After two years in a boatyard, the survey results for Maximus, our Maxi 84, were surprisingly encouraging... although the 45-point job list might take a while to get through
If you’re thinking of buying a new boat – or maybe you’ve inherited one or are renovating a wreck – you should really consider booking a boat survey.
The first thing we did – before going ahead – was call marine surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, and book him in for a pre-purchase survey. You can see the job list at the end of this feature.
Why have a survey?
Ok, so we weren’t actually purchasing the boat (unless you count the £1 required for the bill of sale) but it was important to have a survey for a number of reasons.
How much work would she need to make her seaworthy? How much would this cost (hopefully not more than the value of the boat) and how long would the repairs/ refit take?
Also, our insurer, Coleman Marine, required sight of the survey before issuing the policy.
A frightening tale
Only the week before, Ben had been to survey a 1975 yacht, and the owner agreed to abandon the survey after 10 minutes. He found the rudder was set 15 degrees off and the keel joint was loose.
‘The owner was lucky not to have lost it,’ said Ben. ‘You’re looking at £6k for the keel to be recast, £3k for the rudder. We were past the value of the boat already!’
Article continues below…
Here’s PBO’s guide to preparing for, choosing and using antifouling paints
Boat owners have long relied upon the lead-acid battery to start their engines, run electric lights and, these days, to…
Last month, Practical Boat Owner got a surprise email from reader Daniel Kirtley, asking if we wanted his 28ft cruiser…
It turned out this particular boat had been dropped in the past. The keel had gone through the hull and had not been properly repaired. Imagine if we’d bought a boat like that? We’d have been landed with a huge disposal fee right away, not to mention yard fees.
‘The owner said, “Yeah I did wonder if something wasn’t right”’, said Ben. ‘How do you not notice water coming through the chainplates and the deck sloping?’
‘Also, check the boat doesn’t have any debt on it,’ he advised, when I told him about Maximus. ‘Call the yard or marina on the QT and check the owner’s fully paid up. You don’t want to buy a liability.’
Day of the survey
Satisfied Maximus was a genuine and heartfelt offer, we found ourselves driving to Dell Quay Marine, a traditional boatyard on a quiet country lane in Chichester, full of old wooden and GRP boats.
‘This is the museum of my life,’ exclaimed Ben, excited to see the many Westerlies and other boats from the 70s and 80s.
We were greeted by Stanley, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and his pal, a wiry waggy-tailed Jack Russell.
We popped our heads in the workshop where marine welder and artist John Gillespie was fixing a giant metal giraffe, and walked past busy boat owners scraping and painting hulls to the sound of blackbirds and power drills.
Some of the boats were under canvases the size of wedding marquees, though most were lined up against the hedgerows in the throes of renovation.
Finally, we came across Maximus! A grubby but undoubtedly handsome boat, just waiting for her next adventure. I clambered aboard straight away and could barely wait to find out the results of the survey.
‘What do you think?’ I asked Ben, the minute he started with the moisture meter on the hull. I was expecting him to tell me to hang-on – he didn’t have his crystal ball, but already he was smiling (though if you know Ben, he’s always smiling).
‘Well, I was expecting it to be a little bit wetter than it was, so this is really encouraging,’ he said. ‘We need to see what’s inside the boat, but the hull looks to be in good nick.’
Dry hull and decks
I was relieved to find the hull and decks were dry, not spongy, and it was fascinating to watch Ben have a go at the antifouling with his knife. Not so encouraging was the rust and paint that came off the keel.
I was reminded of something my dentist told me; when people worry about a filling coming out, they don’t brush so hard, but the truth is, anything that can come out with a toothbrush is going to need fixing anyway. Clean away!
I followed Ben around all morning with my notebook and camera. It was really useful shadowing the surveyor. I felt I really began to understand the boat.
It’s a bit like having a 20-week baby scan when the sonographer shows you the heart, the lungs and the brain. You might never get to know your baby inside-out as well as you do right now. Take notes.
I found myself getting excited by leaks, seized seacocks and loose deck plugs, thinking ‘this will be an interesting story,’ before remembering it would actually be our own boat, and every little thing Ben picked up would need to be addressed.
After the deck and hull survey, we stopped for Welsh cakes and a cup of tea. Ben reminisced with every boat owner we bumped into, pointing out the make of boats he’d bought, sold and surveyed – including Maximus herself, and some others that had actually found their way to Dell Quay over the years.
Next, we headed down below and worked our way from bow to stern. There were several leaks, and standing water in the lockers, and unfortunately – but not surprisingly – the engine wouldn’t start after two years. The batteries were well and truly dead.
That said, Ben managed to turn the engine by hand – going backwards and forwards, which was a good sign.
‘I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t start,’ he said, ‘but you need to get the yard to jump start it for you to double-check.’
Seacocks and anodes
The seacocks and anodes needed replacing, the port lights and deck plugs re-sealing and the gas oven removing, amongst many other jobs which I’ve listed below.
The standing rigging looked good, but would need replacing in a few years at the end of the 10-year shelf-life. The Volvo saildrive bellows would also need replacing, but not immediately.
