A Boat Buyer’s Recourse

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Bottom photo by Frank Lanier

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I recently purchased a “got to have it” sailboat. I have found that the surveyor’s assessment was way off base.

The AC pump passed inspection, but it never turned on again. Then there was the leaking diesel fuel. The previous owner had added see-through, 30-micron filters where the fuel exited the tank because the metal ones at the engine are hard to reach and inspect. I have since learned that this type of filter is sure to leak, as diesel will soften the plastic housing. I am told that the Coast Guard will hammer you if they find them installed.

I would like to register a complaint against the surveyor. Any advice?

Alan Bream

Via email

Our first suggestion would be to discuss your concerns with the surveyor you used. Many of them will bend over backwards to accommodate a client—as we found out in our last look at choosing marine surveyors (PS, September 2005), they regard the relationship with their clients to be one of the most important ingredients in their success.

Secondly, find out whether the surveyor is an accredited or certified member of the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS, 800/822-6267, www.nams-cms.org) or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS, 800/344-9077, www.marinesurvey.org). These groups were formed to create operational and educational standards for the industry’s professionals, and most reputable surveyors are members of one or the other. Each group has its own ethics department you can contact to lodge a complaint.

If your surveyor isn’t interested in discussing the issue with you, and he is not a SAMS or NAMS member, then we recommend filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (703/276-0100, www.bbb.org).

In the future, choose your surveyor carefully. It’s worth the effort of researching local prospects to ensure you pick one who is competent, knowledgeable, and qualified to inspect your particular vessel. (If you’re buying a cruising sailboat, you don’t want a surveyor whose majority experience is with sportfishing boats.)

The first item on your evaluation checklist should be NAMS or SAMS membership. There are non-members who are qualified surveyors, but to play it safe, look for pre-purchase marine surveyors who have current certification with NAMS/SAMS, which offers some insurance that they have the appropriate experience, knowledge base, and peer approval. When you’ve narrowed your list of prospects, check out their sample survey reports and ask for references from previous clients.

As with most services, you tend to get what you pay for, so don’t choose a surveyor just because they offer the lowest bid. And, when possible, be present during the survey, so you can observe the surveyor’s process and ask any questions that may come up. (For more on choosing a surveyor, check out the online version of this article, or “Evaluating Marine Surveyors” in the September 2005 issue.)

Unfortunately, no surveyor can guarantee old equipment. If you want a more detailed look at the electric and mechanical systems, it would be a good idea to have an in-depth inspection done in addition to the survey.

If you don’t want to hire a surveyor every time a boat catches your fancy, a DIY survey will help you thin out the lemons. Our June 2012 article, written by PS contributor Frank Lanier, a SAMS-certified surveyor in Chesapeake, Va. (www.captfklanier.com), explains what to look for when conducting your own pre-purchase survey.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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