Dixieland Marine

R. L. "Dick" Frenzel, SAMS-AMS/SMS(Ret.), NAMS-CMS(Ret.)
J. C. "Jay" Stormer, Jr. SAMS-AMS (Ret.), NAMS-CMS(Ret.)

Commercial Vessels Yachts/Small Craft

Frequently Asked Questions

About Yacht & Pleasure Boat Surveys

Dick Frenzel and Jay Stormer are no longer performing C&V or Pre-purchase Surveys on pleasure craft. However, we will be glad to refer you to one of our well qualified colleagues
(call 713-419-8855).

We continue to present the following Survey FAQ's as general information for pleasure boat buyers.

  1. What will a survey cost? (This should not be your first question)?
  2. Why should I have a survey?
  3. What is a pre-purchase survey?
  4. What if the boat doesn't "pass" survey? (Pre-purchase)
  5. What are the possible outcomes of the survey? (Pre-purchase)
  6. What is an "insurance" survey?
  7. What if the boat doesn't "pass" survey? (insurance).
  8. How do I select a surveyor?
  9. Are surveyors licensed?
  10. What is your report like?
  11. How quickly can I get the survey report?
  12. Who gets the results of the survey?
  13. Should I, the buyer, attend the survey?
  14. What about a sea trial?
  15. How do you inspect rigging and sails?
  16. What if the boat has blisters?
  17. Do you use a moisture meter?
  18. What are my responsibilities as the buyer.
  19. What are the seller's or broker's responsibilities?

1. What will your survey cost (This should not be your first question)?

The Surveyor's Fee
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2. Why should I have the Vessel Surveyed?

Buying any boat (even new) is a gamble. The older the boat and the lower the price the greater the risk. Some models and types are better or worse "bets". A survey can not provide a guarantee that the boat is completely free of defects (probably no boat ever is). What a survey should do is provide an experienced eye and professional opinion to improve the odds of a successful outcome for you.

In most cases you need a survey to:
  • Purchase,
  • Finance,  
  • Insure a vessel
  • (or combination of the above)
This type of survey is commonly called a
Condition and Valuation Survey (C&V)
Other occasions a surveyor may be engaged are:
  • Repairs or refitting (writing specifications, supervision of work, check on completion).
  • To assess damage after an incident.
  • Chartering a vessel (to establish condition before and after the charter).
The C&V survey should:
  • Provide a thorough description of the vessel.
    A detailed written report should be prepared on the vessel, it's configuration, equipment and discrepancies or variance from USCG requirements, ABYC, and NFPA standards as well as good marine practice. It will include a list of "Recommendations" needed to bring the vessel up to standard. It will probably point out things, both good and bad, that you have not noticed.
  • Determine the condition and approximate fair market value.
    The survey should provide you with an informed opinion acquired by adherence to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), and not influenced by immediate financial or emotional considerations. If you are experienced and knowledgeable, you will appreciate the usefulness of this "second opinion" even if you already have a good idea of the vessel's condition and value yourself.

    Your lender and insurer will want this independent evaluation from a surveyor who is not involved in the deal when deciding on the amount to lend or insure. However, they may also choose to use a somewhat higher or lower figure than the survey valuation depending on their experience and policies.
  • Assess safety and suitability of the vessel for the intended service.
    The survey opinion, supported by detailed observations provided in the report, should help you decide whether the vessel is suitable for you. Naturally, Insurance underwriters will also be concerned with safety recommendations in the survey, since this will affect potential liability claims.
Don't think of the survey as expensive "red tape" forced on you by an insurer or lender. Make the effort to get a good thorough survey. It won't cost you,; it will save you money.
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3. What is a Pre-Purchase Survey?

