Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays.. Hoping the coming year is better than the last for everyone!

Capt. John Banister
Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting
4521 PGA Boulevard, Suite 461
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33418
(561) 255-4139

Posted in Florida Marine Surveyor, Insurance survey, Marine Surveying, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Florida’s Admissibility of Loss Conclusions in Marine Damage Claim Survey Reports

Hello. I wanted to write today about some legal opinions in Florida about the admissibility of loss conclusions by marine surveyors that survey vessel damage claims. This is meant to enlighten boat owners, other marine surveyors, and insurance claims handlers in what can happen in the courtroom or during any litigation in Florida when it comes to a damage claim on a boat or yacht.

In Florida, if not licensed in the state for a specific occupation (such as marine surveying) any loss conclusion that is written in a marine survey report can become inadmissible in court. This is because according to various case law and legal opinions, unless you hold a Florida Private Investigator’s License, a marine surveyor may not be legally qualified to write, analyze or comment about vessel accident reconstruction or loss conclusions.  Now remember I am not saying that marine surveyors are not qualified or able to realistically reverse engineer a vessel accident or write a conclusion about the cause of loss. This is about the games that are played in the courtroom and attorneys that find loopholes in the law and interpret case law and legal opinions to get factual, well written damage marine survey reports deemed inadmissible. A good attorney will know how to manipulate and spin doctor the intent of the law.

As a former U.S. Coast Guard Boarding Officer and a former Police Officer in the State of Florida I have had a lot of exposure to criminal and civil litigation in both the State and Federal courts. I have attended countless depositions and court appearances. I have seen well meaning cases with well intended causes get thrown out or judgments go the other side simply because the petitioners or respondents were not prepared or knowledgable of the case law and legal opinions that would render their action or defense inadmissible. Understand that in the courtroom it has very little to do with right or wrong, or who realistically is at fault (in spite of how obvious the convincing evidence or exhibits may be).  It is nothing more than a game. The opposing side will use any available case law, legal opinion or even your own evidence against you in court. If the evidence or exhibits are damning for the opposing side and there is no way to argue them, then the common strategy by attorneys is to get the evidence or exhibits thrown out by deeming them inadmissible. There are some very common cases of this such as the infamous O.J. Simpson Murder Trial in California and the more recent Casey Anthony Murder Trial in Orange County, Florida. Both were won by discrediting otherwise qualified professionals and having evidence and exhibits ruled inadmissible.

Although damage claim litigation is much less severe and on the civil level, these principles and mindsets still apply by any half way decent attorney.  In a study by Harris Technical Services,  they wrote the following on the subject:

“Florida’s Secretary of State has issued the following opinions on the subject. In Legal Opinion 94-1:

Engineers regulated by Chapter 471 (Professional Engineer) do not have to also be licensed under Chapter 493 (Private Investigator) if the engineer is providing services or expert advice in the profession for which he is licensed, e.g., engineering.

This goes to the question of whether traffic accident reconstruction is an engineering discipline, a police science discipline, a combination of both or more. Traffic accident reconstruction necessarily involves factors outside the scope of engineering such as collision avoidance, tire mark interpretation and human factors.

According to Fred Speaker, an enforcement investigator with the Florida Department of State, Division of Licensing, an engineering license does not cover accident reconstruction. If a licensed engineer engages in the typical activities of accident reconstruction, skid testing, evidence collection, surveying accident sites, etc., then a private investigator’s license is required.

Michele Guy, Assistant General Counsel with the Florida Dept. of State, responded to a request for clarification from the author. In this letter, dated January 4, 2001, Ms. Guy states:

“Pursuant to your request and our conversations, I am writing to confirm that, as a general rule, traffic accident reconstructionists are not required to hold private investigator licenses. If, however, you intend to interview witnesses, perform surveillances, or provide any other routine private investigative services, you would be required to hold private investigator licenses.”

Legal Opinion 97-9 examines the issue of providing services outside the traditional bounds of the licensed activity:

The Florida statutes provide that any person who holds a professional license under the laws of this state, and when such person is providing services or expert advice in the profession or occupation in which that person is so licensed, is exempt from private investigator licensing requirements. Thus, a licensed accountant would be permitted to perform forensic accounting without a private investigator’s license. Not all investigative services can be performed under his accounting license. The investigative activity of surveillance, for example, is not an activity which accountants normally perform. Thus, if the accountant performed surveillance he would need a private investigator’s license.

Legal Opinion 97-5 addresses a safety consultant determining the cause of an accident:

A contract safety consultant, who’s primary function is safety training and workplace inspections, occasionally conducts an investigation when an employee has been injured on the job to determine the cause of the accident. In the Florida statutes, private investigation includes investigation for the purpose of obtaining information with reference to ‘the business of securing evidence to be used . . . in the trial of civil . . . cases and the preparation therefor.’ If the investigation is related to litigation, a private investigator’s license is required.

