In part two of the PBO Project Boat survey we take a look at the seacocks, gas installation, electrics, engine, sails and more...
A boat survey is really important for anyone buying – or even acquiring – a secondhand boat.
Last month we asked marine surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies to take a look at the PBO Project Boat, Maximus. The 43-year-old Maxi 84 was offered to us by reader Daniel Kirtley, but before we accepted I wanted to know how much work was involved, as it would be me – the magazine features editor – taking on the project, and becoming a boat owner for the very first time.
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Thinking of having a boat survey? If so, take a look at this video of marine surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies as…
I never thought I’d own a boat. I’ve grown-up around yachts; cruised them, raced them, occasionally skippered them, but now,…
So far, so good: the hull was pleasingly dry, the decks solid and the rig – from an initial look – seemed to be in good shape. However, the running rigging and gas would need to be upgraded and there were a few other jobs to be expected, such as polishing the topsides, applying antifouling, fixing leaky deck plugs and upgrading deck fittings.
Now it was time to go down below…
Ben had already condemned the DIY gas locker so before entering the saloon he got out his gas detector wand. Although the gas was switched off, for safety he needed to check there was no gas trapped in the bilges.
“For the sake of £40, I think the gas detector wand is a great piece of kit,” said Ben. “I mainly use this on narrowboat surveys because they’re notorious for leaky gas lockers but it’s well worth having.”
Ben bought his from Screwfix, but also recommends a company called Nereus, which sells gas alarms with waterproof sensors, which can be used in wet bilges.
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Internal hull inspection
Now it was time for the internal hull inspection. When Maximus was built in Sweden in 1978 she was fitted to a good standard, using teak veneered marine ply in the cabin, and fully encapsulated plywood frames and stringers in the lockers and bilges.
Ben got down on his hands and knees and crawled through the boat, lifting sole boards, tapping, listening to the moisture meter and scribbling away in his notepad.
He showed me the chain plate anchorages and reassured me they were substantial, showing no sign of stress or movement. The same was true for the forestay and backstay fittings.
“This isn’t the conventional arrangement,” commented Ben, regarding the lowers, which are attached to an anchorage point in the saloon on a cantilever arrangement. “Most yachts have them bolted down into the side of the hull. In this particular boat they’re relying on the main bulkhead here which looks like a 12mm ply.”
Nonetheless he was happy with the arrangement. “This all looks nice and dry. There are no corrosion streaks, and it’s similar on the other side.”
Verdict: Rig anchorage and chainplate installations considered secure.
There were a couple of areas Ben couldn’t get to, including around the water tank and in the lower bilge areas in the saloon. Most of the areas he inspected were clean and dry. However, the cushions and headlining in the aft pilot berth were damp and the hull anode studs in the locker were corroding in several inches of standing water.
The forepeak was also damp from a leaking deck cleat and vent. Ben pulled the soggy spinnaker out of the locker and again, found several inches of water sitting underneath. Above the head were visible drips of water.
“Ah, what’s going on here!” Ben exclaimed, spotting the water stains near the chainplate. “Look, the water from the loose deck sockets is actually running through the internal moulding here and out through the various limber holes.”
Other water ingress, this time through the companionway, had damaged the boxing around the galley sink, and it was completely rotten. In case I needed proof, Ben kindly demonstrated by sticking his finger right through it.
Ben left the cushions on their sides and opened all the lockers to allow air to flow through. Fixing all those leaks would have to be a priority.
Verdict: Attend to water trapped in the forepeak and aft bunk, dry out the lockers, investigate cause. Attend to rotten companionway framework.
On the plus side, the upholstery was in good condition. I especially liked the curtains and smart blue cabin cushions. The beige pinstriped cushions looked new, and it was clear Daniel had taken great care to make Maximus homely. She had some lovely touches, and lots of gleaming teak, which I love about boats of this era.
The cushions would need dry-cleaning and a couple needed new zips, and fabric underneath where they had ripped. Ben pointed out that they should be coated in fire-retardant spray as there were no labels to confirm this.
“You can get some from Screwfix,” he advised. “Spray all your soft furnishings. If you’ve ever been on a boat when it catches fire the foam is horrendous. It will smoke and fume very badly.”
Verdict: Consider using a fireproof spray on all upholstery.
Ben immediately condemned the ageing gas stove.
“Well, the gas hose is from 1984,” he said. “What’s even more worrying is seeing the gas hose brought through the back of the cooker like this.”
He pointed out the nick in the rubber where the hose had cut against the metal shielding. Anything that’s gimballed should have a reinforced hose.
Not only that, but the cooker itself had no thermal cut-out.
