Hello again. Lately I have seen a few things that I wanted to share with you all here. The subject I want to discuss today is the proper cost for a marine survey. I am going to talk about some examples I have seen from some of my fellow surveyors and prospective clients. There is an old saying that goes, “you get what you pay for.” This is sometimes the case with marine surveyors and prospective clients that are bottom shopping for the cheapest rate.
I recently had a prospective client call me inquiring about a 58′ Hattereas that needed an insurance survey. After speaking with him for a few minutes, the prospective client stated that he, “just needed a piece of paper to get the vessel insured.” After quoting him a middle of the road rate, he abruptly said, “that is a ripoff! That price is way too high!” and hung up the phone immediately without letting me explain anything more.
In response to this, and other calls similar to that I have had in the past, I want to address what is involved in an insurance survey. Although the insurance survey is not quite as detailed as a pre-purchase survey, there are still several systems that need to be checked in detail. These systems are:
Hull structure (exterior and interior)
Helm and navigation electronics
Also the vessel’s current market and replacement values have to be figured based on the vessel’s condition, equipment, and location.
In short, you do not want a marine surveyor to just go over you vessel with a half effort. A professional marine surveyor does not want the vessel to fail in some way that causes injury or death to a crew member or passenger, then end up in court facing civil and criminal penalties for something he neglected to cover. Not to mention the shear ethic involved of not properly surveying the vessel properly.
In my travels I have seen many different surveys and heard of many different rates from other surveyors. Some surveyors try to attract business by lowering their rate to $10.00 – $12.00 a foot just to get the business. Typically the standard rate in the business for an insurance survey is between $15.00 – $18.00 a foot.
I have seen insurance surveys on 50 foot yachts that are five pages long with no photos. Typically a decent survey on a vessel of this size should be at least 25 pages long with at least a few pictures of the vessel and vessel findings to give the reader a complete understanding of the condition and value of the vessel. Remember a picture is worth a thousand words.
Let me just say before going any further, that prior to becoming a marine surveyor, I was enlisted in the Coast Guard for a total of eight years. I served as a Qualified Coxswain and Federal Boarding Officer and had hundreds of documented boardings whch included some of the safety checks I conduct today on yacht surveys. I am also a member of SAMS (Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors), am ABYC Standards Accredited (which is the standard American yachts are built by today), and a USCG Licensed Master Captain with my towing and sailing endorsements. I have over 18 years of sailing experience which includes several years of living full time on board my own 34′ sailing catamaran.
Prospective clients must understand that the few hundred dollars they are paying for an insurance survey is the time and experience of the surveyor is taking on their boat to properly survey it. The surveyor is meticulously (or at least should be) going over each section of the vessel carefully inspecting it, to assess its condition and value, and may even find things that could save the owner thousands of dollars in repairs later down the road. The survey should take at least a few hours to properly go over the vessel. It also takes the surveyor a full second day to type, format, and proof read the report before it is sent to the client. In addition I want to include the client is also paying for the combined training, education, and experience of the surveyor. It is not just looking at a boat or filling out some kind of “boat check off” form. This profession is not something anyone can just do off the street. Most surveyors have years of prior marine experience, members of SAMS or NAMS, have been formally educated in the field of yacht surveys, and are required through their professional memberships with SAMS or NAMS to take continuing education courses every year in order to maintain their membership. Some surveyors I have met have been educated naval engineers, master marine mechanics, USCG licensed captains, and former enlisted members of the U.S. Coast Guard or Navy where their duties pertained to vessel inspections or ship maintenance. Some examples of the things that are inspected on surveyed yachts are signs of galvanic corrosion, open ground circuits, moisture content in the fiberglass or wood, excess deflection of the rigging, etc. These are things that can potentionally cost the client money or even their life that the average boater would not even recognize.
For the surveyors out there that are charging rock bottom prices, although all is fair in business, I just want to say what you are doing is cheating yourselves in the long run and dragging the standard down for everyone else. Luckily I have found that some of the surveyors that charge these rates tend to deliver a survey that looks like it was worth $10.00 a foot. Most boat owners only will use a surveyor less than five times in their lifetime. A first time boater’s first impression on a cheap survey is that we all must charge $500.00 for a 50 foot boat and give a report that looks like a boat check off form. This is a bad first impression to make. In the age of the internet you can read this negative feedback about other surveyors on many different websites like Google Places and Superpages.com. I am not saying every surveyor that charges less gives a bad report, I am saying that with all of our combined experience, the expectations that are behind a good surveyor and report, that we are in fact trained professionals and should maintain a higher standard and charge an appropriate rate and deliver a professional report that reflects the rate we charge.
Even if business is slow, I may offer a discount coupon for my services for a limited time, but I rather go without for a while than lower my rates. I feel I would be doing this profession a disservice and potential clients seeing this would think I am some kind of used car salesman playing “lets make a deal” with my services. I just maintain my standard and work hard to give my clients the best report I can. Even if the report or survey takes more time than expected. I have heard clients tell me that when they are calling for a surveyor and the prosepctive surveyor gives them a quote, and the client then decides to go with my company (trust me I am not the cheapest), the surveyors have called back days later offering them $100.00 – $200.00 off if they reconsider firing me to go with them before the date of the scheduled survey. Do you see how tacky this sounds? I have had clients hire me to survey their boat because they liked the quality of my sample surveys on my website, or that they liked the detail I took in designing my website. I have had clients say they hired me simply because I took the extra time to discuss their situation or answer their questions on the phone, or that they liked my professionalism while I talked with them. This feedback is why we must keep the standard high and the rates appropriate for our profession. This is definately one profession that fishing for the cheapest rate is not always the best thing to do.
That is all I have to say for now. Until I write again, be well and fair winds!
Capt. John Banister
Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting
4521 PGA Boulevard, Suite 461
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33418