Do You Really Need a Marine Survey?

Published On September 1, 2015 | By Mark Baese | Boat Projects

Yes. Yes you do.

Sometimes.

Sort of.

I’m actually being forced to get a marine survey by my insurance company. I assume this is because my boat just celebrated its 20th birthday.

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Fair enough.

However, for most people, the marine survey is an optional task they can choose to have done before purchasing a boat. I want to tell you why I decided to have one done. I dug up my survey from four years ago, to share the juicy details it contained.

Life is all about risk. That’s exactly what a marine survey helps you minimize. The more you know about boats, the less likely you’ll feel you need a marine survey. The more you’re like me however, the more you absolutely need a marine survey.

You’ll find pros and cons to a marine survey whenever you ask anyone about it. The biggest reason I got one is that I wanted someone who had a lot more experience with boats to give mine the once-over. Now, I bought my boat used from a reputable dealer who also had all the service records. The boat was moored on one fresh water lake its entire life. I probably didn’t need a survey. However, the boat was 15 years old and had a couple tiny blisters. I also had no idea what a good boat vs. bad boat looked like. I judge things based on how clean they are – which I hear is a terrible way to judge structural integrity.

1995 Larson 280

Original “for sale” pic before I bought the boat.

This led me to google boat blisters. Once I started googling this topic, one thing led to another, and before you knew it, I was convinced my boat had cancer.

You’ll note in the above picture that the boat didn’t have the bottom painted when I bought it. I’ll explain that in a minute. That photo is from the original “for sale” advertisement. It looks good. Very clean.

That’s why I wanted a marine survey. Were these blisters a big problem? We really liked the boat, the price, and the layout – but didn’t want to buy something that would be a long term issue for us. The marine survey also tests the structure, looks for moisture, etc.

First, the good news:

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Fantastic! It’s clean! My eye test worked! The boat will float!

But what about those nasty blisters on the bottom. Were they going to be a problem?

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This is why I hired an expert. I was so concerned about the blisters, I didn’t even really notice the “repairs” that exposed the laminate. I had no idea it was problem or what it meant for the boat.

Getting a survey also allows you to ask the surveyor questions about the report. When I spoke to him, he seemed less concerned about the blisters than the repairs. I told him about some of the blister horror stories online. He said these ones were nothing like those ones, but it wouldn’t hurt to get them checked out.

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Ok, I feel better.

So I hired a fibreglass repair expert to come out and inspect the boat. He also had a lot of experience with blisters – and he was more concerned about the other temp repairs that had been made.

Here’s where the real benefit of the survey comes in: negotiating. I was able to take the survey to the dealer and use it to negotiate a lower price due to repairs I would have to make. I more than saved the money I spent on the survey.

More importantly, I had peace of mind.

That winter, we ended up hiring the fibreglass repair guys to strip the bottom, remove the crap repairs and blisters – and to ensure it was completely dried it out. Rather than put gelcoat back on, we opted to just epoxy and do antifouling paint. It was a little cheaper – but mostly because the gelcoat wouldn’t match perfectly:

Winterized larson 280

Painted and enjoying the winter wrap.

We now had a perfectly repaired and totally waterproofed bottom. That last part is especially important for boat operation.

The marine survey also details a complete list of the equipment currently on the boat. Everything from the type of refrigerator and battery charger, to bilge pumps and sleeping berths.

I’ve looked back on my survey numerous times now – sometimes just to get the engine serial number, or see if recall work had been done.

Whether you decide to get a marine survey or not is up to you. I can’t imagine buying a boat without getting one, but lots of people do just fine without one. Some people also feel that the surveyor is no better than a knowledgeable friend who gives you their “best guess”. I’m ok with that. As long as that friend knows more than I do, it’s worth it. Although, I do recommend using a company/person who is reputable and comes with glowing recommendations. That’s the best way to avoid problems.

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