“So many people have these but don’t realise that if you’re merrily sailing along and the flame blows out the gas will keep flowing without being shut-off,” he said.
With the cost of replacing the cooker, then the gas lines, sorting out the gas locker and everything else, Ben advised it may be cheaper to remove gas altogether and buy a diesel or spirit stove.
I made a note to get quotes for both and investigate the pros and cons of gas versus diesel and spirits.
Verdict: Fully overhaul gas system with accredited gas-safe engineer.
Though Ben expressed delight at the old Sailor radio – “We used to have one of these on my fishing boat years ago!” – we weren’t able to actually test it. The batteries were flat, and therefore we couldn’t test the engine either.
“There’s less than 2V in that one and we’ve got 8V in this one, which is why we can’t get anything to work!” said Ben, putting away his voltmeter.
“From the point of view of a survey it’s always worth making sure batteries are charged. The surveyor usually switch-tests everything to make sure it works. We’re currently going in blind with all this.”
The two batteries fitted under the companionway steps will need to be replaced. They were not physically secured and had no terminal covers.
“Obviously we’re not connected to shore power, but it’s not very clever when you’ve got water running over the top of shore power electrics like here,” said Ben, pointing to the bit where the companionway leak had found its way to the electrics, “and I don’t really like the idea of a metal backing box with the vibrations going on with that lot.”
Verdict: Replace batteries and get electrics checked by an electrician. Fit covers to the battery terminal poles.
Maximus has an indirectly cooled, 3-cylinder Volvo 2020MD engine. Although Ben couldn’t get it started, he did give it a good inspection.
He wasn’t happy about the corrosion on the frames and mounts as a result of the leaking companionway.
“All this is going to need cleaning up,” he advised. “You can see all this water ingress, it’s really not helpful. Look at the corrosion on things like the flywheel on the pulley wheel here. The first time this is started corrosion will shred this belt very quickly. So you’ll lose your alternator and internal water pump.”
Ben pointed out the label with the serial number.
“One of the beautiful things about Volvo is they’ve used a Perkins base engine. It’s always worth getting that information because anywhere in the world if you need spares it’s the same as for a Perkins.”
The engine drive is through a Volvo Saildrive gearbox. Ben checked the leg and saw no obvious corrosion, and the external rubber sock was intact. The oils were clean and there was fortunately no indication of water contamination.
The unit has a large rubber gasket seal which needs replacing every seven years. When last done – in 2015 – it cost in the region of £1,500, so, along with the rig, would need to be budgeted for in the near future.
“Engine mounts generally need to be changed at the same time as when you do your doughnut on your saildrive. If you haven’t got a saildrive and you have a normal shaft, look at doing this every 10 years,” said Ben. He hand-cranked the engine and invited me to listen.
“You can hear that turning?” Well at least you know after two and a half years it hasn’t seized, which is a good sign.”
Verdict: Monitor saildrive oil levels and see operated under load, see engine run and further checked by a marine engineer prior to exchange. Deep-clean drive pulleys and replace drivebelt. Confirm age of antifreeze, monitor exhaust hoses.
“When it comes to engines and a boat that’s been laid up for a couple of years, the last thing you want to be doing is putting the boat straight in the water,” said Ben. “You need to be really religious with the fuel management. Empty the fuel tank, flush it, change the fuel lines, fuel filters, turn it over and see the engine running ashore with a water feed. Don’t just pop it in the water and hope!”
Ben was unable to determine the capacity of the tank or condition of the fuel. However, he did note the filler seal was slightly perished and will require replacement.
Verdict: Given the time the craft has been out of commission the tank should be deep cleaned and fuel filters replaced.
Portlights and porthole
“So how about the windows?” I asked.
“They’re not windows,” corrected Ben. “They’re portlights if they’re fixed, portholes if they’re opening.”
It was a beautiful sunny day during the survey, and there was no evidence of the acrylic portlights leaking (though there would be on the next visit!). That said, Ben pointed out that moisture ingress is very common on these due to the internal seal abutment.
Verdict: Check condition of acrylic glazing, sealant and regularly clean and lubricate porthole seal.
Maximus has a Jabsco sea toilet that discharges directly into the sea. The intake fittings all needed replacement (see seacocks) but Ben also pointed out that the intake and discharge should have higher swan necks, preferably with anti-siphon valves.
“The intake should run almost to the underside of the deck,” he said. “It’d be prudent to change the hoses too. Clearly they’re over five years old so they get porous and when you start using them they’ll get smelly.”
“Look at those hosetails,” exclaimed Ben when he saw the seacock assemblies for the heads and sink. “This makes me laugh; we talk about double-clamping but the clamps aren’t actually on the end of the hose tail. It’s completely pointless.”