The purchase of any used vessel involves some risk of potentially costly defects. Our inspection and report, based on knowledge and experience, will help you to reduce this risk. However, some such defects may not be discovered in a survey and we cannot offer any guarantee that the vessel is free from defects or guarantee of future performance.
Comprehensive Inspection -
  • A pre-purchase survey is a comprehensive overall inspection of the vessel. On a typical mid-sized production pleasure vessel the on site inspection will take a full day. Research and writing will take another full day.
  • However, a typical C&V or pre purchase survey can NOT be a complete investigation of every detail of every system (which would probably take days or weeks). For example, we generally cannot disassemble machinery and cabinetry, remove paint, or bore holes. There are also trade-offs in time and expense which we discuss below.
  • the typical survey will concentrate on those items which are most likely to show evidence of safety problems, or significantly affect the value of the vessel.
To use an analogy with a medical exam. Do you want (and can you afford) a full three-day Mayo Clinic Hospital evaluation with every test, instrument, and scan known to medical science? Or do you get a good physician to do a routine physical exam and order the most important tests. We may recommned further testing, but in most cases the routine examination will be sufficient.
The pre-purchase survey will, in almost all cases, include:
  • Inspection of the topsides, rig and interior spaces. All normally accessible parts of the boat will be examined.
  • Haul out and inspection of the bottom, prop, rudder, etc.
  • Examination of design features, modifications, and structural integrity.
  • Visual inspection of engines, generators, fluid levels, fuel, steering, electrical, sanitation, and other systems.
  • Inspection of safety equipment.
  • Check compliance with the voluntary recommendations of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as well as USCG regulations.
  • Examination of the ships papers, registration, and hull numbers.
  • Evaluation of cosmetic appearance and overall maintenance.
The normal pre-purchase survey will NOT include (unless previously arranged):
  • Removing screwed or nailed panelling,liners, carpeting, etc.
  • Opening, pressure testing, or sampling tanks.
  • Disassembly of engines, electronics, and machinery, or testing with specialized equipment.
  • Destructive testing, such as drilling holes, removing paint or gel coat, etc.
  • (It is unlikely that sellers would routinely allow any of these. However, based on what we do see, we may recommend further testing, sampling, or dismantling for inspection.)
If you know ahead of time that you need these specialized services, we can arrange to have them done as part of the survey. This, as well as any destructive testing, will, of course, require the permission of the owner/seller, and will be done by a qualified technician. We do attend and observe testing of this sort.

For pre-purchase surveys on larger powerboats with high performance engines, we usually recommend that an experienced mechanic perform an engine inspection in conjunction with our survey.
Valuation - A "fair market value" of the vessel will be estimated by research using:
  • Comparison with other similar boats recently sold as listed on Soldboats.com.
  • Standard reference publications (BUC)
  • Comparison of similar vessels listed for sale in current publications ("Boats and Harbors", "Waterways Journal", etc. and internet brokerage sites.
  • Research into the local, Texas and Louisiana, market
Written Report -

There is no standard report format used by all surveyors.
Our reports follow the guidelines of NAMS and the "SAMS Recommended Survey Report Content" (1997) to include:

  • A detailed description of the vessel, and its systems.
  • Notes on conditions which affect the vessel's value and suitability for its intended service.
  • Recommendations regarding safety, necessary repairs and maintenance.
  • Estimated replacement cost.
  • Estimated current fair market value of the vessel.
  • Photographs of the boat and any unusual features or problems.
(Further details of our reports.)
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4. What if the boat doesn't "pass" survey? (pre-purchase).

  • We do not "pass" or "fail" boats on survey. We report our findings and give our recommendations and an opinion as to the "fair market value".

  • YOU, as a buyer, determine whether the boat meets your requirements based on our report.

  • The surveyor does not make insurance or financing decisions. He or she reports observations which insurance or financing companies take into consideration to arrive at their decisions.

  • Any boat will have items requiring attention. These will not preclude your going ahead with the purchase. You may simply make the repairs or changes recommended. If the costs are high, this may be renegotiated in the price.

  • If our valuation is less than sales price previously agreed, there are several options depending on circumstances.

    1. Pay somewhat more than the "market value", if the vessel fits your needs particularly well. Boats are almost never an appreciating financial "investment". Realistically, they are an expenditure. You should be evaluating the cost/benefit ratio considering the level of benefit (your pleasure) as well as cost. The survey should help you evaluate both.
    2. Renegotiate the sales price with the seller and broker.
    3. Refuse the boat. Your sales agreement, or sales contract, should include language that will allow you to cancel the contract if the survey is unsatisfactory to you.
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5. What are the possible outcomes of the survey?

