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Chapter 1

What is a Pre-Purchase Survey?

At first glance, the answer to the question that is the title of this chapter may seem obvious.

Yet, when we consider the question in depth, with all of the responsibilities and difficulties involved, further reflection will reveal that the answer is not so easy as we may have first assumed.

For inherent in whatever definition we may arrive at, the fact is that the marine surveyor does not operate in a vacuum, but an environment that makes many demands on him and greatly influences the nature of the service he provides.

Foremost among these influences are the legal obligations imposed by the society in which we function.

This is closely followed by the personal desires and demands of the client, along with the demands of other persons or businesses which also make use of the service, even though they are not our direct clients.

Before we attempt to arrive at a precise definition of a pre-purchase survey, it will be helpful to take a look at some of these many influences so that we may better understand how they mold and shape the work of the professional surveyor.

Let’s first start by looking at who and what a surveyor is.

What is a Marine Surveyor

Marine surveyors are indeed expected to be professionals, and professionalism begins and ends with knowledge.

As defined by the dictionary, a professional is: A person engaged in one of the learned professions or an occupation requiring a high level of training and proficiency. 

This clear, concise definition of professionalism establishes a tall order for anyone who would style his or herself a professional.

It is a much abused term these days that is often extended to trades or mere jobs, as opposed to a specialty that requires an extraordinary level of knowledge and training.

Attaining the true definition of professional can pose considerable difficulties, for a high level of training and proficiency cannot be had by obtaining a college degree because there are no such programs in marine surveying.

Altogether, there are probably no more than 1,500 practicing, full-time marine surveyors in the U.S. and many of these are commercial, not yacht surveyors.

True, there are several schools that offer six week courses on the subject, but six weeks of training do not make a professional.

So how does a surveyor attain his knowledge and experience?

Traditionally, surveyors have attained their experience through either apprenticeship with a practicing surveyor or attaining years of experience in related fields such as boat building and repair.

Most of the real professionals have come to the profession in this way, and it remains the primary training grounds for surveyors.

Marine surveyors provide a very diverse range of services to an equally diverse clientele.

The most prominent of these is the yacht surveyor whose primary business is the service of providing pre-purchase or buyer’s surveys.

But the largest number of surveyors are those who provide other services such as marine insurance claims, consulting work for new construction and repairs, refits, new yacht commissioning, insurance surveys and general problem solving.

While the subject of this book is the survey of fiberglass motor yachts and vessels, our discussion here will not be limited solely to pre-purchase surveys, but will provide useful information and advice on these other areas as well.

Whether you’re performing a failure analysis for an owner or insurance company, or a pre-purchase survey, the fundamentals are covered in this book.

Therefore, our definition of a professional yacht surveyor must include all of these various areas of expertise.

A true professional marine surveyor is a person who has attained a high level of training, knowledge, expertise and proficiency in whatever specialized field of marine surveying he has chosen to practice.

Notice that I’ve added two additional words to the dictionary definition of professional: knowledge and expertise.

Knowledge, because the accumulation of information, more than just training, provides the foundation for the surveyor’s work.

Expertise, because it is the skillful application of knowledge and training that distinguishes the real professional from the dabblers.

The basic fundamentals for surveying professionalism goes far beyond mere knowledge of boats and all things marine.

A surveyor is, first and foremost, a businessman who conducts his trade or business based upon his knowledge of vessels and training in the conduct of the survey process.

But that’s not all, for in addition to this are his skills in negotiation, report writing and communication with a diversity of clientele and the marine community in general.

This includes insurance, banking, boat yards, marine manufacturing, and government and law at all levels. Last, but definitely not least, the busy marine surveyor is frequently involved with lawyers and the justice system.

The surveyor’s involvement and interaction with law and lawyers is a subject on which volumes could be written.

Neophyte surveyors rarely envision the extent to which surveyors are involved with the law and the role that law will play in their daily work.

They are likely at first to believe that their work will be little more than a relationship between client and surveyor, and perhaps yacht brokers and banks.

But the fact is that legal considerations figure into every aspect of the surveyor’s daily work and woe to the surveyor who ignores this reality.

For that reason, woven into every chapter of this book is the consideration of the surveyor’s legal responsibilities. This is all part of the vast body of knowledge and expertise which distinguishes the true professional.

Being a professional surveyor means being well grounded in the fundamentals of yacht design, machinery, systems and electronics.

No one can evaluate the integrity of hull construction without first having some knowledge of what constitutes good hull design and why.

And in this era of space age materials and high tech wizardry, just staying current with the vast array of basic materials such as resins, reinforcements, plastics, metals, components, systems, electronics and machinery becomes increasingly difficult year by year.

Fortunately, the number of seminars dealing with these topics is growing at a similar pace so that the practicing surveyor is afforded numerous opportunities to keep up to date.

Some professions, like the medical profession, have inherently clear definitions of the functions of their members.

The Hippocratic Oath makes it very clear what a physician’s responsibilities are.

Other professions, such as marine surveying, are not so straightforward.

In attempting to define the role of the marine surveyor in the business of performing pre-purchase surveys for boat buyers, it will be of great help to first consider some of the legal responsibilities placed on the surveyor by the society he serves.

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