Choose a Qualified Marine Surveyor With Experience of Your Type of Vessel

Having recently qualified as a small vessel (up to 24m) surveyor with the Institute of Marine Surveyors (IIMS) I’m delighted to be joining the ranks of the many experienced surveyors already practicing around the world.   I’ve owned a range of boats over the past 30 years, sailed, crewed or repaired many more, and instructed a fair number of surveys during that time.  However, it’s only since studying for my recent qualification that I’ve stopped to think seriously about the service I’ve received from those surveyors in various parts of the world, and revisited those surveys, comparing them to what I should now expect to produce for a client. 

Marine Surveyor Memberships & Qualifications

No matter which country you’re living in, you may be surprised to learn that there is no requirement for a boat surveyor to have any qualifications whatsoever.  Anyone can set themselves up as a ‘marine expert’ and offer to survey a vessel.  What’s more, having produced a number of surveys, they can apply for membership of a Surveyors’ Association such as SAMS, NAMS or others which provides credibility to their claim.  Organisations such as these aim to provide a framework for regulating standards within the industry, and some have developed their own training programmes which help to harmonise levels of competence, at least within their own association.

SAMS
Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors
NAMS (now NAMSglobal)
An International Association of Marine Surveyors
IIMS
International Institute of Marine Surveyors
YDSA
Yacht Designers & Surveyors Association
Administered in:USAUSAUKUK
Full MemberAMS – Accredited Marine Surveyor
1. Must be currently practicing marine surveyors with at least five (5) years surveying experience, accumulated within the past ten (10) years, in the field of expertise which accreditation is desired. Credit of up to three (3) years of the five (5) years required may be granted for related marine experience.

2. Must affirm that they will abide by the SAMS® By-Laws Code of Ethics, Standards etc..

3. Must complete an application form, supply a complete resume and submit for review a required number of surveys.

4. Must successfully complete a written exam on their selected field of accreditation.

5. Must participate in SAMS® program of continuing education.
CMS – Certified Marine Surveyor
1. 5 years experience in an appropriate area of the marine industry OR Appropriate university degree OR Appropriate merchant marine licence OR professional or chartered engineer.

2. Min. 5 years experience working as a marine surveyor OR >3 years working with a recognised marine survey company OR relevant industry or armed forces experience.

3. Good communication skills; basic written english and oral skills.

4. General computer skills; all certification to work in the industry; technical report writing ability evidenced by the submission of 5 written reports.

5. Alternatively – a practicing marine surveyor with a degree from a recognised marine survey degree program.
MIIMS – Full Member
1. Anyone who can prove that they have practised on a full-time basis for a minimum of 5 years as a consultant or marine surveyor.

2. Individuals who, by producing written reports can demonstrate that they have practised marine surveying or consultancy for at least five years.

3. Individuals whose qualifications or experience shall be considered appropriate by the Professional Assessment Committee.
Associate MemberSA – Surveyor Associate
1. Applicants must be marine surveyors who do not yet meet prerequisites for acceptance as Accredited Marine Surveyors.

2. Must affirm that they will abide by the SAMS® By-Laws Code of Ethics, Standards etc..

3. Must complete an application form, supply a complete resume and submit for review a required number of surveys.

4. Must participate in SAMS® program of continuing education.
Associate Member
1. 3 years experience in an appropriate area of the marine industry OR Appropriate university degree OR Appropriate merchant marine licence.

2. Min. 3 years experience working as a marine surveyor OR >1 years working as a NAMS apprentice OR relevant industry or armed forces experience.

3. Good communication skills; basic written english and oral skills.

4. General computer skills; all certification to work in the industry; technical report writing ability evidenced by the submission of 5 written reports.

5. Alternatively – enrolled on a recognised marine survey degree program – at least 50% complete.
AssocIIMS – Associate Member
1. Individuals practising marine surveying, or consultancy for a minimum of 3 years and who do not yet fulfil the conditions to become Full Members.