  1. The boat is acceptable to you (and your loan and insurance companies) on the basis of the survey. The survey will provide you with information that will be useful in monitoring future conditions and planning upgrades and repairs.
  2. There are significant problems uncovered. The survey will provide you with the information necessary to pursue several options.
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6. What is an "Insurance Survey"?

We do not do "drive by" insurance surveys.
Our insurance surveys are done as completely and carefully as any other survey.
if you want a cheap "drve by", or an inflated value, please contact another surveyor.
In most cases, we will only agree to do a reduced cost "insurance survey" on boats we have previously surveyed for the same client.
  • A so-called "insurance survey" is done to determine the condition and value of a boat which is to be insured.

  • When buying a boat, our pre-purchase survey will also serve to obtain insurance.

  • Periodically insurance companies will require owners to have a survey of the insured boat.
    Re-surveys are typically required every three to five years on older boats.
  • To obtain a new policy with a different company, a survey will be required unless an acceptable recent survey is available.
    "Acceptable" and "recent" are defined differently by different underwriters and by the same underwrites at different times. You will have to ask each prospective agent or underwriter what they currently will accept.
  • Depending on your insuror's requirements an abbreviated written report format may be used. In some cases, the insurance company MAY also accept a survey made "in-the-water" (i.e. no haul-out). This reduces the expense by the cost of the haul-out. Our survey fees are reduced accordingly.
    Without a haul out for bottom inspection a survey is very incomplete. We will not do this for pre-purchase surveys or for surveys for insurance on a boat recently purchased.
  • There are two general categories of boat insurance. The type of insurance may determine the survey requirements.

    1. "Agreed value" (sometimes called "Yacht") insurance where the value for a total loss is agreed upon when the policy is written. If you have a total loss, you get the value agreed upon in the policy (less any deductible).
    2. "Actual cash value". The amount paid on a total loss is subject to depreciation and the boat's condition as determined at the time of loss. This is like auto insurance where an adjuster determines what your car was worth.
    However, there is a great deal of variation in boat and yacht insurance policies. Boat insurance is not as extensively regulated by state and federal governments as home or auto insurance. You should read each policy carefully and consult an agent or company representative if there is any question as to the type of coverage.
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7. What if the boat doesn't "pass" survey? (insurance).

  • We do not "pass" or "fail" boats on survey. We report our findings and give our recommendations and an opinion as to the "fair market value".

  • YOU, and your insurance underwriter make the decisions.

  • The underwriters may require that some all of the survey recommendations be addressed before issuing or renewing a policy. It may be prudent to submit a cover letter outlining your plans for addressing the recommendations.

  • The underwriter will determine the "insured value". We can only assess the market and replacement values. The insured value may be more or less than the market value.

  • One underwriter may choose not to insure a given vessel for a variety of reasons. Generally, some underwriter can be found willing to insure the vessel under some conditions, although it may take some searching for older or unusual vessels.

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8. How Do I Select a Surveyor?

  • Selecting a surveyor is like selecting any other professional. You have to do some "homework".
    Getting recommendations, checking credentials and researching references is necessary. Surveyors are not licenced or regulated by any State or the Federal Government. Quite frankly, a some of the surveys we see are virtually worthless. Do not be taken in by a slick format and lengthy but "padded" report.
  • The SAMS or NAMS (professional societies) web sites are a good source of names of accredited or certified surveyors in your area. But, you will need to do some further digging to find out about the surveyor and/or the survey company.
    Unfortunately, accreditation or certification by SAMS or NAMS does not by itself mean that the surveyor will meet your needs. After all membership in the AMA or the state bar association does not guarantee you a good doctor or lawyer.
  • Get recommendations and referrals. But be wary of where you get the information.
    Is the information hearsay or actual experience? What sort of experience - as a client? seller? broker? Sellers and brokers may not appreciate a surveyor's thoroughness. After all, the broker gets paid for selling the boat not getting the buyer a thorough survey. Brokers and sellers may not have attended and generally have not seen the actual survey report.
  • Check out the surveyor's web site, brochures, resumes, written articles etc.
    Do they make sense to you? Are they straightforward? Or do they inflate, waffle and obfuscate?
  • "Interview" surveyors, at least by phone.