The ball-valve seacocks were clearly over five years old and badly corroded. Though the seacocks were replacements it looked like they’d used the original skin fittings.
“This one actually works OK,” said Ben pulling the handle, “but I’d replace them all. Chuck them out and start again.”
Bronze lasts a lot longer than DZR, but a lot of people are going for composites these days, advised Ben; brands such as Tru Design or Marelon.
Ben also searched around for the seacock for the galley sink. He’d identified the outlet hole on the outside of the hull but it took him a while to actually find the seacock. After opening a locker and removing the saucepans, he found the discharge hose, but it wasn’t until he removed the bottom drawer under the hob that he actually found it – an old-fashioned gate valve which had completely seized and will need replacement.
Verdict: Replace all seacock assemblies. This includes the valves, hose tails and skin fittings. Shut all valves when not in use.
There’s one stainless steel water tank on Maximus, fitted under the forepeak cabin bunk. Ben was able to hand-pump the system and was rewarded with very contaminated two-year-old water!
Verdict: System will need emptying, deep cleaning and flushing.
“With sails, the surveyor can only see so much,” Ben advised. “To see how good a sail is you really need to take the boat sailing.”
The main and genoa were both made by East Coast sails, and looked to be over 10 years old.
“You can see straight away this UV strip has had its day,” said Ben, pointing to the genoa. “It’s been completely worn away and is faded and starting to break down.
The sail itself doesn’t feel too bad, though, it’s still got that nice little noise to it when you scrape it with your nails.”
Ben advised taking them to the sailmaker for a full valet.
“I always say take them to be cleaned at the end of the season, don’t take them in March and expect them ready in April,” he warned.
There were also a few further sails noted in the forepeak, including the extremely soggy spinnaker stuffed in the locker.
Verdict: Assess the sails at a sea trial and have them valeted. They are considered serviceable for normal cruising.
Safety and other equipment
Finally, Ben noted that Maximus had a basic level of safety equipment on board, though most items were out of date. There were four harness points in the cockpit, though no lifelines fitted.
The flat batteries meant Ben was unable to check the electric bilge pump, but there was a manual hand-pump which he was able to operate. There were a few useful items on board – including spares, fuel canisters, warps and fenders, along with an inflatable dinghy – though we’d need to confirm with Daniel what things he intended to keep hold of.
Verdict: Replace fire extinguishers, fire blanket and pyrotechnics (remove out-of-date flares).
The surveyor’s conclusion
Though I was desperate to go ahead and ‘purchase’ Maximus, I hung-on anxiously for the survey. Remarkably, it arrived just two days later – all 17 pages of it. Fast work Ben!
Ben concluded that, considering her age, and despite having been stood ashore for two years, Maximus was structurally in good condition. In his survey he highlighted all the urgent jobs – such as upgrading the gas and fitting new seacocks – and reiterated that we needed to get the engine running, check the age of the saildrive leg gasket, check all systems once the electrics were working, and check the standing rig with a rigger.
“All are very rectifiable but at a cost that should be confirmed before purchase,” he added.
Although in my case, I was very lucky to only be paying £1 for the boat, it was still important to know the costs I’d be taking on. Later, for example, I’d learn that a rewire could cost upwards of £3,000, a gas upgrade £700, a fabricated bow-roller £600… and there would be many more bills coming my way!
“Most of the findings in my report must be read carefully and acted upon,” Ben wrote. “Many of the other items are very minor and would in general be the type of things I would expect to find on many craft of this size and age.”
He also added that from an insurance point of view it’s important to document any repairs and upgrades to the craft.
I read the survey a few times over, and Daniel was able to provide paperwork showing that actually the saildrive leg gasket and rig were within their ‘shelf-life’ so to speak. Yes, we’d have some significant bills in a few years’ time, but we could budget for those.
I called Ben to chat over some of the points in the survey then asked Dell Quay Marine, where Maximus was kept, to jump-start the engine. They kindly did this right away and sent me a video, which I forwarded to Ben, showing the engine in working order. This wasn’t a surprise as Ben had been able to turn it by hand.
Grinning from ear-to-ear I rang Daniel to say if he still wished to part with his lovely yacht I promised to take good care of her. Without hesitation, he sent me a signed and witnessed bill of sale, adding, “I’m really pleased to have found a way to get the attention she deserves and access to expertise through PBO… I’m sure she’ll give you and the family a lot of adventure and pleasure, just as she did for me.”
He even attached some photos of when Maximus looked a bit smarter… “in case you need some inspiration mid-project when you’re working in a drizzly yard!”