important you get what you are expecting.

If in doubt, check the websites of the association they claim to be members of.

Feel free to ask for a sample report from the surveyor you are planning to employ.

Methods and types of yacht survey

The methods of survey and who you employ may be dependent on materials the craft is built from, as very different assessments methods are needed.

If you are looking at a steel or aluminium yacht for instance, the survey will need 
to pay attention to the actual plate thickness with use of a hammer and ultrasound.

They will need to look closely for pitting to the plating along with an inspection of her welding, 
so going through internal framework and checking on internal plate condition and welding is important.

The hull of a yacht being pressure washed in a boat yard

Make sure you’ve arranged a suitable lift slot and pressure wash before survey day. Credit: Roy Conchile/Alamy

With laminates such as fibreglass, different disciplines are needed, with careful inspection of high load areas, physical structure and paying attention to moisture levels and indications of damage or groundings.

For those of 
you who want to have a timber yacht surveyed, you need to employ a surveyor who is very experienced and understands how the craft was built.

It is essential they understand about the correct selections of timber and the types and materials used for fastenings.

For both an owner’s insurance 
survey or a pre-purchase survey 
before instructing a surveyor you need 
to know what level of survey you are getting and what they plan to look 
at and report on.

A fuel gauge on a yacht

Not having filled up with fuel could scupper your sea trial. Credit: moodboard/Alamy Stock Photo

Is it 
just an external hull check or a more thorough inspection?

Likewise, you need to be aware of what can and can’t be inspected 
at the place she is being surveyed.

Some areas of a vessel can be very difficult to check.

For instance, if a vessel is on 
hard standing it is almost impossible 
to see the condition of the hull-to-keel 
joint and how secure it is unless the 
craft is lifted.

Allowing full access

A surveyor will often want to 
remove layers of paint from the hull, 
so a pressure washer needs to be available if the boat is in the water, 
and removing areas of epoxy or special antifoul coatings at a pre-purchase survey can be fraught with issues.

Sometimes this is essential to further confirm an issue that has been identified, but a seller may be less than keen to have this done.

If blisters are found on the hull, only by scraping back the antifouling can you tell if this is moisture trapped between coatings or 
if it is full-blown osmosis under the gelcoat.

blistering on the hull of a yacht

The cause of hull blisters, whether between layers of paint, or full-blown osmosis will require the scraping back of antifoul. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

Some common sense needs 
to be exercised from all parties.

Having appropriate access to lockers throughout the craft is essential.

A craft that is so full of clutter that 
it’s impossible to see into the lockers without spending loads of time clearing them out to check bonding or general structure of the craft will really hamper the surveyor.

It is important to remove as much unnecessary clutter as possible before the survey takes place.

Preparing for your yacht survey

  • Make sure you have arranged the boat lift for a time that is convenient with the surveyor and that affords them enough time to inspect without being pressurised by the yard to relaunch before they are ready.
  • Ensure any requirements from the surveyor for things like the craft being properly washed off are booked and paid with the yard prior to the survey.
  • Confirm with a surveyor with a reply in writing, and exchange mobile phone numbers before the day. A simple case of crossed wires or incomplete admin can be extremely stressful when a boat is hanging in the slings.
  • If buying, it is worth asking the vendor to remove or clearly mark items that are not included. You don’t want to be left with the nasty surprise that the in date liferaft and flares were not part of the deal.
  • Ensure someone has all the keys for the craft, including the engine and hatches.
  • Ensure the batteries are ok and if you have shore power that it is safe and works before the surveyor turns up. Being unable to start the engine or switch electrics on will prevent a good part of the survey from taking place.
  • If the engine is to be demonstrated, make sure it is serviceable, starts with ease and there is enough fuel.
  • Regardless of whether you are preparing to have a pre-purchase or insurance survey make sure the systems such as diesel heaters and auto helm work. If there are issues it’s helpful to inform the surveyor rather than have them spend hours trying to get something to power up that is already a known fault.

What does the yacht survey cover?

So, what is possible to survey on a typical yacht with a standard fit out?

This is not an exhaustive list but these are some of the common areas of inspection

Hull

Normally a surveyor would start with the hull: underwater, topsides and deck condition.

The keel matrix or frame arrangements are important, along with the condition of the hull-to-keel joint, plus checking that the method of attachment of the keel is appropriate.

If the boat has an encapsulated keel, external condition is important.

A keel hull joint on a sailing yacht

Keel-hull joints can only be properly inspected when the boat is lifted. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

The surveyor will look for any evidence of grounding or damage to any of the keel arrangement as this could be a significant issue.

As well as listing and checking the condition of any underwater fittings externally and internally, the above waterline discharges, such as cockpit drains, are important to look at as well, especially if they are PVC as these do deteriorate with UV light.

In many cases, underwater DZR brass seacock assemblies need to be treated as consumables that will need routine replacement after a few years.

Also ensuring hoses and attachments are in good condition and secured is just as important as the condition of the valves themselves.

Rudder

Rudder blades are frequently an issue, especially when they’re over 20 years old and have absorbed lots of moisture into the blade, which can lead to structural failure.

A few basic inspection points will confirm the general condition with light tapping with a ball pein hammer and moisture meter.

Water in rudders of a yacht

Water in rudders can cause failure. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies/Dorset Media Service

Sometimes water running out of it is a dead giveaway!

Obviously, rudder bearings and how the steerage works all need looking at.

IPV code

If you are planning a sea trial on a sailing or motor vessel, be aware of the new Maritime and Coastguard Agency regulations that came into force from 1 January 2019.