With this interpretation, the engineering licensee’s activities may be restricted to traditional engineering factors. Data collection, analysis or expert advice beyond the scope of engineering, as defined in the state law, would be unlicensed activity.

In 1980, George Firestone, Florida Secretary of State, issued a Declaratory Statement (DS 80-04) on the subject of private investigator licensing for scientific and technical investigations. The statement includes:

“The Department of State concurs that Kennard v. Rosenberg, [see footnote 9] is persuasive, and that when taken together with the previously cited Attorney General’s Opinion (1967 Op. Att’y. Gen. Fla., 067-1) and Florida Supreme Court Court case (Segal v. Simpson, 121 So. 2d 790 (Fla. 1960), demonstrates that the intent of the Legislature in writing Chapter 493 was not to require every person conducting technical and scientific investigations into the causes of physical phenomena or events to first obtain a private investigator’s license.”

You can see by these legal opinions how this can apply to a loss conclusion in a marine survey report. I know that every marine surveyor may not agree with me on this subject and I am sure many of the older surveyors may have been involved with dozens of court cases where the survey reports were not deemed inadmissible. However without a Florida Private Investigator’s License, reconstructing a vessel accident or stating a loss conclusion that may be deemed to be outside of the surveyors expertise and may leave the Client and Marine Surveyor open to have the survey report (most likely the most important exhibit and proof of the cause of loss) thrown out during litigation. I have seen examples of this with my own eyes in the courtroom many times on cases I thought would otherwise be “slam dunks.”

As an active practicing marine surveyor, I hold a Florida Private Investigator’s License. I write every damage marine survey report in detail, with plenty of photographs included in the report, along with any other written estimates, witness statement or drawn diagrams I can obtain to solidify my reports and support my loss conclusions. I write every survey report (whether it be a pre-purchase, insurance, valuation or damage claim survey report) with the mindset that someday the report may be displayed six feet high on an overhead projector in some courtroom and I am on the witness stand defending what I wrote. That is the reality of our modern world. Not only do I want to ensure everything I write will be admissible based on my credentials, but I can be convincing based upon the content of my report.

If you are a marine surveyor, I recommend you look into obtaining a private investigator’s license if this pertains to your state to in order to cover yourself on this angle. The expense and time involved is fairly cheap (less than $1000.00 in most cases).  My philosophy is simply “better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” It only adds credibility to your marine surveying business. If I were a boat owner involved in a loss on my boat, I would specifically seek a marine surveyor that had the proper credentials, experience, and a private investigator’s license to insure that the findings from the survey would be admissible if the loss went into litigation.

As for the boat owners and insurance handlers reading this, this is something to think about and remember,  just in case.

Until I write again, be well and fair winds.

Very Sincerely,

Capt. John Banister
Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting
4521 PGA Boulevard, Suite 461
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33418
(561) 255-4139

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What to Look For On A Marine Survey

Some things to look for on a marine survey…

A boat survey is necessary for many reasons. Most of the time they are used for pre-purchase and insuring purposes. However when seriously considering the purchase of a new sailing or power vessel (no matter what the size) a survey should be performed on the vessel so you know exactly what you are getting before you purchase the vessel. Also the survey will include a replacement cost and valuation of the vessel that pertains to its current condition compared to other vessels in that reigon of the country. You should never negotiate the purchase price of the vessel until you have your own completed survey in your hands, even if the seller is offering a recent survey of the vessel.

When choosing a surveyor go to the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) website at:


or the International Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) at:


These are two professional organizations of marine surveyors that most insurance companies recognize and accept marine surveys from. These organizations have strict training, standards, and ethics guidelines that they require to belong to these organizations. There is a list of qualified marine surveyors on both of these websites to choose from based on their location. Once you find a local surveyor, their email addresses and links to their websites (if they have one) are listed.

Once you have selected a marine surveyor, look over their website if they have one. See if you can find a sample survey. A good survey should look professional and be thorough and complete from bow to stern. (I will mention more about this later on). If they do not have a website, call them. The surveyor should patiently answer all of your questions and quote you a rate over the phone. Most surveyors will typically charge by the foot (typically from $15.00 – $20.00 a foot) however a few surveyors will quote a rate on the job as a whole. Keep in mind that the price is not the key thing you should focus on. In the case of finding a good marine surveyor, a quality surveyor is much more important than the cost of the survey. A low quality survey can cost you thousands of dollars in missed damage or problems on the vessel that you may not discover until months later. Do your homework and talk to the surveyor before you decide to hire him for the survey. Just listen to your “spidey senses” as you research a surveyor you’re thinking about using.

Some things to look for during the vessel survey are the following:

1. When starting the engines make sure the engine has overboard raw water discharge coming from the exhaust. The exhaust should be slightly white. Any other color could mean somethng minor to major.

