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Things you want to know but aren't quite sure how to ask about a marine vessel survey, SAMS®, your surveyor, and other interesting things like written reports, work agreements and rates.

I'm buying a boat, do I really need a survey?

I get this question a lot. A vessel that a customer is buying is said to have a "current survey available." Two key factors to consider: how "current" is that survey and what was the purpose of that survey. A written survey report is a snapshot of the vessel's condition and valuation based on a specific date of inspection and date of the written report. If the vessel was inspected by the surveyor on June 30 and the written report submitted on July 3 and its now September, that survey report issued on July 3 with data collected on June 30 is not going show the results of a July 4 fireworks display failure or a possible lightning strike or damage from a run-aground incident on August 15. It's also important to consider the purpose of the survey. A survey for pre-purchase purposes will likely include a much more detailed report than a survey report conducted for condition and valuation for the purpose of insurance for a current owner. Also, many financial institutions or insurers have limits on the age of the survey they will accept.

Who gets the report once its written?

The client who orders and pays for the survey report is the owner of the report, and its distribution is at her/his discretion. For pre-purchase survey reports, I provide my clients with two reports. First report is the full report that includes the financial valuation of the vessel, all of the findings and suggestions, and a full report of the vessel. A full report is usually 30+ pages and I keep the boilerplate to a minimum and go heavy on the meat and potatoes. The second report is the Findings Only Report. This report only contains the vessel's deficiencies and suggestions for mitigation. I recommend the client share the Findings Only Report with their broker or seller of the vessel if its a private sale. 

Do we get to sail on the sea trial?

First you won't hear me call it a sea trial or refer to it in the report as a sea trial, but rather a limited trial run. A sea trial is when we go out and put the vessel through several different tests in varying sea and weather conditions. A limited trial run is when we go out and depending on proximity and size of locally navigable waters and weather conditions (Florida is full of skinny water and afternoon pop-up storms) we will raise/deploy/unfurl sails if possible one-at-a-time.

But I want to see how the boat sails!

Entirely legitimate desire if you're planning to make a life-altering purchase, and I will do my best to work with whomever is acting captain on survey day to make that happen. Please keep in mind often times there are safety concerns due to findings, and as surveyor I make the prudent call to not go full sail because of concerns about the vessel.

Are you a SAMS® surveyor?

Yes, I am an Accredited Marine Surveyor (AMS®) with the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors®.


SAMS® was established during the 1980s by a small group of surveying professionals wishing to advance their craft. SAMS® is a Nonprofit Corporation in the State of Florida with world-wide membership. It is intended to be an organization of Professional Marine Surveyors who have come together to promote the good image and general well being of their chosen profession. Accredited Marine Surveyor members are surveyors who have accumulated time in the profession, and have proven the technical skills necessary for designation as AMS®. There is, through the Surveyor Associate program, the opportunity for less experienced members to participate in SOCIETY of ACCREDITED MARINE SURVEYORS® and hone their skills under the tutelage of Accredited Marine Surveyors in their local area. 

Many financial institutions and insurance providers only recognize SAMS® accredited surveyors. Please verify any bank or insurance requirements.

May I please speak to the surveyor?

Yes, this is Ceal. This question and its closely related cousin, "Do they let women be surveyors?" get asked more often than I'd like. There is no assistant to answer my phone. I'm the surveyor and owner at Set Sail Marine Survey. And yes, although the field of marine surveying tends to have more men than women, women can be surveyors too. Last time I checked (2019), there were about 20-30 female surveyor members of SAMS®, worldwide, with an total membership worldwide of just over 1,000. So I understand it's a bit of a surprise to come across a female surveyor.!

What kinds of boats have you surveyed?

The list is actually too long to publish in entirety with make and model, but here are a few makes I can share: Allied, American Tug, Bavaria, Bayfield, Beneteau, Bertram, Boston Whaler, Bristol, Caliber, Cape Dory, Catalina, Catalina-Morgan, Chris Craft, Conch, Corsair, Crowther, DeFever, Endeavour, Fales, Fountaine Pajot, Gozzard, Grand Banks, Gulfstar, Hallberg-Rassy, Hans Christian, Hatteras, Helmsman, Holiday Mansion, Hunter, Invincible, Irwin, Island Packet, Jeanneau, Kadey-Krogen, Kelly Peterson, Lagoon, Leopard, Lord Nelson, Mainship, Marine Trader, Melvin & Morelli custom, Morgan, Nordhavn, Norseman, Oceans, O'Day, Pacific Seacraft, PDQ, Pearson, Privilage, ProKat, Prout, Pursuit, S2, Sabre, Sea Hunt, Sea Ray, Seaward, Seawind, Silverton, Southerly, Spencer, St. Francis, Tartan, Tayana, Voyage, Whitby.

If you don't see what your looking for, ask me. I do extensive research on every vessel I survey before I even set foot on the vessel on survey day. 

How long does it take you to write the report?

For every hour I'm on the boat inspecting its about an hour of office time writing the report. The work agreement you sign before I survey a vessel states I will turn the report in 5 business days after the day of inspection. Most of the time, you will have the report on or before the fifth business day. However, I'm human and unexpected challenges sometimes come-up. If something like that happens, I will be on the phone with you to make arrangements for an extra day or two. 

What if there's an error in the report?

It happens, and again, I'm human. Unfortunately in this business I don't have the luxury of an editor due to the confidentiality of the reports. When I submit the report to the client, I schedule a follow-up phone consultation that day or the day after. I ask for the client to mark typos or note anything s/he remembers differently. I make typographical and grammar corrections and any other changes that might be necessary and provide an updated report after the follow-up call.

Why do I need to sign a work agreement?

The work agreement is a contract that protects us both. It spells out what I, as your surveyor, am going to do and not do, how much that work will cost, the dates the work will be done, and the delivery of the work product--the written survey report. Your signature on the work agreement is your acknowledgement of those parameters. I do not step onto the boat for any type of survey service I offer without a client-signed work agreement. I use a digital service called Fox-It/E-sign Genie (like DocuSign) to send over work agreements. 

How much does a survey cost?

Everyone structures their fee schedules a little differently, and over time, my rate card has evolved. I no longer charge by the foot based on vessel length overall. Vessel length is not indicative of the complexity or condition of a vessel and does not reflect a systems-heavy vessel. My hourly rate is $100, and for every hour I'm on the boat, I will be an hour in the office. I don't charge for the phone calls, texts, or emails that come before, during, and after the survey inspection or report. My clock starts when I take my first picture and ends when we leave the boat. I try to schedule surveys so that if I have to travel, I do two in the same area. That way one client can pay the mileage to and the other client can pay the mileage back. Sometimes it doesn't work like that. I use the current IRS mileage rate, which for 2023 will be 62.5 cents per mile. I don't charge for my time in the car, just the miles. If the survey is far enough away that I need a hotel room and/or a flight, we will discuss everything first and it will be outlined in the work agreement.

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