This article serves as a comprehensive guide to boat inspections, providing a detailed checklist to ensure you buy a vessel that is safe and seaworthy.
Boat inspections can be daunting, with so many components to check and potential issues to uncover. This guide aims to alleviate that stress, offering a systematic approach to ensure nothing is overlooked.
Leveraging insights from experienced skippers, marine surveyors, and the nearly 50 years’ worth of experience of our editorial team. Here is a thorough checklist that covers everything from the hull’s integrity to the functionality of electronic equipment.
We’ve broken down the inspection process into clear sections, making it easy to follow regardless of your boating experience.
At a Glance:
1️⃣ A pre-purchase inspection to ensure the boat is in the advertised condition.
2️⃣ An annual inspection that may be required by US Coast Guard regulations or as a safety consideration of your own.
3️⃣ For insurers to satisfy themselves regarding the risk and value they are taking on.
4️⃣ Whether required by regulations or not, a regular boat inspection is a good practice and may save you substantial costs later.
📝 What Should Be Checked Before You Buy A Boat?
If you have found the boat of your dreams and want to put in an offer, make it subject to the following suspensive conditions:
1️⃣ The boat passes a marine survey carried out by a suitably qualified surveyor.
2️⃣ All service and maintenance records are available (this will give you the security that the boat has been regularly maintained).
3️⃣ The boat has not been involved in any serious incident that caused major damage in the past.
4️⃣ To verify the accident history, past insurance records should be available. These can be used to check with past insurers to determine if it has been the subject of significant insurance claims (You may need a letter from the seller authorizing you to obtain these records).
5️⃣ That a full inventory is provided of all the items included in the sale (you don’t want to argue these issues once ownership has been transferred and payment made).
6️⃣ Examine the exhaust for holes, as this can allow water and exhaust gas into the interior space and bilge of the boat.
7️⃣ Find out the quantity, size, and type of fixed fire extinguishers on the boat.
🎱 Whether you’re using your boat for fishing, wakesurfing, skiing, diving, day cruising, or overnighting, remember to pack essential safety gear.
Once the above has been agreed upon, it is time to begin the boat survey.
✅ What Is Checked During A Boat Survey (Motor And Sail)?
The items that are checked on a boat depend on the type of boat being checked. The items common to all boats (sail or power) include the following:
🚤 The Hull And General Integrity
The boat should be checked and the following confirmed:
|1||The boat sits level on the water with no listing to one side.||⬜|
|2||The moisture levels in the hull material (wood or gelcoat) should be checked – these require special tools.||⬜|
|3||Check the hull for evidence of damage or repairs.||⬜|
|4||Check the condition of the gel coat on fiberglass boats to ensure there is no cracking or blistering.||⬜|
|5||Inspect the transom to ensure that for wood rot and that it is solid and in good condition.||⬜|
|6||Walk around the hull gently tapping a screwdriver handle against the surface – if the noise of the tapping changes to a “hollow thunk,” it may be an area that has become waterlogged and has lost its integrity.||⬜|
|7||If the boat has a keel, it must run straight and true without warping.||⬜|
|8||Check for leaks around the fuel tanks and fuel filters.||⬜|
In addition to the checklist above, you’ll want to methodically go through each item below to ensure the general integrity is up to par.
🛋️ Interior Accommodation
The boat’s interior should be well-maintained, warm, and watertight.
Check for signs of water damage, such as water stains, peeling paint, corrosion, damp smell, and moisture in the cushions and carpets.
These indicators suggest potential leaks and require attention.
If these signs are present, you must find the reason, and if this cannot be fixed, it is time to cancel the deal.
When checking the interior, also check the following:
|1||The condition of the upholstery (this applies to external seating as well).||⬜|
|2||The condition of the flooring.||⬜|
|3||A damp smell.||⬜|
|4||A leaking or non-working head.||⬜|
|5||The operation of the freshwater maker.||⬜|
|6||Check the sides of the cabins to ensure that they have remained watertight and that there is no wood rot.||⬜|
|7||Check the operation of all faucets (and their water pumps) and the related drains.||⬜|
|8||Check the security of crockery and cutlery.||⬜|
Helm And Steering System
Check that the helm station functions correctly.
|1||Check the helm turns the rudder or engine (depending on what is fitted.)||⬜|
|2||Check the condition of all instrumentation and ensure that the glass gauges are not cracked or misted.||⬜|
|3||Check that the throttles move and the transmission can be selected.||⬜|
📻 The Electronic Equipment Is Operational
All electronic equipment must be checked, which may include the following:
|1||Compasses (electronic and manual) work correctly.||⬜|
|2||The radios work on differently tested frequencies – most harbor authorities are happy to respond to test transmissions.||⬜|
|3||The autopilot switches on, aligns and adjusts the rudder position.||⬜|
|4||The EPIRB and other safety communication devices work (this only applies if they are being transferred to the new owners).||⬜|
|5||Global positioning systems (GPS) work.||⬜|
|6||If a man overboard system is used, check that it is operational.||⬜|
|7||If it is installed, check that the chart plotter works.||⬜|
🚥 Navigational And Accommodation Lights
Check the condition of all the lights, firstly that the wiring is in good order, and secondly that they all work. These include all navigation lights for safety requirements and all interior lights.