    • What is their experience with the general type of boat you are buying?
    • How many surveys do they do a year? Are they full time / part time? (Part time may be fine, but can they still justify the cost of society dues, insurance, continuing education. What else do they do - brokering or boat service work could create conflict of interest.)
    • Are they current members of the ABYC or NFPA (standards organizations) with up-to-date manuals?
    • How do they arrive at their valuations? Do they subscribe to Soldboats.com or other pricing guides?
    • Are their surveys accepted by major insurance and lending companies? Is the surveyor on the company's list of recommended surveyors? Will the surveyor guarantee that the survey report will be accepted?

  • "What do you charge?" should not be your first question.
    You can find "cheap" surveyors out there but you will generally get what you pay for. Reputable surveyors in any given area generally are not very different in price for similar services. Of course, you will want to know what the charges will be for various options, but you should be suspicious of an unusually low quote. Of course, if all you want is a piece of paper with a signature - go for the cheapest.
  • Ask to see a sample survey report.
    Any good surveyor should be able to arrange for you see a sample of his work from which the identifying names and numbers have been blanked out. Can you read and understand the sample survey? Is it just a perfunctory check-list, computer "boiler plate" or does it seem that a thoughtful assessment was made?

  • Are you comfortable talking with the surveyor?
    To get the most out of the survey experience you need to be able to communicate easily and frankly with each other. Some personalities mesh and others don't. Not every surveyor will fit the needs of every client.

  • Take a look at other articles on selecting a surveyor:

    1. "Marine Surveys - Helpful or Hassle" (download PDF) in the Spring 2004 issue of Sea Chest the Farmers Marine Insurance Newsletter. This is one of the best articles we have seen and is a free download.

    2. "Surveying and Surveyors" by Charles Kanter (SAMS-AMS) in Living Aboard Magazine, V. 29, No. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2002) pp. 25-29. Probably the best thing we have seen on the subject.

    3. "When You Need a Surveyor - Part II The Hunt" by Norm Laskay on the Trailor Sailer web site.

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9. Are surveyors licensed?

  • NO.
    At this time, no state or the US government licenses marine surveyors. No government agency regulates marine surveying of pleasure vessels, although in some states yacht brokers are licenced.
  • There are only two National/International surveyors' organizations that "certify" or "accredit" their members, the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) and the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS).
    For more details and to find lists of members on-line use these links :
        NAMS - National Association of Marine Surveyors
        SAMS - Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors

    Both SAMS and NAMS require at least five years experience and give rigorous examinations which must be passed for accreditation or certification. Both require continuing education for their members.

  • Major insurance and finance companies maintain lists of surveyors acceptable to them.
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12. What is your report like?

Our reports for pre-purchase surveys varied in length from about 8 to 15 printed pages of text depending on the size and complexity of the boat. Additional diagrams and photographs (usually digital images) are attached. As noted above, the contents include:
  • A detailed description of the vessel, and its systems
  • Notes on non-standard conditions
  • Recommendations regarding safety and maintenance.
  • An informed opinion regarding replacement cost
  • Approximate current fair market value
  • Photographs of the boat and unusual features or problems.

For more detail on what may be covered, a copy of a "Table of Contents" for our report template may be downloaded as a PDF file here. Note that no one boat will have all the items on the template. Please contact us if you are interested in getting a survey, and would like to see an example of a full report.

After the report is completed, most good surveyors will deliver it electronically. PDF is a common type of secure file which can be viewed or printed on virtually any computer or operating system. The lenders and insurers we have dealt with in recnet years have accepted this format.

If requested, we will also send an original signed "hard copy" by US mail.

If you prefer we can send the reports by FAX. However, the photographs generally are not well reproduced by FAX.

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13. How quickly can I get the survey report?

