Whether you're purchasing a vessel or re-insuring a vessel there are things that need to be attended to prior to your Surveyor arriving at the vessel on the day of the survey. Having a vessel ready for a survey saves time, money and aggravation for both the buyer/owner and the Surveyor.
The process of surveying a vessel goes a lot more smoothly when all systems are up and running, batteries are charged and shore power is available. Engines and generators should be tested prior to the survey to prevent delays and second trips to the vessel. All personnel items should be removed from lockers to provide the Surveyor access to areas in need of inspection.
I have listed the ten of the more common findings during a survey that I find on a regular basis. Keep in mind that the items listed may seem trivial, however when the time arises where a system is needed it could help limit fines, damage, injury or death. The old proverb; "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" holds very true in the boating world.
Some of the items above are Rules laid out by the USCG and are required to be adhered to, some of the others are just common sense! There are all different types of vessels out there made of a variety of materials and configurations, with their own little problems. Each one has systems that were made by vendors that also have their own little problems, so our job as Surveyors is to provide a much information as possible so that our clients can made an educated decision.
- Batteries not properly secured, no positive terminal protection or boots that are too small and the use of wing nuts to attach cables.
Batteries are supposed to be secured from movement of no more than one inch in any direction; side to side, fore and aft and vertically. Terminal protection is to prevent metallic objects from directly shorting out the battery which can explode a battery or cause a fire and wing nuts to connect cables often come loose causing overheating at the connection point, power problems for electrical devices and a possible fire hazard.
- Visual distress signals past their expiration date.
This is one item you"ll be glad works if you need them! Most people have several outdated flares lying around because they are hard to dispose of, hopefully you"ll never have to use them. They are only good for three years and then need to be replaced.
- Fixed fire extinguishing systems with outdated or no certification tag.
These systems are found in engine compartments, bow thruster and stern thruster compartments and are design to deploy automatically when there"s a fire present, some also have a manual deployment cable. A fire on a vessel is one of the worst case scenarios a person can be in, vessels once on fire are hard to extinguish, usually burn to the waterline and sink. The danger to personnel on board is great and it doesn"t end there if you abandon ship, floating in the water can be almost as dangerous. The fire bottle should be removed at least annually for inspection and certification by a reputable extinguisher company.
- Expired portable fire extinguishers.
These are the small Dry Chemical extinguishers mounted around the vessel in key areas such as the helm, galley and cabins. They are only good for twelve years and then need to be discarded. Their gauges should be checked that they read full and also should be periodically shaken to prevent the Dry chemical from being compacted rendering the extinguisher useless.
- Inoperative or seized sea-cocks.
These valves allow raw water from under the waterline of the vessel to supply equipment, generators and engines with raw water for cooling, deck wash downs, live wells, AC systems, head systems, etc. If the hose on the sea-cock breaks, the vessel is sinking with no way to shut off the water coming in. The best way I've found to keep them working is at least twice a season open and close the valve several times until it feels normal, not stiff! Keeping tapered wooden plugs of the correct size close to the sea-cocks can help prevent a disaster if the seacock itself breaks off.
- Inoperative bilge pumps, auto-float switches and no high water alarm.
Bilge pumps are designed to remove incidental water only, they will not keep a vessel from sinking if a hose breaks off or a hole gets poked into the bottom of the vessel. They will remove rainwater, raw water runoff and handle small leaks so they need to be working, auto-float switches working, mounted correctly and it"s always a good addition to have a high water alarm, which signals the person at the helm that there"s a problem.
- CO & Smoke detectors.
These are inexpensive units design to detect carbon monoxide gas and fires. They are only good for five to seven years depending on the manufacturer due to the half-life of the sensor. I've seen them unplugged, batteries removed because owners complained they were beeping all the time. That is the detector telling you it"s expired and no longer functioning properly.
- GFCI outlet failures or missing from wet areas.
These are designed to prevent shock hazards in wet areas such as heads, galley"s or decks exposed to wet conditions. They have a test and reset button that should be tested frequently, they are also inexpensive to replace. They are not however ignition protected so shouldn't be mounted anywhere that is required to be ignition protected such as engine compartments of gas vessels.
- Waste holding tank overboard discharge not secured.
This system is designed to pump the waste holding tank overboard and depending on where the vessel is being used there are laws that regulate if it can be used or limitations on usage. This may seem trivial until the vessel owner gets a $5,000 fine from the USCG because his kid accidentally pumped the tank while playing with switches.
- Life jackets stored in inaccessible areas.
"Readily accessible" is the term the USCG uses! If the vessel is sinking you"re not going to run into the forward cabin to get life jackets out of a locker or under a berth, they should be kept near the helm, easy to access in case of emergency.