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Survey Boats Before They Sell

by Ross Hubbard on October 21, 2011

We all know that it’s getting harder and harder for people to buy boats because of the ‘economy’. Everyday we hear about consumer confidence slipping, eroding, you name it. To believe ‘them’ we’re all going to the really hot place, really fast, in a hand basket. And true to form, there is some truth in what ‘they’ are saying. It can be tough to get a boat loan if you can’t prove income and don’t have a strong FICO score. And it’s tough to get a loan on a boat that’s over 15 years old. But it’s not impossible and many people that are doing their homework and taking the time to get qualified are getting loans, really good loans. Many others are using the best negotiating tool, cash.

So when a boat does get an offer, why don’t more boats actually pass sea trials, mechanical inspections and marine surveys?

For an example, let’s look at what I witnessed recently as the marine surveyor on a sailboat my client was trying to buy.

My client “Joe” and his wife found the boat online and contacted the yacht broker who told him about the boat, it’s condition, and they made an appointment to look at the boat. Joe had done his homework about the boat and knew what this model boat should be selling for based on com-parables, the model’s known problems as related by owners he found online, and what the value guides reported.

When Joe and the broker got to the boat, it was dirty outside with months of bird droppings, the waterline had a green beard growing around it and the dock lines looked like they were about to break and actually had knots ties in them as splices.

Not deterred, Joe and his wife went aboard and as they said it was obvious that no one had been aboard in a long time, there were cobwebs, dust, and a strange waste smell. But they liked the boat and thought that the boat needed just a little clean up and she’d be good as new. So they made an offer and the buyer accepted. Joe contacted me because a friend of his had his boat surveyed by me and he thought I did a good job.

We arranged a time for a sea trial and haul out at the boatyard for survey. We met for the sea trial and after the broker bought a new battery to start the engine (not a good sign) we made our way out of the slip for a pleasant day on the water. Or so we thought. I should mention now that the broker said that the owner told him that he had just used the boat and everything was good to go.

So off came the mainsail cover and the halyard attached and mainsail raised. What happened next was not so pleasant. Two rats (live) fell out of the sail as it was being raised as well as their, well, lets just call it their debris. It was very clear that no one had sailed this boat in a long time. And if you like stories with a happy ending, I’m afraid I must disappoint you.

At this point you may be asking, how could that happen? How could someone try to sell a boat that was in such poor condition and why wouldn’t someone take even an hour or so to try to make sure that at the least the engine would start and that the rigging and sails were in working condition? This was a boat selling for nearly $100,000. Especially when they had a willing and able buyer?

You might think that this was an isolated incident but unfortunately it’s not.  Everyday boat sales fall apart because of some variation on this same theme of boats not being checked out, inspected and tested. Engines don’t start, batteries are discharged and mechanical parts and systems flat out don’t work

So what should be done?

For Buyers:

I recommend that they introduce a contingency in the sales contract that the vessel will be made ready to use, as the boat was intended to – simply meaning that during the sea trial the boat actually works! If the broker tells you that the sea trial is to find out what doesn’t work, please ask him/her to please make sure things do work as your time is valuable and you don’t want to go out on a boat that doesn’t work. Simple and logical isn’t it?

For Sellers:

How about getting a marine survey done before you put her up for sale – before the boat even gets and offer? Doesn’t it just make good sense that if you are going to sell something, you as the seller should know its condition? And why would you want to endanger anyone on a boat that has problems, known or otherwise? That sounds pretty basic doesn’t it?

So have the boat surveyed when you are ready to sell it.  A good marine surveyor will find out the boat’s condition and also what the boat is worth. Wouldn’t it be better to know up front, before you even get an offer on the boat what its condition is and what it’s market value is by an independent party? That way when the boat does go to sea trial and survey you know what to expect.

As a seller, if you wait to find out what’s wrong with the boat after sea trials and surveys, it may be too late and your buyer may be out boat shopping again. Let’s face it, buyers have countless boats to chose from and they know it.

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