Surveyors good idea for boat buyers


September 29, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Peter Hartoft stood in the companionway and talked into a small tape recorder as he scanned the interior of a 31-foot sailboat, recalling and recording the good, bad and ugly he had seen during more than an hour of careful inspection of fittings, machinery and joinerwork.

"Overall, very nice," he said, as he came up into the cockpit. "Lot of comforts and features for this length of boat -- although there are a few things that need attention here and there."

Single hose clamps on head fittings below the waterline. TC weeping port. A gas stove without instructions. Evidence of prior seepage from a holding tank and minute seepage from the head.

Things that Hartoft and other marine surveyors are paid to notice. Things that a boat buyer, struck blind by well-oiled teak, berths for seven and dreams of next year's summer cruise, might not see.

This is the time of year when marine surveyors are especially busy, and obviously a time when their services are needed.

It is the end of the season and boat owners are putting their crafts on the market. A buyer willing to pick up the expense of winter storage and spring commissioning often can knock a thousand or two off the price of a used boat.

An owner with an eye toward the new models that soon will be coming to Annapolis in the U.S. Sailboat Show and U.S. Powerboat Show might be willing to drop even a few thousand more to pass the former love of his life on to someone new -- sins, virtues and all.

The services of Hartoft, who is based in Annapolis, are not cheap at $13 a foot, nor is an hourlong haul-out to check the bottom of a fire-sale item at about $4 a foot. But a certified surveyor can find the problems in yacht systems, hulls and superstructure and give a rough idea of where the future lies in terms of money and maintenance.

The 31-footer that Hartoft was surveying earlier this week, for example, showed the effects of good construction and good ownership.

The deck, where many boats fail to grade out, was sounded out with a long-handled mallet and tested with a moisture meter.

The hull received the same treatment, and both were deemed in very good condition for a 12-year-old fiberglass boat.

"You can see it here, though," Hartoft said as he tested an area of the cabin top. "Where this galley vent is, the water has got in a bit. Not enough to cause delamination or even to accumulate much moisture, but the fitting plate has to be taken up and rebedded before the problem becomes serious."

In the aft end of the cockpit was a more serious problem: water had seeped into the core between layers of fiberglass.

"In another area of the deck, where the only function is to support a person's weight, you might be tempted to let that pass for a while," Hartoft said. "But here, where there are components of the steering mounted and there will be significant stress, you probably need to get it right away.

"Take the top layer of glass off, remove the deck core, replace it with new material and then refiberglass."

There are few perfect boats, Hartoft said. In each there are flaws -- from keels incorrectly bolted on to cotter pins of the wrong size or type for a given application.

A survey by one national boating organization found that even in new boats -- such as those that will be on display at the sailboat show Oct. 7-10 and the powerboat show Oct. 14-16 -- each one sold has an average of a dozen problems, big or small.

If your bank or financing company requires a marine survey, pay the fee gladly. If a survey is not required, get one anyway and make certain there are stipulations in the purchase agreement that allow a change in price if there are problems or allow the buyer to back out without penalty.

In the space of a few hours a good surveyor can tell you the long and short of what a boat is really going to cost you.

NOTE: On Oct. 3, the Department of Natural Resources will hold a public hearing at the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis to discuss proposed modifications to freshwater trout regulations, regulations on walleye in Deep Creek Lake and the establishment of a catch-and-return area for largemouth and smallmouth bass on a stretch of the Potomac River below the confluence with the Monocacy River. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Written comment may be sent to H. Robert Lunsford, director of Freshwater Fisheries, Tawes State Office Building, E-1, Annapolis, MD 21401.


Susquehanna River: Through the first weekend of rockfish season, the Susquehanna, from below Conowingo Dam through the lower river, looks good, according to the Department of Natural Resources' weekly survey. Sizes of rockfish taken ranged to 40 inches. Rowland Island, the mouth of Deer Creek and the Lapidum and Port Deposit areas have been good choices for boaters using small live eels.

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