Marine surveys can save money, lives

Published online: May 11, 2009 News Gary Kramer
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If you have been bitten by the boat-buying bug and are getting close to buying the used boat of your dreams, there are some important things you should know.

One is an understanding of the American Boat and Yacht Council, or ABYC, Standards and Technical Information Reports for Small Craft. Another is the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 33 - Navigation and Navigable Waters. Still one more is the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, 302: Fire Protection Standard.

If you don't know what is in these, you should consider hiring a qualified marine surveyor because his job is to know not only these standards but a lot more.

There are basically four types of surveys. Each is for a different purpose, so the scope of work varies. Most boaters are familiar with a pre-purchase survey. It determines the general condition and value of a boat and also pinpoints any flaws or safety problems that might not be easily identified.

Insurance surveys are frequently required every five years and at 10-year intervals, a hull inspection may be requested. These help the insurer determine a boat's level of risk.

I recently observed an insurance survey of a 1998, 16- by 90-foot houseboat on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.

Part of the process included recording serial numbers of as many of the separate items as possible like engines, generator and appliances. It also included inspections of the engines and generator installations, fuel system, batteries, hot water heaters, the plumbing and fresh water tanks and pumps, Purasan system, holding tanks, inverter installation, breaker panel, all 120-volt AC wiring including Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) circuitry, and the 12-volt DC system.

Another type of survey is done on a damaged boat to assess the extent of damage and estimate the cost of repairs. These may also try to determine the cause of the damage.

A condition/valuation survey is technically not an appraisal because the value determined by the surveyor is just a ballpark number, although comparable boat values are considered.

Most professional surveyors belong to and are accredited or perhaps certified by one of two organizations. One is the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors Inc., or SAMS, and the other is NAMSGlobal, the National Association of Marine Surveyors. There are other surveyor organizations, but these two are the best known, and many insurance companies require that surveys must be done by members of these organizations.

Both require that members have experience, and competency testing is required for full certification. Continuing education is necessary for continued membership. There are different categories of specializations, like yachts and small craft for recreation-sized boats.

Hiring the best surveyor takes a little effort and requires some research. By going to either group's Web site, you can locate surveyors in your area. Then you should call those people to establish their level of experience and their qualifications.

Bill Burke belongs to SAMS, lives in Kentucky and probably does more houseboat surveys a year

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