    Normally five working days after the inspection.
    Our surveys reports are individually written documents, not just checklists and inventories between fancy covers. It takes several days after completion of the onboard inspection to do research for the valuation, write, format, and print the report. This is an important part of the process and rushing will affect the quality of the product.

    A boat large enough to require a survey is a major purchase. It should not be an impulse buy. The surveyor needs time to write a thorough thoughtful report, and you need time to read and consider the information. If you need a two hour "drive-by" survey, unfortunately we cannot help you.
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15. Who gets the results of the Survey?

  • As the buyer, you commission the surveyor to do the pre-purchase survey.
  • The surveyor should work only for you, and have no connection to any other party in the sale.
  • He/she should provide ONLY YOU with the results of the survey.
  • He/she should not reveal our opinion of the fair market value to the broker, seller, or any one else, until you authorize disclosure and then, only to those parties you authorize.
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16. Should the buyer attend the survey?

  • We always encouraged buyers to attend the survey.
    Often the notes and recommendations in the written report will be more meaningful to you if we are able to point out the item in question while actually on the boat. We can also answer your questions in person and add comments which might not be significant enough to include in the formal written report.
  • Either the owner, broker, a captain or some other person authorized by the owner should be present to operate the boat and equipment. (We will be observing and inspecting, which we cannot do if we are operating.)
    However, we do not confer with or report any results to them - only to you. A good broker or captain will stay out of the survey process except to facilitate the inspection by operating the boat and equipment.
  • The survey is business not play.
    We hope the survey will be a pleasant experience. But, we generally discourage the attendance of persons not having a direct interest in the purchase since they will distract us both from getting as much out of the survey as we can. This is not the time to bring friends, miscellaneous relatives (unless they are to be co-owners), small children, or pets.
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17. What about a sea trial?

  • A sea trial is an excellent idea,
    Up to one hour of underway time is included in the standard survey price if it is done at the time as the survey. We will be glad to do more extensive trials but the extra time will involve additional cost.
  • We do not operate the boat during the survey or sea trial.
    The owner, his broker, or a hired captain should be present to operate the boat. We would not be able to give proper attention to surveying and inspecting, if we were also operating the boat. We could not leave the controls to check the engine room, bilges, etc. while underway.
  • The buyer should make a "trial sail" with the seller or broker prior to the survey.
    On this trial you can determine your personal comfort level with the operation of the vessel and take notes on anything that you may question. If the boat's performance is generally satisfactory to you, you can proceed with the expense of a survey.
  • We do want to be on board to see the engine started
    Often this can be done, and we can check general operation while on the trip to the yard for haul out or on the return trip. We can also check any items you may have noted from your "trial sail".
  • We will be glad to conduct a more extensive formal sea trial if you wish.
    There will be additional cost after the first hour, which is included with the survey. On boats with high performance engines a qualified mechanic may also do an engine evaluation at the same time.
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18. How do you inspect rigging and sails?

  • The rig is always given a close visual inspection from deck level
    This is the most common practice among surveyors nationally, including those who specialize in sailboats.
  • An inspection aloft can also be made a part of our survey.
    This does involve additional time and difficulty so we do need to make arrangements in advance. In most cases, the deck level inspection will reveal the most serious problems, since it is here that the corrosive effects of saltwater are the most pronounced. (Check out some of the rig problems we have seen.) To assess the vessel's overall condition and value, the deck level inspection is generally adequate, and there are several reasons it may be desirable to have a full inspection made by a rigger made at a later time.
  • Beginning an offshore passage, an extended cruise, or a season of racing without inspecting the rig aloft would be foolish.
    You may wish to have this done by a rigger you chose, or later when more time can be devoted to it. If the boat is to be decommissioned for transport, the rigger recommissioning the boat should make a complete inspection. However, we will be happy include inspection aloft as part of any survey for a modest additional charge.
  • Unstepping (lowering) the mast is required for a complete inspection.
    Due to the expense involved this is almost never a part of a pre-purchase survey. Disassembly of fittings and internal parts such as pins, sheaves, and socket type terminals (stem balls and T's) as well as inspecting the heel and mast step can really only be done when the mast is down. In northern climates where boats are hauled for the winter, the masts are often surveyed on benches. In southern waters many boats go a decade or more without unstepping the mast. We, like many other experienced sailboat surveyors, feel that an inspection with the mast unstepped should be made about every five years.
  • Sails are inspected for general condition as they are found furled or bagged.
    This is normally adequate to determine value for a pre-purchase survey on a typical boat. Of course, if possible, sails will be set on a sea trial or unfurled at the pier if weather permits. On racing boats with large inventories of high-tech and expensive sails we will make inspections in a sail loft. Before extended cruising or offshore passages we recommend that the sails be given a complete inspection in the loft and any defects be repaired by a professional sail maker.
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19. What if the boat has blisters?

