Spotlight on Yacht Surveyor Ian Kerr

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Navigator sits down with renowned yachting industry Yacht Surveyor Ian Kerr who shares his industry expertise.

Q How did you get your start in the yachting industry and how did you become a yacht surveyor?
A I started in the yachting industry in 1973 as an apprentice boat builder in New Zealand. In 1979, I delivered a yacht to the States; I was part of the build team for this yacht. From there, it was a slow progression. I became a yacht captain and ran yachts for several years; these included racing sailboats and larger yachts. In 1992, when my daughter was born, I decided to move ashore and combine my original boat building training with the knowledge I garnered while at the helm as a captain to become a yacht surveyor.

Q Please share with us a bit of insight on your current role as a yacht surveyor.
A Currently, I am working on new build projects in Germany, Holland, Italy and the U.S. as the owners’ surveyor. I also am involved in regular pre-purchase condition surveys, valuation surveys for banks and the occasional insurance claim as the owner’s representative. About 60 percent of this involves new construction yachts and about 40 percent is pre-purchase.

Q What is the most difficult aspect of your position as a yacht surveyor?
A I have to say that the fact that there are no non-disclosure laws can make it tough. It is buyer beware. If you’re selling a yacht, you don’t have to disclose anything. It then falls to the surveyor to find any problems.

Q How long would you say it takes to do a full survey?
A The length of a survey first and foremost depends on the size of the vessel. The average yacht size that I survey is between 40 and 60 meters. This will take three or four men, between three and five days on board, including haul-out for bottom examination and a sea trial. We also survey smaller yachts that can be done in one or two days.

Q What is the most common issue you find on yachts that you survey?
A Honestly, it’s different every time. The common issues generally are based on the age of the yacht, how it’s built, where it was built and how it’s been maintained, but every day is an education.

Q What is the best advice you would give to an owner before beginning a survey on a yacht for purchase?
A I would say, “ask questions and hire a reputable surveyor.” Oftentimes the representations of the yacht are not 100 percent accurate. Brokers are not yacht surveyors, so they are giving out the information that they are given. While they have some expertise to look at a yacht to decide if it’s good or not, they may not be the most objective. A classic example is to measure the draft; I often find that the draft is misrepresented; this is a critical facet of the yacht if the owner wants to use it for cruising in The Bahamas.

Q Please share with us a glimpse of what you’re looking for when doing a survey.
A I have a worksheet that I work off and we have templates, but each survey is different because each yacht is different. After surveying yachts for so many years, we have created check lists for yachts that are type-specific. As surveyors, we must be objective about the condition of the yacht on the day it is surveyed. The survey belongs to the instructing client. Sometimes the potential buyer wants clarification or has questions; sometimes, he or she wants to cut out a deal. The survey report clarifies the condition of the yacht and this may result in an adjustment of the sale price.

Q Please share your best advice for a seller going into a survey.
A I’d suggest to any owner to have the yacht surveyed before you go to sell it. This way, there are fewer surprises when the buyer commissions a survey. There are several yachts for which I perform annual audits. These audits are completely non-threatening for the captain and crew. As such, they are more likely to share with me information about any issues. It basically becomes a joint survey with the owner’s crew assisting. We can then advise the owner of any items that need to be addressed or anticipated and the owner can then plan the use of the yacht with less chance of an issue that could affect the sale of or the use and enjoyment of the yacht. Generally, the yachts that practice regular surveys are the yachts with the least amount of issues.

Q What are some of the worst things you’ve seen during a survey?
A I’ve witnessed yachts that are patently unsafe in terms of their overall condition and the condition of the safety and lifesaving equipment on board. When we come across a yacht like that, there is a high probability that there are multiple problems. When we see an item on a yacht, particularly related to safety, that needs to be addressed, we will advise the crew during the survey; then it also will be identified in the report for the client. On occasion, we will find that with smaller yachts run by an owner/operator or perhaps a captain with no engineer, they truly aren’t aware of problems, which is why surveys are important even if you’re not planning to sell.

Q What is a captain’s role during the survey process?
A Captains factor in a lot; engineers and crew also are important. If they know their yacht well, it not only saves us time, but it also saves sellers and buyers money. A good yacht is easier to survey than a bad yacht. On a good yacht, we can normally survey faster, particularly if we have assistance from the crew and the crew are familiar with the yacht.

Q Where do brokers fit in during the survey process?
A Most brokers do a fabulous job of organizing a survey; these brokers are realistic with regard to timelines, setting up the dry docking, liaising with the shipyard, etc. There is a definite difference between surveys with brokers who are experienced and organized, and surveys with brokers who are not. While the lack of organization might not make or break the deal on the yacht it can cost extra time, which will in turn cost extra money. The organization of the broker is important.

Q Do you have any final thoughts to share with us on yacht surveys and surveyors in the yachting industry?
A We are in the business of helping people buy or sell yachts, but we want them to know what they’re buying. Part of being a good surveyor is being part of the solution. If we identify problems, we generally also identify solutions. We write them as recommendations. We always give a course of action that is the client’s option to follow. It’s a pretty cool business because every day is an education on how to do it or how not to do it. Every yacht is different, so it never gets boring and we get to work with interesting and successful people.

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