2. During the sea trial run the engines at about 85% of their max for a few minutes. Note to be sure that the vessel is not overheating or studdering. If your vessel has twin engines, make sure as you move the throttles up evenly so you can verify that the engines engage evenly.

3. When backing down on the engines, do so quickly and have the surveyor watch the engines each time. If a motor mount is loose or off completely you will see the motor “jump” when suddenly backing down even if you can not sight the mount at all.

4. A good surveyor will have a moisture meter with him. Have the top sides, deck, and superstrutcture checked for excessive mositure which may be a pre-curser of delamination and wood rot in the core between the fiberglass.

5. As far as going aloft on the mast. Do not expect all surveyors to do this. Some masts I have encountered were so old and corroded I was not going to bet my life that the gear was going to hold my weight. In those cases I have a 12 megapixel digital camera with a 10x zoom and I will photograph the top rigging and later will take it home and zoom into the those areas on the computer to look for corroded parts. The absolute best bet, is to have the boat in the yard and take the mast down to inspect it up close. Although I know many boaters do not want to spend that kind of money.

6. Look for signs of delamination and crazing on the interior and exterior of the hull. Delamination may look off white, brown, or orange in color under the gel coat of a fiberglass hull and is typically in a small circle or oval shape where the fiberglass layers are separating. Crazing is that fractured cracking in the gel coat. Sometimes it is in the form of spider web like fractures moving out over the surface of the gel coat in a circular pattern.

7. In many marinas galvanic corrosion is an enemy to many boats. I have seen this especially in the Caribbean where electrical standards are not exactly up to par like they are in the United States. Look for discoloration on underwater stainless steel parts or areas on metal under the water line that are pitted. This is an indication of galvanic corrosion that is pulling less resistive metals out of the steel such as zinc and magnesium.

8. Electrically, look to be sure that the wiring is marine grade cable and it should be labeled on the insulation. There should be an “AWG” rating (American Wire Gauge) of at least 16 on most of the instrument wiring. Be sure battery terminals are protected and have no more than four connections on the positive terminal. Electrical connections should not have reverse polarity when checked. No wing nuts or wire caps!

9. All seacocks should be able to open and close with little effort. If the valve is frozen, replace the seacock. No gate valves should be on the vessel. When I was in the Coast Guard, the number one reason we saw vessels sink at the docks was from open seacocks that failed or had attaching lines that failed. When not in use, shut them off!

10. In the survey report, everything that was checked should be written in detail. There should be a cover page, table of contents specifying the vessel’s systems, a findings and recommendations section, a hull diagram with a list of seacock locations and vents, a replacement cost and valuation sheet, a signature page for the surveyor, and plenty of photos throughout the survey especially where findings are discovered. What it should not look like is a five page boat check off sheet.

Remember that the surveyor can only note what he can see. It is not a contest. Let him know everything you have observed on the vessel even if he may miss it. A good surveyor will typically spend at least 5-8 hours on scene going through your vessel (given an average length of 30 feet). Longer vessels may take longer. I recently did a survey on a 76 foot wooden ketch, which took me 16 hours (two days) to go through, and on the second day I brought a wood boat builder to get his opinion on some unique findings on that vessel.

These are only some of the things I look for on a marine survey. But I hope the few things I have written here has shed some light on what to observe during a marine survey. As I have said earlier in this article, when shopping for a surveyor, many of them will have sample reports on their websites. They should look professional and be thorough in their content. Their rates are secondary. Sometimes going with the cheapest, well… you may end up getting what you pay for as the old saying goes. I have seen excellent work from some surveyors, and a few others I have seen the five page boat check offs I have mentioned before.

Do not be afraid to ask the surveyor questions about anything that comes to mind during the survey. A good marine surveyor will be more than happy to answer your questions during the survey. With my personal experience as a boat owner, I have learned alot just from watching and questioning marine surveyors, marine electricians, and boat mechanics about things they were doing on my boat. Owning a boat can be expensive at times, but the education and adventure you have aboard it should be fun and memorable. I am always excited for new boat owners and I am more than happy to impart any knowledge that I can give to them while on surveys or serving as a captain aboard a vessel.

Until I write again, enjoy the water, be safe, and fair winds!

Very Sincerely,

Capt. John Banister, Principal Marine Surveyor
Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting
9910 Alternate A1A, Suite 702-214
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33410
(561) 255-4139
Email: Suenos.Azules@yahoo.com
Website: www.SuenosAzules.com

Posted in Corrosion survey, Florida Marine Surveyor, Fort Lauderdale Thermal Imaging, Insurance survey, Marine Surveying, marine surveying thermal imaging | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cost of A Marine Survey

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)
Electrical systems
Helm and navigation electronics
Propulsion system
Steering system
Safety Equipment

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
(561) 255-4139

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