I hired TWO surveyors, not associate surveyors, to look at the boat that I eventually bought (for a lot more than $1500). Their prices (in the northeast US) were over $20/foot to complete a survey. I was not impressed with EITHER of them, and they both missed things that should have appeared prominently in their report.
However, having said that, I definitely would get a survey from a professional. It will buy you peace of mind from someone that is not emotionally involved in your purchase of the boat. If you are taking a loan, or buying insurance, it will probably be necessary anyway.
I would not hesitate to hire an associate surveyor over a fully accredited surveyor if I was confident in their ability, and comfortable working with them. Make sure that your surveyor (especially an associate) will be acceptable to your insurance company before you hire them.
In the hope that you can learn from the education that I paid for; here are a bunch of qualifying questions that you can use to vet your surveyors before hiring any of them:
- Can you please send me an example survey?
- If the survey is halted by me, because of a serious defect, will you charge extra should I wish to continue/complete the survey after the defect is addressed?
- Do you charge for travel time?
- Will you inspect the standing rigging?
- In the event that the survey is halted, how would you expect to be compensated? (hourly / flat fee / other?)
- How far in advance of the survey should I request that it be preformed? (ie. What is your lead time?)
I would expect that the answer from a reputable surveyor to question 1 to be an emphatic YES, and to questions 2-4 would be NO. Questions 5 & 6 are just to help you understand.