Ask a Broker

When the time comes to arrange a survey on a boat I'm interested in buying, how should I proceed and what should I expect-of the seller, my broker and the surveyor?

For the answer to this month’s question, we consulted the always helpful and informative “Buying a Used Boat” booklet from the California Yacht Brokers Association. It’s available to download at, for anyone who’s interested. The relevant section for us is called Step Four: Getting a Sea Trial and Survey.

The seller has accepted your offer on a boat. You’ve lined up your financing. Now it’s time for a sea trial to see how this boat handles and performs in the water. The seller usually provides the sea trial. Your broker will usually go with you on the sea trial.

A survey is your opportunity to find out any problems, see if everything works properly and determine the boat’s condition. Buyers pay for the surveys and for hauling the boat out of the water for inspection.

If an unforeseen problem shows up during the survey, you might be able to negotiate it into the final price.
Use a marine surveyor. Don’t necessarily use a surveyor the seller has recommended — and don’t rely on a survey report from the seller. The report might have been written before certain problems turned up.

Always use an independent surveyor, and always survey the boat in and out of the water. Marine surveyors inspect the boat in your interest and the interests of your lender and insurance company. Often your lender will designate a marine surveyor, and brokers have lists of marine surveyors approved by lenders and marine insurance companies.

You can also find marine surveyors by calling the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) at (800) 344-9077, and the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) at (800) 822-6267.
One caveat: California has no occupational licensing standards for marine surveyors.
You should also ask an independent marine mechanic to inspect the engine.
We recommend that you attend the survey to learn firsthand what condition the boat is in. It’s the best time to ask the surveyor questions.
What to do with your sea trial and survey results?
• One big reason for the survey is to find out the current condition and market value of the boat you want to buy.
• If the results reveal flaws and problems, the sea trial and survey may give you the opportunity to back out of a contract without penalty — or to negotiate repairs on the boat.
• But be advised: If you’re buying a boat at a rock-bottom price, or if the seller is in distress and is selling for below his market price, the sea trial and survey will not give you leverage to negotiate. The seller might not have funds for repairs and is selling as is, where is.
Your broker usually gives copies of the survey report to your lender and insurance carrier for their review. They’ll want to know the boat’s condition, its replacement value and the surveyor’s determination of the boat’s market value.
Keep in mind, though, surveys are no guarantee against hidden or undetected defects.