Part 1 of the Code of Practice for Intended Pleasure Vessels (MCA IPV code) states that having a survey, a brokerage test sail, or an engine service that involves leaving the harbour or marina is a temporary commercial use of an intended pleasure (non-commercial) vessel.

Designed to allow this to happen without needing to commercially certify a boat or gain an official exemption, the professional operator – the surveyor or broker – has responsibilities for equipping and maintaining the vessel according to Part 1 of this Code of Practice.

a corroded seacock on a yacht

Seacocks may need regular replacement. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

The owner must declare they are content for the operator to use their vessel and that the operator has the right safety management system and measures in place to operate the vessel safely.

This may mean providing additional safety equipment required by the IPV Code, if the owner does not have it on board.

The operator and owner are jointly responsible for completing a self-declaration certificate for each voyage made in the format shown in Annex A of the IPV Code.

For details, visit: gov.uk/government/publications/intended-pleasure-vessels-ipv-code

Engine

The engine should be proven where possible in a pre-purchase yacht survey.

Many buyers take the craft on a sea trial, and at that point, taking an engineer from the local engine dealership who may have software to plug in is worth the investment.

Fuel lines on a yachr

Fuel lines that are out of date or badly worn should be spotted. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

These days many modern engines don’t always present issues at sea trial but will have a list of faults on plugging in and checking.

A normal yacht survey should comment on if there were significant oil leaks, the condition of the engine beds, mounts, fuel tankage, filters and fuel lines, drive belts, exhaust system and cooling system that all merit some inspection.

Fuel bug

Fuel bug is a common issue. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

Lastly, the drive, any type of coupling and support, stern gland arrangement, shaft, bearings and propeller condition would all need to be thoroughly checked.

Accommodation

I often find that large amounts of personal equipment can hamper how easy it is to inspect the important areas.

If you’re having a survey, take the opportunity to de-clutter your boat.

A hydrometer being used during a survey on a yacht

A hygrometer will show water ingress in the structure. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies/Dorset Media Service

If she has sole boards that are secured down, it’s helpful to unscrew as many as possible to allow inspection of the bilges.

The surveyor will use a moisture meter around linings, focusing on vents, compression posts, chain plate locations, portholes and hatches, so make sure they are all accessible.

Systems

At a pre-purchase it’s normal to switch test as many of the systems as possible, so ensuring the batteries are charged or actually on board is helpful too.

Surveys should comment on bilge pumps and navigation lights, water pumps and water systems, shower pump outs and so on.

A battery terminal in a bad state which needs replacing

A battery terminal in a very poor state. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

Frequently it’s at that point you find a water pump or joint leaking.

Most yacht surveyors don’t physically check gas with a pressure test, but all should look at the system generally with pipework, cooker and hoses, and report the obvious issues.

A Gas Safe inspection is worth the investment, and may, in some instances, be an insurance requirement.

Diesel heaters

More yachts than ever have diesel heaters fitted, but there are big differences between a poor DIY installation and a professional one that I come across at yacht survey.

The use of proper lagging of exhausts, the right type of silencer, fuel lines and other fittings are all very important.

A diesel heater

A poor installation of a diesel heater lacking proper insulation or protection from locker contents. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

If any of these are missing they can pose serious fire or carbon monoxide risk and will be a red flag at survey.

Rigging

When it comes to rigging, there are many differing opinions, including among insurers, about the proper replacement intervals.

With the high cost to owners, it can be a contentious issue.

Generally, there is an unwritten rule that at 10 years rigging should be replaced.

Rigging on a yacht

Surveyors are not riggers, but they will comment on the condition or known age of the rig. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe Davies

However, over the last 15 or so years, it is noticeable that some of the areas of common failure have been eliminated, such as open bottle screws, insufficient wire gauge, or terminal toggles with restricted movement.

Having a rigger check it properly and working through a programme of replacement is definitely a prudent approach for any owner.

Remember, riggers don’t normally check the chain plates, stem fitting or back stay arrangements, and any corrosion or weakness will be located on the hidden parts of bolts.

Safety equipment

The safety equipment carried on a boat can vary greatly depending on the intended use.

Where an owner survey should have everything present, a boat for sale may not be fully kitted out.

Firstly, are the flares in date and are they appropriate for where the craft is being sailed?

A fire extinguisher on a yacht

Check for pressure and expiry dates. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Is the anchor, ground tackle and kedge anchor present, secure and appropriate for the size of boat?

Life rings need to be in good condition with lights that work, a drogue, and the craft’s name written on it.

Likewise, is there a dan buoy with light, jackstays, harnesses and strong points to clip on?

Are the first aid kits and fire extinguishers in good condition and in date?

The MCA and RYA provide lists of what is and isn’t essential.

A yacht survey

The findings of a yacht survey can make difficult reading, but at least you know where you stand

The report

Once a survey has been completed you should be provided with a report that reflects the condition of the craft with recommendations provided clearly.

It’s worth ensuring you understand the time scale of when a report will arrive.

Most surveyors send them by email these days and normally within 3-5 days of inspection.

Some surveyors will allow you to attend the survey or part of the survey, which I find can be an ideal way to help an owner understand what needs doing, or for a potential owner to get to know the boat they are buying, warts and all, minus the rose-tinted spectacles.

As an independent third party, the surveyor is there to give an honest, detailed and expert view of the boat in question.

At times, our reports can make uncomfortable reading, but we can also offer reassurance that everything is in good order and even if it’s not, at least you’ll know exactly where you stand.