⚙️ The Boats Engine
Whether the boat has a gas-powered outboard, inboard, or diesel-powered power plant, it is very important to check on the condition of the engine(s).
If the engine overshoots or does not reach the manufacturer’s maximum rpm range, something may be wrong with it or the propeller.
The Boats Safety Equipment
Check that all of the required safety equipment is present and in good order. If not, you can add this equipment.
🎓 Pro tip: If the previous owner hasn’t bothered with critical safety measures, then they probably haven’t bothered with basic maintenance either.
⛵ What Is Additionally Checked On A Sail Boat?
In addition to the common checks for power and sailboats, there are specific items that should be examined on sailboats:
Sails and rigging have an average lifespan of around ten years on a regularly used sailboat. Inspect the following components to determine if they require replacement:
|1||Check the condition of all the masts (they should be even, straight, and sound), booms, and other poles to ensure they are securely rigged and “true”.||⬜|
|2||Examine every moving component (including all winches and masthead sheaves) to ensure they operate smoothly.||⬜|
|3||Check all the blocks and welds have not been compromised.||⬜|
|4||Check all the rigging for chafing and broken strands to ensure it is in good condition.||⬜|
|5||Check the condition of the sails to ensure there are no damaged areas, chafing or other wear or damage.||⬜|
🔑 Key Takeaways
Buying a previously used boat is a potentially risky venture where you may take over a previous owner’s long list of problems. To reduce the risk, before any papers are signed and money passes hands, it is worthwhile to have a formal survey conducted on the boat.
This will check the following:
- The hull, deck, and cabins will be checked to verify the condition and that there are no waterproofing problems.
- The engine will be checked to ensure it is in good condition, maintained, and is reliable.
- All of the systems in the boat will be verified and signed off.
What Is Checked On A Boat Survey?
Different aspects will be focused on depending on who is performing the survey.
The US Coast Guard
If the US Coastguard does a safety check on the boat, they will check that mandatory safety equipment is carried on the boat and that it is in a suitable location.
A Marine Surveyor
A marine surveyor will provide a detailed check that extends to all areas of the boat and drills down to minute levels, such as if electrical fuses are correctly marked.
The report they issue will categorize deficiencies under the following headings.
1️⃣ Critical – Items that are critical to safety that may result in an increased risk of fire, explosion, electrocution, injury, or loss of life.
2️⃣ Important – these items may make the boat unsafe to operate and cause the boat to lose control, suffer engine failure or take on water.
3️⃣ Not critical – These are nuisance items that are frustrating but do not compromise the vessel’s safety. If they are not corrected, that may ultimately cause a larger failure and substantial repair costs at a later stage.
4️⃣ Observation – These are notes for observation purposes only and may indicate that there is a better solution available.
What Is The Single Most Important Thing On A Boat?
A few things are vital to the passengers and crew’s safety. These include.
- Personal flotation devices or lifejackets.
- A well-thought-out ditch bag.
- Flares and other distress signaling equipment.
How Often Does A Boat Need To Be Surveyed?
There are three circumstances when a boat should be surveyed.
A Pre-Purchase Inspection
Never buy a boat without it being surveyed to ensure it is sea-worthy and does not require substantial repairs.
If finance is being used to purchase the boat, the lender may insist on an inspection before they will release the funds.
An in-depth inspection ensures that the boat is in the exact condition described when it was advertised.
Regular Ongoing Inspections
Boats carrying more than six passengers for hire need annual inspections. Inspect your boat annually for seaworthiness and to identify potential problems. This may not be the classification of your boat, but it’s good to keep it seaworthy.
For Insurance Purposes
They may insist on an inspection when the boat is transferred to a new insurance carrier. This will serve several purposes.
The insurers will be able to identify any existing damage (pre-existing condition) that they will exclude cover for until repaired.
The survey should uncover any underlying problems with the boat that warrant repairing or upgrading to return it to a safe operating condition.
The boat has all of the safety and other systems required by state or federal regulations. This is important for many reasons, including a lower chance of an insurance claim and a reduced liability risk by ensuring the vessel was not being operated in a dangerous state.
Insurers will be able to assign the insured value of the vessel and ascertain whether the vessel is in a good enough condition to be insurable.