2. Full Members who have decided to reduce their involvement in the Institute.

3. Individuals whose qualifications or experience shall be considered appropriate by the Professional Assessment Committee
ApprenticeN/AApprentice Member
1.  Some experience in an appropriate area of the marine industry OR Appropriate university degree OR Appropriate marine licence OR professional or chartered engineer.

2. Does not yet meet requirements for Associate membership.

3. Good communication skills; basic written english and oral skills.

4. General computer skills; all certification to work in the industry.

5. Alternatively – enrolled on a recognised marine survey degree program – at least 20% complete.
GradIIMS – Graduate Member
Individuals who have passed an Institute Professional Qualification course, but do not have sufficient experience to qualify as Full or Associate Members.
Affiliate MemberAFF – Affiliate Member
1. Applicants must be currently operating businesses or individuals either of which must provide a product or service to the marine industry.

2. Must affirm that they will abide by the SAMS® By-Laws Code of Ethics, Standards etc..
N/AAffilIIMS – Affiliate Member
Less experienced surveyors, graduates and those who are in the early stages of a career in marine surveying, but who do not meet the criteria for Full or Associate Membership and are continuing to train and gain experience prior to applying for Associate Membership. (lasts 3 years)
Technician MemberTechIIMS
Individuals holding a recognised qualification, for example, Inspector level 2 or higher (NACE, FROSIO, ICorr), RMCI and IRMII, NDT Technicians (CSWIP), for example gauging personnel, divers or other surveyors with at least three years full-time practical experience in a marine related field.
NotesAlphabetic designations according to areas of expertise.Applicants for all three levels of membership requirethe sponsorship of a NAMS-CMS or Retired Life Member.There are several other types of non-technical membership available.

In reality, some will have been coached as an employee or apprentice within an existing surveying firm, many will already have studied for a university qualification in surveying or a related field such as vessel design or marine engineering, and others, like me, will have been background checked and approved to undertake a lengthy and intensive study programme to gain a qualification that instills a level of confidence when donning the marine expert’s hat. Despite this, I would never claim to be an expert in this enormous field.

With the title comes a level of responsibility that’s really quite significant – that of warranting a vessel as fit for the purpose with which it’s going to be used. As the survey of a house is designed to ensure that the house you’re living in, or going to live in, will shelter you from the elements and not collapse around your ears in the next storm, the survey of your boat is designed to ensure that it won’t break up in the next big sea. Both surveys are designed to help safeguard your life, as well as to protect the value of your investment. A good surveyor will let you know when the services of other professionals may be needed to further investigate potential issues; these may be electricians, fiberglass composite, paint coating or engine brand specialists.

Surveying Experience

It makes sense, therefore, that the surveyor you choose should know what they’re looking at and looking for and you should choose your man (or woman) accordingly. In this, there is absolutely no substitute for experience; someone who’s spent most of their life on commercial fishing boats will know little about luxury sailing boats, let alone cargo ships or cruise liners, and surveyors come from many different backgrounds. Each surveyor will have their own area(s) of expertise, although it’s arguable whether someone fresh out of university will have experience enough of anything without several years of work experience under their belt.

Take the time to seek out someone with experience in the type of vessel you need surveyed and then ask also about their background, and to see a sample report.

Background

Is it enough that your surveyor has performed this service since university yet has never been a boat owner? Would you be content knowing the surveyor of your ‘lifetime’s goal liveaboard round the world sailing boat’ for you and your wife has only ever skippered large motor yachts over 40 metres belonging to someone else? These are questions you should definitely ask yourself before making a decision.

Ideally the surveyor you choose will have the type of background that gives him an in-depth knowledge of the type of vessel you need surveyed, and if he’s fair and honest he should confine himself only to these vessels.

If you have a large and complex vessel such as a modern superyacht, you may need to source a larger surveying firm where partners have a range of competences to cover your needs.

