How We Chose a Surveyor

As soon as we had an accepted offer on our boat, we started to look for a surveyor.  There are a lot of benefits to having a survey before the purchase.  First, while we had looked over the boat carefully, we were not experts in all its systems nor did we know every potential issue we should be looking for.  Even if we were marine professionals, having fallen for Bear, we might not be the most objective inspectors.  But an even more compelling reason to get a survey is that our insurance company – or the bank that is doing the financing, though we are not financing – requires a survey.  So, we might as well spend the money up front and benefit from the survey during the purchase process.  And, the potential benefits of a survey can be huge.  The survey might turn up major structural issues that would cause us to walk away from the boat, saving us tens of thousands of dollars and a great deal of headache.  Or, more likely, the surveyor may find a few issues that we can use to renegotiate the purchase price.  In fact, people are fond of saying that a good survey should pay for itself a number of times over, for just that reason.  Beyond saving money, there is the piece of mind that comes with having a professional look over the boat with us.  Moreover, even with a boat in excellent condition, the survey will still provide a roadmap for maintenance and minor repairs that, as new owners, we need to address in the coming months and years.

We had heard our share of horror stories about cursory surveys that missed major, obvious issues.  And, we also had our own negative home inspection experience while purchasing our current house, reminding us that finding someone who we were comfortable with, who would be our advocate during the process, and who was capable of performing the survey was critical.  Even still, it took us a little more work to find a surveyor who we found acceptable than I thought it was going to take.  But we learned some things along the way and believe we ended up with a very competent surveyor.  And, he has already proven to be quite helpful during the process.

I started the search by asking the seller’s broker for recommendations, and then promptly crossed those surveyors off my list.  While I am confident that the broker is an upstanding guy, I certainly was not going to use a surveyor he recommended.  The broker might not be as honest as  I thought.  Or, the surveyor he suggested might feel like he needs to return a clean survey in order to maintain a good relationship with the broker, even if that is not the case.  No, I thought it was far better to steer clear of the names the broker provided.

Next, we started to cruise the internet looking for surveyors that others had recommended in the Connecticut area.  I posted queries on both Cruisers Forum and Sailnet, and Margaret looked for advice on the Facebook group, Women Who Sail.  When I called the couple of recommendations we received, it quickly became clear that neither of these surveyors would work for us. I spoke with one who responded gruffly and then sent along a short, useless email when I had asked him for a sample survey and some additional information.

Finally, I turned to Captain Rated, a new marine services rating website started by the folks who run Active Captain.  The site is only in its infancy, but eventually you will be able to rate and see others’ ratings of marine professionals, boatyards, marinas, and others on the site.  Right now, they only have the rating system available for boat brokers, surveyors and transport companies.  Incidentally, I think this is a brilliant way to start beta testing a marine website reliant on user input; since they started with those three areas, the website attracts new boat buyers who then get used to using the site as a resource, returning as both their own boat needs and the site grows.

On Captain Rated, I was able to locate about eight or ten surveyors with positive reviews.  I then called each surveyor, talked with them for a bit, and asked for a sample survey and references.  When I spoke with each surveyor, I was trying to get a sense of their personality and how easy they would be to work with.  From the very beginning, a few of them acted like they not only knew everything but were also not interested in my specific needs and concerns.  A few others seemed to have no idea that we would not be able to get reliable hull moisture readings if we did the survey at or near freezing temperatures.  With the other surveyors, I made sure that each of them were familiar with Tayana 37s, understood our plans for the vessel, and would not mind having me present at the survey.  I also asked a few questions about how long they had been in the marine industry, what their backgrounds were, and how they would conduct certain parts of the survey, namely the rig inspection, sea trial, and hull moisture check.  I wanted to make sure that none of those three would be cursory.  Unfortunately, because the boat is under plastic, nobody was going to be able to go up the mast, though.

Eventually, I narrowed it down to three surveyors who I thought fit our needs.  Two cost around 800 dollars each while the other was a sailboat-specific surveyor from Rhode Island who charged around 1200 dollars.  I ended up crossing the latter surveyor off our list when he failed to return my phone call to see what his availability was.  Finally, it came down to two very nice guys who each had over three decades experience in the marine industry, with more than a dozen of those years as surveyors.  One was a grandfatherly type who was very kind and knowledgeable, but had provided a fairly formulaic sample survey.  The other surveyor, Phil Gaudreau, made it clear that he would be working for me during the entire process and supplied an exhaustive sample survey.  Without much debate, we decided to go with Phil.

I would have felt more comfortable initially if we had a personal recommendation from someone we knew.  Unfortunately, because of our time frame and lack of connections in the Connecticut sailing community, that was not possible.   I really appreciate the recommendations – both for the same surveyor company, all the way in Annapolis – that came in the comments of our post, and probably would have used them, but we had already moved forward with Phil by that point.  In hindsight, I think it all worked out for the best.  Of course, we may not know for sure for some time in the future.  In the meantime, though, we have been incredibly happy with Phil, as you will see when I get up the post about the survey in the coming days.

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