Twenty-Five Things

a Good Marine Surveyor

Might Find Wrong With

Your “Perfect” Boat


By Capt. Allen Taube

From a story published by SOUTHWINDS MAGAZINE, DEC. 2012



If you’re buying or insuring a boat, you’ll need to hire a marine surveyor to inspect and write up an official report for the insurance company, bank or lender. First of all, there is no such thing as a “perfect” boat. If the marine surveyor turns in a survey that finds nothing wrong with your boat, good chance the insurance company or lender will ask for another survey.


A few years back, we received a memo stating that marine surveyors should never use the word “seaworthy” as maritime law and nature have repeatedly proven that no man-made boat or ship is worthy of the sea.


As a NAMS-certified marine surveyor, I’ve inspected tons of boats. Here is a list of the most common deficiencies I find:


1. Engine wiring: Any electrical wires touching each other or rubbing on machinery need to be spiral-wrapped or otherwise protected from chafe.


2. Engine plumbing: Install chafing gear on all hoses that rub against each other or machinery.


3. Shaft-packing gland: Excessive leaking at packing gland. The packing gland should slowly drip when engine is in gear.


4. Transmission shift cables: The most common reason for crashing the dock or another boat is that the little nuts loosen or fall off from the cable hold-down clamps that stop the outer case of the transmission shift cable from moving. When the outer case of the shift cable is not secure, the inner cable will not allow shifting from forward to reverse. When the operator tries to shift into

reverse, the transmission remains in forward. The operator blames the transmission, the transmission is taken over to the shop for rebuilding, and the mechanic puts it back together the same way. Those little nuts need to be lock nuts or double nuts and lock washers. A costly

expense can be avoided by replacing these nuts at a cost of under a dollar.


5. Engine misalignment: When engine(s) are run and put in gear, there should be no wobble observed at the rubber hose of the flexible stuffing box.


6. Hoses: Never buy cheap hoses. Even the best hoses don’t last forever. Replace all worn, dried or cracked hoses. Remove hoses from through-hulls when you haul and check the through-hull fitting. It is common to use a close pipe nipple under the hose; these are made of brass or steel and corrode quickly. Best to use a bronze marine hose barb-correct for the size of the hose.


7. Hose clamps: Use double hose clamps for all hoses attached to through-hulls below the waterline and within 12 inches above the waterline. Use the expensive ones made with 316 stainless steel. Hose clamps, through-hull fittings and hoses are not the place to save money.


8. Through-hull valves: These should be mounted on wood or synthetic pads bedded to the hull. Gate valves, the type with the round steel handles should be replaced. Sea cocks, with tapered bronze barrels should be disassembled each haul, lapped with wet and dry sand paper greased and re-assembled. Never use grease that contains graphite below the water, it will accelerate galvanic corrosion. If any through-hull valves are inoperable, leaking or corroded, replace them with good marine ball valves. All through-hull valves must operate freely. There should be a supply of tapered wooden bungs or plugs to fit each through- hull size.


9. Steering: Check steering cables especially where they connect to the quadrant. Replace frayed cables or wires broken at the thimbles or without thimbles. Replace all hydraulic rams that are corroded or badly worn. Grease all grease fittings in worm-gear (non-graphite grease) , cable or hydraulic systems that require grease. Rudder-stuffing boxes should not leak, add packing or adjust.


10. Aluminum mast: Brass or bronze fittings such as cleats or winches fastened directly to the mast will cause aluminum electrolysis. Winches of dissimilar metals should be mounted on synthetic or wooden base pads. There should be drain holes at the base of the mast,

above but close to the mast step to allow saltwater to drain out. If there are no drain holes, the bottom of the mast and aluminum mast step will corrode from the inside. Turnbuckles, shroud and stay terminals must be in good condition without cracks or corrosion.


11. Deck-stepped masts: These should have adequately reinforced decking or cabin-tops beneath the mast-step and strong, well-secured compression columns below. A straight-edge ruler will indicate any deformation from compression at the deck or cabin-top near the mast-step.


12. Spreaders: They need to as nearly as possible bisect the angles between the spreader and shroud. Downward-slipping spreaders can cause mast failure especially for deck-stepped masts. Spreaders should be evenly canted upwards and mechanically (with wire and/or clamps)

secured to the shrouds at their tips. Usually it’s the star-board spreader that has slipped downward – that’s where the flag halyard pulls on the spreader. Check the upper surfaces of wooden spreaders for rot. If new ones are needed, use rot-resistant teak.


13. Portholes and deck hatches: These should not have broken dogs or clamps. Worn rubber gaskets should be replaced.


14. Electrical wiring: Obsolete or dead wiring should be removed. Corroded wiring connections at bilge pumps and other electrical and electronic devices need replac-



15. Bilge pumps and high water alarms: Operable high water alarms should be installed (with float switches aligned fore and aft, not athwart ship) on all boats. All bilge pumps and automatic floats should be operable.


16. Propane tanks: They should be free of corrosion, storedin vented secure boxes or lockers on deck. A pressure gauge and solenoid (or separate on/off switch) must be installed.


17. Batteries: These should be secured and stored in covered vented boxes. If the batteries are not in boxes with lids, the + terminals should be covered with insulator boots. Terminal connections should not be corroded and batteries should be filled to the proper level. There should be a master battery switch and the batteries separated into two banks: house and start.


18. Bolt or cable cutters: All sailboats venturing offshore should have these for emergencies.


19. Radar reflector: For all boats offshore.


20. EPIRBs, automatic fire extinguishers, and life rafts: They should be inspected and not be obsolete.


21. Anchors: Vessels should have adequate anchors for their size, and at least one heavy-weather anchor. All anchor shackles must be seized with wire at the shackle pins. All vessels should have adequate galvanized steel anchor chain. Cheap Chinese stainless steel shackles and chain are not recommended.


22. Fiberglass hulls: All chips and scratches through the gel coat into the glass fibers must be filled with epoxy. Small blisters between the paint and gel coat are normal. Large blisters will need to be broken open to deter-mine their depth (1/2 the thickness of the hull

ed as a structural blister), dried out and filled with epoxy.


23. Galley: Is the woodwork around the galley stove protected from fire damage?


24. Deck, cabins and cabin tops, corner posts. All should be well-sealed. There should be no soft spots or leaks.


25. Keel bolts: These don’t last forever and will need to be replaced if they are corroded, or show signs of leaking. Usually the first or forward-most keelbolt will have the most wear, It is the one that takes the load of grounding. Check in front of keelbolt on hull for stress cracks. Put a socket and breaker bar with a pipe over the handle to try to turn the nut or bolt. Mark the bolt, nut, washer and hill with a pen and see if the entire bolt turns when torqued. Usually, when the boat is hauled, rust or water will seep out of the joint between the hull and upper part of the keel to indicate keelbolt problems.   


Use the above to see how your boat will survive a marine survey or as a check list to get it in good condition.


Capt. Allen Taube is a NAMS GLOBAL certified marine surveyor. He lives on his 65-foot schooner Reef Chief in Key West, FL, and is available for surveying all types of boats anywhere in the world.


Posted on April 14, 2014 .