Marine Investigations

Marine Investigations

Road to A Marine Investigator

by David Pascoe

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Chapter 1

The Marine Investigator

An incident that causes loss or damage to a vessel, or injury to persons, is referred to as a “casualty” or “loss” by the insurance industry, regardless of how it occurs.

Anyone that is making a claim for loss or damages, whether an insured or not, is referred to as a “claimant”.

Historically, the marine surveyor has been the preferred expert for the investigation of marine casualties by insurance companies and other interests. This is by virtue of the marine surveyor’s long and practical experience with boats and the kinds of things that happen to, or go wrong with, boats.

A fundamental presumption of this book is that reader has a background in marine surveying which is the main prerequisite for becoming a marine investigator.

Lacking this, there is no basis upon which an individual can be considered an expert.

The prepurchase surveyor, for example, acquires a large body of knowledge during his daily work of inspecting yachts for prospective buyers, as does the claims surveyor, who spends much of his professional life examining one casualty after another for insurance companies.

The question the would-be surveyor and investigator invariably asks is how one comes to the point of acquiring this body of knowledge and expertise. This question is as difficult to answer and satisfy as that of describing how one comes to be a marine surveyor.

Nation-wide there are, as of this writing, probably not more than 2,000 practicing, full-time marine surveyors, though there are far more persons who dabble at it, attempting to be professionals without adequate training or experience.

The very small size of this profession means that there are no schools or colleges offering degree programs on the subject due to insufficient demand for such a program.

Historically, marine surveyors have approached casualty investigations on an ad hoc basis. Fortunately, as recreational boating has grown over the years, so has the degree and sophistication of casualty investigations.

The point of view of this book is primarily from the vantage point of the claims surveyor, for marine insurance claims are, by far, the most frequent reason marine surveyors are hired to investigate losses.

There are, of course, many other interests that hire surveyors regarding losses such as banks (lenders), attorneys, boat builders, dealers as well as individuals, among others.

The yacht surveyor as a professional began appearing on the scene immediately after WWII as the boating industry began a long period of rapid and sustained growth.

Most of these were men who had small craft experience either in the Navy, Coast Guard or in boat building.

During the 1950’s, a fledgling group of surveyors formed the Yacht Safety Bureau which evolved in 1962 into what is now the National Association of Marine Surveyors.

Today, marine casualty investigation has grown into a rather sophisticated combination of art and science, employing skills and techniques to a degree not unlike that of the police detective.

The good casualty investigator not only possesses an extensive knowledge of boats, but also the skills of a detective; his positive traits include knowledge, persistence, determination and patience. Such skills are necessitated by the fact that when costly accidents occur, litigation often follows.

What is a Vessel?

That probably sounds like a dumb question until such time as one runs across an instance where that definition is in question.

A vessel is any type of floating structure that is intended as a conveyance on water.

A vessel is not anything that is permanently affixed to the landmass or attached to the bottom.

A vessel is not a dock, but a vessel is a floating house. A floating dock is not a vessel, but a raft is. Anything that is towed becomes a vessel at the time it is being towed.

Is a jet ski a vessel? How about a surf board or wind surfer? Because they are conveyances the answer is yes to all.

Though the subject of this book is pleasure craft, it is recognized that many surveyors work in both the commercial and pleasure craft realm, so that the definition of pleasure craft can be just as murky as to what constitutes a vessel.

Fortunately, the principles for any type of investigation are the same, so once we learn the basics we can expand our horizons as far as we wish.

We distinguish pleasure craft from commercial vessels for two reasons,

(1) commercial vessels may be operated in interstate or international commerce, which brings it under cognizance of Admiralty jurisdiction. Commercial vessels are operated by professional mariners (usually), and are insured quite differently than pleasure craft;

(2) pleasure craft are usually operated by non professional mariners but subject to the same body of law but different insurance contacts.

An entire body of law has grown up around commercial marine insurance but not for pleasure craft owing to the diversity of jurisdiction, either federal, state or local that may apply to pleasure craft issues, whereas commercial marine has only one proper jurisdiction, Admiralty.

Moreover, the marine investigator will find it difficult to stay solely within the bounds of pleasure craft because pleasure boats are so often used as commercial craft, including charter, rental, dive charter and so on.

All issues of marine salvage, whether commercial or pleasure craft, fall exclusively within Admiralty jurisdiction.

Therefore, the investigator will find it useful to have a background in Admiralty as well as the rules and precedents of the lower courts, for the law always exerts an influence over our work whether we are aware of that influence or not.

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