  • Most cases of blisters are not "fatal".
    Generally, bottom blisters represent an annoying and somewhat costly maintenance or repair item. In a hull with solid glass lay-up (i.e. no core), there is rarely any urgency to have blisters repaired.
  • Most fiberglass boats will ultimately get blisters on the Gulf Coast, Florida, and the Southeast, where boats are kept afloat in relatively warm water year round. In northern areas where boats are routinely blocked ashore for several months a year, blisters should probably not occur.
  • Blisters may occur between and within any of several layers.
    Paint/gelcoat gelcoat/skin-out mat, or within structural laminate. They may also occur beneath "barrier coats" or previous blister repairs. Lately we are seeing a lot of this.
  • Blisters can be diagnosed after they appear, but there is no reliable way to predict when or where they will appear.
    Moisture meter readings taken during a "quick haul" cannot be used as a predictor of future blistering potential with any accuracy. Some builders and year models have more problems than others but there is considerable variation.
  • You may be better off buying a boat with blisters than buying a boat previously repaired to a poor standard.
    Assuming the price reflects the condition, you can then have the blisters repaired properly.
  • Download our statement about blisters on the TX Gulf Coast (PDF).
  • An independent view and a more detailed on-line article

    Buying a "Buying a Blister Boat" by David Pascoe, a respected, Florida surveyor.

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20. Do you use a moisture meter?

  • Moisture meters for use on fiberglass hulls are essentially radio transmitters/receivers.
    The measurement actually being made is dielectric constant or AC conductivity, which is affected by type and thickness of bottom paint, trapped water in the paint, thickness of gel coat, thickness of laminate, resin/glass ratio, as well as absorbed water.
  • The "Code of Practice for the Measurement and Analysis of the Wetness of FRP Hulls"* specifies the methods necessary.
    These include:
    1. The hull surface must carefully cleaned.
    2. A large number of random 4" x 4" areas of the hull must have paint or other coating removed down to the gel coat.
    3. The vessel should be out of the water at least 24 hours.
    4. Minimum number of measurements must be = approx. one per sq. meter (3.3 feet) or 50-100 on the average 35-40 foot boat.
    * International Institute of Marine Surveyors (1998) Witherby & Co., London, 17p.
  • Few sellers will allow the paint to be scraped as necessary for an accurate determination.
    Generally buyers are also not willing to pay costs necessary for the yard to first block the boat and scrape the paint, then repaint the bottom for this analysis. If there are reasons to suspect a serious moisture problem, such as water intrusion in a cored hull, the meter may be used to try to qualitatively determine the extent of damage.
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21. Responsibilities of the Seller, Broker, or other representative of the seller.

  • All normally accessible compartments should be open and unobstructed.
  • The boat should be reasonably clean, and extraneous possessions should be removed.
  • The ships papers or title and registration should be available.
  • The seller, the broker or other representative of the seller should operate the boat, engine, or other equipment on sea trial and to deliver the boat to the yard for the haul out.
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22. Responsibilities of the Buyer.

  • After contracting for the survey, the buyer should make arrangements with the repair yard for a "quick haul" and pressure wash. Often the broker will coordinate this for you.
  • The buyer must also make the necessary financial arrangements with the yard (usually payment at the time of haul out).
  • Generally it is easiest to pay by check or cash at the time of the survey inspection. In cases requiring unusual travel or other expenses payment in advance may be required.
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Revised 27 January 2015