Price

So what about price? Most small vessel surveyors charge by the foot, and within price bands that reflect the levels of complexity in vessel systems as the boat gets longer.  There is also a different scale for different types of survey reflecting the level of detail required for each.

I have a bit of a problem with this in that I don’t feel the rates accurately consider the time involved, and with a fixed fee model such as this, there is a tendency to rush through the job to maximize the profit.  Knowing as I  do now, the amount of preparation time needed prior to a survey visit, the level and extent of the observations needed during the vessel inspection and possibly a sea trial, and the time to compile a professional report, I can tell you for certain that previous surveys I’ve paid for have had a mere cursory eye cast over things that should have been examined a whole lot more thoroughly.

It’s a reason why my prices are structured the way they are, to provide a fair hourly rate for the amount of time that needs to be applied in order to do a thorough job.  If a client’s not happy with my rates then that’s fine, there are plenty of others who will cut corners to give you a lower price…and cut corners they will.  My husband is happy to recount the time he instructed an insurance condition and valuation report for his 24’ wooden quarter tonne racer on a mooring buoy, to have the chap take photographs from the end of the dock and go away to write his report!

Approvals

Does your insurance company recognise your surveyor for their purposes? Some insurance companies stipulate the memberships they prefer to see on a surveyor’s report; the American Institute of Marine Underwriters for example recommends SAMS, NAMS and Navtech USSA (US Surveyors Association) members. Imagine if you’d just bought your boat and the insurance company rejected your expensive pre-purchase survey! This is a rare occurrence but not beyond the realm of possibility; check with your preferred insurance company if you’re in any doubt.

Professionalism

Whether it’s the failure to send a detailed ‘scope of works’ for you to approve before agreeing the contract, the poor attention given to the wording of an email, the failure to remove his shoes on your treasured vessel, or the issue of a poorly formatted report containing someone else’s boat details, a lack of professionalism is the sure sign of a sloppy survey.  However, a poor command of English and a lack of affinity with a keyboard aren’t the same and there’s many knowledgeable experts with English as a second language or who weren’t brought up with computers.

Go with your gut feeling after at least one good conversation or interview; ask for references and follow them up.

Interview Questions for a Marine Surveyor

Questions you should probably ask a shortlist of potential surveyors might include:

  • What did you do before becoming a surveyor?
  • How long have you been qualified and who did you train with?
  • How many surveys do you carry out in a year?
  • What areas do you consider are your specialities?
  • Have you surveyed my particular model/brand of boat before?
  • Can you provide me with 2 references? What work did you do for them and how long ago?
  • Can you send me a sample report?
  • Do you have liability and contractor’s insurance?

Deciding Factors

So there you have it; there’s a whole lot to choosing a surveyor for your boat and hopefully I’ve sparked the need to ask a few questions and expect some satisfactory answers. However, do remember that there are only so many ships on the sea, and only enough survey work for a finite number of boat surveyors in your local area. The likelihood is that you will only have a choice of four or five who live within a convenient commute; let’s hope you find someone you like who is qualified, experienced, has the right background and charges a fair price!

Steps to Instructing a Marine Survey

  1. Understand the type(s) of survey you need for your vessel
  2. List the marine surveyors in your geographic area
  3. Research the qualifications, background and competences of these surveyors and make a shortlist
  4. Contact each surveyor on your shortlist for an interview, either face to face, by telephone or video call
  5. Carry out your interviews and ask for references and a sample report; also speak to your peers
  6. Finalise your choice and ask for a formal proposal
  7. Evaluate the proposal before signing and don’t be afraid to go to your second choice, or start again if you’re not comfortable!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Bartlett is an IIMS Surveyor, a Commercial Skipper of sailing boats, and a boat owner for over 30 years. She lives in St Martin in the Caribbean and provides yacht surveys, skippering and marine consultancy throughout the Caribbean.

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