What should a pre-purchase survey for a marine vessel include?

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When you commission a survey before buying a vessel, you should look for a survey provider who can give you a lot more than a “checklist” approach. It’s not a matter of simply assessing the vessel’s physical condition – there’s a lot more that needs to be researched before a report can be written.

Your appointed surveyor needs in-depth experience, so that they know the subtle signs of particular problems, know which questions will reveal hidden facts, and can compare the vessel in front of them with others in the same class, to reach a conclusion on the vessel’s past history, current condition and likely future performance.

Maintenance – a key line of enquiry

Maintenance reporting is always a key line of enquiry for an expert marine surveyor. They will look at the Planned Maintenance System (PMS) and then assess the vessel against it by examining not only records but monthly operating spending and even spare parts ordering, to check that everything corresponds.

They will then assess the level of maintenance-related spending in the vessel’s history and take a particularly close look at any unexpected maintenance that affected the vessel’s profitability. They will also use their expertise to give a judgement on how well the vessel has been maintained and the current condition of areas such as the hull, and also to give an expert view on likely maintenance and downtime in the future.

Assessing possible future risks

This assessment of the vessel’s future risk and maintenance profile will involve identifying both technical and operational risks. A professional surveyor will be able to suggest mitigation for the risks that have been identified.

Expert marine surveyors will audit the current owner’s systems as part of the survey, including their fleet management capabilities, operating procedures and maintenance protocols, safety management, audit compliance, emergency drill records and other evidence.

A professional marine surveyor will be competent to assess the major spend areas that are going to present in the immediate future. Furthermore, they will be fully informed on forthcoming regulatory changes that may require capital expenditure to modify the vessel. The surveyor will be able to provide an opinion on the vessel’s underlying design and how competitive it will be, when set against similar vessels currently operating in the same industry.

This is the business intelligence part of the survey which again depends on getting a surveyor with very wide experience of the shipping industry and its fleet. This level of surveyor will, as part of the pre-purchase survey, look at the vessel’s leases, contracts, warranties, insurance and liabilities.

The pre-purchase survey is not simply a matter of looking at the vessel’s condition. It involves considering its history, likely future, and all of the systems that have been used to operate it to date. This all leads to one inescapable conclusion: only an expert surveyor can tell a purchaser whether a vessel is worth its price.