Importantly, Ben said when the boat gets lifted out to ask the boatyard to check for any movement in the keel. He was surprised there were only five keelbolts (most boats have around eight), and though they seemed in good condition, it’s important to check the keel under load.
Just as we were finishing up, Daniel, the boat owner, came to say hello. It was great to meet him and find out his reasons for giving up Maximus. The father of two young children, and with a demanding job at Westgate Advisers, he just doesn’t have the time to tackle all the jobs, but he wants Maximus to go to a good home.
Well, we could certainly give her that, I assured him, and we all went for lunch at the lovely Crown and Anchor pub, and talked some more about Maximus.
Two days later, the yard called to say the engine turned over fine when jump-started. So, after digesting the survey results, I became the proud owner of Maximus. And now our journey begins…
The things I learned from the survey
- A survey is just the first step in getting to know your new boat. Think of the surveyor as like a GP. He or she has a great working knowledge of everything, but they can’t see to the top of masts and they’re not engine specialists. When they identify an area of concern it’s up to you to call in the specialists.
- A surveyor is not a life coach. No matter how many times you ring them (sorry Ben) they can’t actually make the decision for you as to whether or not you should go ahead and buy the boat!
- A surveyor doesn’t use many tools. Just a hammer, a moisture meter, a gas meter, and a torch
- Surveying is a surprisingly physical job. It was quite amusing seeing Ben disappear into tiny lockers and fold himself up like Houdini, while all the while discussing winch backing washers.
- If you can empty your boat first for a surveyor it’ll really speed up the process.
- It’s a good idea for the buyer to walk around with the surveyor. It’s also handy to meet boat owner, but leave that till later when the surveyor may have more questions
The job list
Replace all seacock assemblies (valves, hose tails, skin fittings)
Replace deck plugs and ensure deck fittings sealed
Repair leaking companionway hatch and attend to rot in boxing and sink framing
Investigate leak in pilot berth (porthole)
Investigate leak in forward locker (cleat?)
Investigate leak in heads (from loose deck plugs?)
Deep clean and flush
Windows / portlights
Check acrylic grazing. Re-seal or replace leaking portights & porthole
Regularly clean and lubricate seals
Remove oven and gas bottles. Switch to diesel?
Buy new leisure and starter battery and test DC system
Check electric bilge pump
Check manual bilge pump
Intake and discharge should have higher swan necks with anti-siphon valves fitted. Consider fitting a gravity drop holding tank
Monitor copper cockpit drain
Clean cockpit grating – possible repair
Make a compass deviation card and check accuracy
Monitor lower rudder bearing / replace fastenings
Check keel joint at lift-out (under load). If there’s any movement put back in cradle
Draw the rear keel fastening to check condition (job for winter not urgent).
Pressure wash deck and rig
Clean sails, sprayhood, boom cover, cushions, curtains
Sand and varnish companionway and tiller
Replace rotten headlining in pilot berth and forepeak
Service and repair winch backing washers and check fastenings
Pop rivets to boom socket require replacement. Clean underside of spreaders (pressure wash)
Get rigging check
Hull and deck
Scrape back antifoul to epoxy, prep, prime and antifoul
Strengthen weak laminate on forward hatch and replace fastening
Mark position of sail-drive and fit lift-point stickers
Compound and polish topsides
Fit a limber hole for insertion of an engine fire extinguisher
Replace all out-of-date fire extinguishers
Fit new blanket
Spray upholstery with fire-retardant
Other safety equipment
New flares, dispose of old ones
Buy dinghy and outboard
New anchor, chain and rope run
Fit/ store a new kedge anchor
Remove standing water in anchor locker, clear blockage
Fit starboard hinge to anchor locker
Fit bow roller installation (new backing plate required – current one rotten)
Replace fastening of tear-drop anode on hull
Replace propr anodes
Needs a good clean
Complete replacement of sheets
Free seized pulley blocks
Service the Volvo MD2020 engine, clean tank, replace filters. Do we need engine anodes?
*Any marine experts/suppliers who would like to offer advice or assistance with these job, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Conclusion from Ben Sutcliffe Marine
“The reason for the inspection of this craft was to report the general condition prior to purchase. “Maximus” considering her age was, despite having been ashore unused for two years, considered structurally in fair condition. My only areas of real concerns were reported above but priority to replace sea cocks batteries and see all systems run to a satisfactory level before launching. It is also important to check and replace the majority of her gas system. Confirming the age of the leg gasket and standing rig is also very important. All are very rectifiable but at a cost that should be confirmed before purchase.
Careful monitoring and proper winterisation of the craft each season will help maintain the current moisture levels. The work needs to be carried out as I feel it would benefit the craft and would protect your investment and long-term resale in the future.
Most of the findings in my report must be read carefully and acted upon. Many of the other items noted 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.
The craft’s general safety and value may be improved if all the items noted were carried out. From an insurance point of view it is important to document any repairs and upgrading of the craft when undertaken, Please be aware that consideration should also be given when insuring for extra equipment along with personal possessions that will need to be included. I confirm these are my findings and recommendations at the time of survey.”