In any profession, there are always a few great professionals, a number of good ones, and then there are always some that are – well, not so good. For example, it's a little known fact that almost 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class! Well, okay, maybe that's not such an astounding factoid, but when it comes to marine surveyors, the levels of expertise really do vary widely. Here are some thoughts on finding the right surveyor.
What kind of survey is needed? In last week's Blue View, I talked about the ten most common types of surveys. If you are buying a boat, you want a very good, well qualified surveyor who is knowledgeable in the type of boat you are buying. Some surveyors are more knowledgeable about power boats or steel merchant vessels than sailboats, for example. On the other hand, if you just want a quick pre-purchase opinion to decide whether a particular boat is worth traveling to see, a local broker or cruising friend may be able to provide the information you need.
Membership in NAMS and SAMS. Anyone can print up business cards and call themselves a marine surveyor. There are also some professional organizations that anyone can join, whether qualified or not. To become a certified member of either the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) or the Society of Marine Surveyors (SAMS), however, not only must the candidate meet strict experience and education criteria, he/she must also pass both an ethics and a technical exam. Make sure the surveyor is fully certified for your type of boat. For example, for Nine of Cups, we would ideally want a surveyor with a SAMS designation of “AMS” and a specialization classification of “Y-SC” (yacht and small craft), and/or a NAMS designation of “CMS” and a specialized service code of “A” (yacht and small craft).
Membership in ABYC. The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) is a non-profit organization that develops safety standards for the design, construction, maintenance, and repair of recreational boats. A qualified surveyor will be a member of the ABYC, if for no other reason than to stay current on the ABYC standards.
Broker recommendations. A broker usually can't recommend a particular surveyor, but most will provide a list of qualified, local surveyors.
BoatUS listings. BoatUS has listings of qualified surveyors searchable by geographic location.
Other cruisers. References from knowledgeable cruising friends are a good source.
Cost. The cost of a survey seems to vary widely, even in the same location. While the cheapest surveyor may not be the best qualified, we saw a range of $10/ft to $22/ft from well qualified surveyors when we were shopping for an insurance condition and valuation survey recently.
Boatyard Owners. A boatyard owner or manager will know who the good ones are and who they work well with.
Reports. The surveyor will be expected to provide you with an acceptable report, either in digital format or printed. If requested, most surveyors will send you a sample of the type report you are in need of. A full survey should run 20+ pages – a two or three page summary will not be acceptable to most insurance carriers or bankers.
Standards. A marine surveyor should evaluate your boat based on ABYC, NFPA and the U.S. Coast Guard standards.
Interview. Compile a list of questions, then get on the phone and talk to each one. How long do they think the survey will take? What's the cost? How long before they can schedule you in and how long before the report is available? What are his/her qualifications? …
On our last survey, we had a list of 14 surveyors compiled from online searches, a local broker and the boatyard manager. We narrowed the list down to five, and after talking on the phone with each one we could get in touch with, had no trouble choosing one. We liked the guy, the survey went well and the insurance company had no problems with the final report - all we could have hoped for.