Surveying large crewed yachts

Surveying large crewed yachts requires a different skill set to the norm argues Phil Duffy
Surveying large crewed yachts requires a different skill set to the norm argues Phil Duffy

Article by Phil Duffy MIIMS
Principal Surveyor at Interface Marine Yacht and Boat Surveyors France

The focus of this article is on the process and the logistics involved in surveying large crewed yachts, rather than on the practicalities of the survey. The areas of inspection are basically the same as on any pre purchase survey, albeit larger and with regard to machinery systems can be more technically involved, the time frame of course is much longer.

One question I often get asked is how to get the business, or how to make the jump from surveying small pleasure craft to larger vessels…. As always, the client will need to trust your ability to carry out the job, and for that you will need to prove your track record with references etc. It can be a chicken and egg situation, unless you have worked for one of the larger surveying companies or are able to assist on some large yacht surveys and gain an insight that way. In my case it was quite an easy transition, as during my career at sea I have held both Engineer and Captain Positions of large yachts.

One of the most fundamental differences with the large crewed yachts is that you are very rarely, if ever dealing with the principal; you are dealing with brokers, and managers, PA’s, lawyers and technical representatives, therefore your approach needs to be very businesslike and organised. I have found it is far better to grasp the nettle and drive the process forward in-house with regard to organising sea trials and dry docking etc rather than wait to find out that a broker has arranged a sea trial with 40knts forecast!

The following are the stages involved in a large yacht pre purchase survey, although essentially the same as any survey, there are some critical differences to consider.

The Contract
Having won the job you need to be absolutely sure you have got your numbers right and that the client knows exactly what he is paying for, it is often better to give a full package price including, fees, travel expenses, engine analysis, Engine Techs for the Sea Trial and include the quote from the Ship Yard for dry dock, etc. It is important to ensure that the client is very clear as to whom, why and when he has to make payments. You will also need to check if your PI will cover you for the job. The girls at Matrix were very good at arranging extra cover for a one off job we had last year where the yacht was worth €40million. The reality is, if you don’t have a good legal team on your side, get one! Once you have a schedule for the survey firmed up, it pays to ask for emailed copies of the vessel’s statutory documents, technical specification and any drawings that are available.

The Crew
Although the crew you may have to deal with can vary from a single temporary Captain onboard, to a fully crewed commercial charter yacht with upwards of twenty crew. It is important to establish a working relationship with the crew, especially the Captain and Chief engineer, as they will make your job a lot easier in as far as opening up areas, collecting service histories and access to work lists etc. If at all possible it is best to try and contact the Captain directly in advance and discuss your requirements, being mindful that if the sale goes through they could be out of a job; so be sympathetic. Unfortunately there can also be an air of resentment with your arrival onboard; you are after all, checking up on the crew’s level of maintenance and professional competence. You should try to remain objective at all times, and unless you find something dangerous, keep your opinion in your notes. In my experience the vast majority of the crews I have dealt with have been very helpful and professional, and you usually get great meals onboard!

The Sea Trial
It is important to realise that the sea trial for a large yacht survey is usually the first and most important stage of the survey. This is due to the standard contract conditions between buyer and seller stating that if the buyer does not declare his rejection in writing within 24hrs of the sea trial, due to the vessel not performing as expected; it is deemed that the vessel has been accepted subject to the condition survey.

The sea trial is where you, the surveyor, are everybody’s centre of attention. On a recent sea trial we had the owner’s team onboard consisting of a lawyer, a broker, and two technical representatives. The buyer’s team was a broker, the Captain and Chief Engineer from his existing yacht and two technical representatives. You will often get asked during the sea trial how is everything going?
Don’t answer! The only person you should report to is your instructing client’s direct representative; otherwise you could open yourself to major litigation.

The sea trial is usually scheduled for four hours maximum. It may seem a long time but there is a lot to get through! You will usually have onboard the engine manufacture’s technicians to make computer diagnostic analysis of the engines. Oil samples need to be taken of main machinery, and they may be vibration analysis technicians onboard as well. You will have to take sound level checks throughout the vessel, along with the standard manoeuvres, ground tackle test, and tender launch and recovery. Normally an interim report is issued within 24hrs to confirm the survey can continue without issue or the worst case scenario that the sale may be been cancelled due to major faults discovered or lack of expected performance.

The Dry Docking
On very large yachts the buyer’s representative may want to consider not having the vessel dry docked, especially if the yacht has been recently out of the water for a class inspection; however, it is sometimes prudent to have a diver inspection nevertheless, and always ensure that any such limitations to the scope of the survey is in the contract. If the vessel is to be hauled, it is important to have a very clear agreement with the yard’s project manager as to the schedule and what your requirements are. For instance you may have NTD technicians scheduled for a UTM inspection or you may require shaft clearance measurements on the tail shafts or stabilisers. Again, I have found it is better to take control of the situation and planning from the beginning to ensure a complete hull inspection is carried out to your satisfaction.

Condition Survey
Once the vessel is re launched, you can then complete the survey which is along the lines of any pre purchase marine survey; however, you may need to engage a specialist consultant with regard to the vessel’s Audio Visual and IT systems. This is a very specialist area and the onboard systems can be very extensive and may have had several upgrades over time.

Another area to consider using a consultant is in the accommodation as this can be very time consuming: especially if you are not used to inspecting Italian marble bathrooms with gold plated taps and rare wood veneers! If you miss something it could be very costly! We have often engaged an ex large yacht chief stewardess to carry out interior cosmetic inspections, which ensures the required attention to detail.

I have been asked if you can carry out a condition survey of a large yacht on your own. The issue is not about your level of competence but rather the time involved. The contractual agreements involved with large yacht sales usually have very tight time frames, so to survey a 40m yacht on your own and write the report may simply take too long for the client’s requirements. If you do have the opportunity to quote on a large yacht survey I strongly suggest you contact the Institute and find an experienced surveyor to assist you on some or all of the surveys.

The Report
You will almost always be asked for the full condition report within 48hrs of the survey completion. This is where pre planning is important; essentially you need to write the report as you proceed with the survey. To avoid any pressure, do not leave it all to the end, sitting down with a pile of notes, some several days old, and a few hundred pictures to sift through! Pressure makes for poor reporting. Having said that you may need to put pressure on your sub contractors to provide their reports as soon as possible, as you will need to add annexes containing reports from engine techs, oil sample analysis, hull UTM and any other consultants you may have engaged. As far as the style of the report is concerned I feel it is important to remain objective, as with any yacht, whether you personally like or dislike the interior styling or any other aspect of the vessel is irrelevant, you are being asked to simply report on the condition of the yacht as you find it; however, I do feel that the report should reflect the vessel’s purpose as a luxury yacht and should have more depth to it than, for instance, a survey of a commercial work boat.

Finally it is worth remembering that although a large yacht is a luxury item, and may have a market value in the millions, and is usually loaded with lots of expensive toys and high tech gadgets, your first priority as a surveyor is to ask yourself, is it safe? Is it fit for purpose as a sea going vessel? An old engineer I once knew used to say “Our job lad, is to keep the people in and the water out!”

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