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I'm an experienced business lawyer. I understand contingencies in a P&S.

No matter. It's not worth the effort to enter into protracted price negotiations after a survey has revealed significant defects in a boat.
You are paying for the survey in either case, aren't you?

If you think enough of the boat to seriously consider an offer, a survey before making the offer costs you nothing, since once you make the offer, you are committed to hiring a surveyor anyway.

Also, getting the survey up front allows me to take all of the significant defects into account up front. If I still like the boat enough to make an offer, I will make the appropriate price adjustments then. I'm not going to get stuck with an uncompensated problem in any event.

That's the way its done in business-- a non bindling letter of intent followed by due diligence, and if the diligence is acceptable, then a P&S with appropriate closing conditions. The residential real estate model, where the P&S is signed first, is far too advantageous for the seller, for whom the brokers work (as do yacht brokers).
I could not disagree more with these posts, but thanks to the posters for expressing their view. My unequivocal position are these...

1. There is no justification whatsoever to survey first, offer later. Way too many of us have had a really nice boat at a nice price sold to the next buyer to walk in the door. The seller has no obligation to hold or sell the boat to you. BIG mistake.

The idea is to tie up the buyer pending survey and sea trial, and even after to allow a counter.

2. Most brokers use pretty much similar purchase offer and sale docs, with minor variation. ALL of them favor the buyer (just as in real estate). Post survey - and at the only the buyer's complete discretion - the BUYER can kill the deal (or make a counter offer) for any reason whatever (and which does NOT have to be stated).

Remember, none of these contracts are chiseled in stone. There is NO standard deposit, and you have every right (and should) make a minimum deposit - even $1. After all it is you - the buyer - that will be spending upwards of $600 or $700 for a survey. It's not a bad idea to insist that the seller pay for the lift, and many contracts make that so.

Bottom Line: only a purchase offer and sale ties up the buyer completely, while you - the buyer - can extract at any time, for no good reason. It would be the height of foolishness to pay $700 for a survey, just to inform the seller who can sell the boat to anyone else before the ink is dry.

Always insist on a P&S. Make only a token or minimal down payment (keep in mind that brokers are NOT to be trusted as escrow agents, and do NOT offer title insurance. Brokers even do a half-arsed job of the title search (more on this later).

Your witness...

11 Posts
Great thread! I would add the following from my personal experience:

1. Great inspection tips on the first page. I would add only the great value of purchasing Don Casey's "Inspecting the Aging Sailboat". He covers a complete and detailed inspection you can learn, but also provides a "30 minute quick inspection". Of the latter he states that the 30 minute inspection can quickly eliminate boats that don't even deserve a complete self-inspection, and definitely don't warrant a survey.

2. Using a combination of the OP's tips, and Don's 30 minute method, I can't tell you how many boats I was able to eliminate quickly, with no further waste of time or money. I found that Florida is rife with junk boats that pass the 30 foot rule (looks good from 30 ft away or in misleading photos). Broker's rep so many boats, they really don't know what they are showing. Example: found one with an inch of oil below the motor, and the broker didn't have a clue. Another had to be shown a huge wet area near the bow was fixed with bondo! I'm serious. Another was surprised when I showed him rotted shoulders around a chainplate.

They rarely know the boat.

3. I carry a small canvas bag with a couple of mini hi-intensity flashlights (one for me, one for my fiance), extendible combination magnet/light, a magnet, magnifying glass, some rubbing compound, couple of cloths, pocket knife, cheapo moisture meter, center punch or pointed tool (even a sharp nail), and a nylon headed tapping hammer.

Some tips:

1. You don't need a $300 analog meter. They are really no more accurate, and you are looking for relative changes anyway. I bought a refurbed Ryobi for around $35 and after examining over 50 boats, I KNOW it works.

2. The Ryobi has 4 settings (softwood, drywall, concrete, hardwood). I found the hardwood setting closely approximates the Electro anyway, shows from about 5-15% for dry areas. Anything over 20% is of concern, in the mid 20's to 30% is awful.

3. I start at the bow, and work back both sides, checking all fittings, stanchion bases, chainplates, mast base, below the portlights, etc. Anyplace there are holes in the deck. Look for silicon sealant (a cheap fix, usually too late). Before you start, check the top or back of the cabin - usually dry - to establish a baseline. If you see a 10 or 15 point jump near the fitting, walk.

Then use your nylon headed hammer (Harbor Freight has a good one - size of a regular hammer, with rounded cone on one side, full round on the other) to tap, tap from a dry area to the high meter reading and listen. You'll soon develop an ear. Still the meter is my primary tool for moisture.

4. Harbor Freight also sells a cheap battery tester (tests load, charge, charging level etc) for around $20.

5. Some key phone questions - before I even waste 30 minutes and driving time include: survey? age/condition of sails/standing rigging? maintenance log and receipts? blisters and treatment? delamination or soft spots? age/hours/model of engine? last time fittings were rebedded?

And this one: what does this boat need to put it back in not average, but good condition and ready for extended cruising? What will it need in the next 6 months? Year?

If the seller doesn't know, or hedges you may not want to bother, or do so only if you're seeing another nearby boat.


Trust me - you will be shocked at how quickly and effectively you can perform a good screening analysis, that will eliminate many boats and save you TONS of time. It's quite possible to check out 3 or 4 boats in a day, to find the one of serious further interest.

You will also find that sellers and brokers will be properly intimidated, when they sense that you know what you are doing.
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