Marine Surveys for Refit Planning — An Overview

Dan Robsham, NAMS, CMS

During my 37 years of professional work as a licensed Marine Engineer, an accredited Marine Surveyor, and an Owner’s Representative in the US and Europe, I’ve participated in many surveys aboard large yachts and ships.

REPAIR & REFIT Report has asked me to discuss how marine surveys are – or should be – used in refit planning. In both study and practice, it’s a complex subject.  To begin with, since every yacht or vessel repair and reconstruction project is different, the topic of approaches to organizing work lists and shipyard bid packages is one so full of possibilities that a whole book might be needed to describe them properly.  But for now, let’s look at some of the most common large-yacht-related marine surveys and how they can be used for effective and successful refit planning. 

It should be safe to presume that professional captains and crew, and diligent owners, are constantly examining and monitoring different aspects of the condition of the yachts or vessels in their care, and that they truly understand the nature of the conditions aboard.

For example, while smaller yachts might have an owner-prepared worklist written after a season’s use, larger crewed yachts will have an ongoing worklist that includes such things as machinery operating hours logged, details of equipment to be serviced or repaired, and spare or replacement parts needed.

They maintain such records because they represent – or should represent – up-to-date “status” reports on the vessel’s vitals. So, when the time comes for the yard period, whether it be required or by choice, there is a reliable record of essential things aboard that may need attention. Perhaps a “baseline,” as it were, for developing the refit plan. This allows the captain, crew and for larger yachts the shore based technical team, to obtain time and cost estimates from manufacturers, known or recommended vendors. The details resulting from these efforts can then be organized for the owner or the manager’s review and authorization, and a refit can be budgeted and scheduled with some measure of reliability.

Larger yachts will be surveyed many times during their lifetime, and the information gleaned from the process is quite valuable for planning, be it in advance of a planned refit or during an unplanned damage repair situation.

Classification and flag state surveys must be regularly completed onboard classed or commercially operated yachts, and this requires access, testing and often repairs.  The work associated with class and flag state surveys should automatically be included at the earliest stage of refit planning.

Marine Surveys

The most common marine surveys for large yachts include:

Condition & Valuation Surveys for Purchase, Insurance or Financing

Condition Surveys for Owners

Damage Surveys

Classification & Flag State Surveys

Condition & Valuation Surveys

Condition & valuation surveys are conducted in association with yacht purchasing, financing, or insurance underwriting, and determining the condition and estimated value of the yacht is the obvious goal. The examinations and reporting will vary according to the vessel size and type, as well as the needs of the instructing client, be it a buyer, a bank, or an underwriter.

The yacht’s identifying details, a series of findings regarding the hull, machinery, equipment and rigging, as well as recommendations associated with the safety or maintenance of the yacht will be reported. And while lots of people dream of “turnkey” purchases, the survey sometimes plants the seeds that grow to become refits, particularly where a new owner wants to change or update a yacht before using it.

The survey findings may be quite basic on a smaller yacht, such as replacement of a fire extinguisher or restoring a piece of equipment to operation.  On larger yachts, the recommendations may indicate a need for specialist or extensive repairs. In any case, the survey findings and resultant worklists can get long.

Condition & valuation survey findings should be scrutinized by the yacht’s team, and relevant items included in a refit plan or bid package.  Obtaining the survey recommendations in a spreadsheet format is useful, so that they can be used to organize a refit work list, estimate the costs, or more easily follow the work list item status.  While it is an extra step in reporting, it is a valuable service for the end user planning a refit.

Condition Surveys for Owners

Some yacht captains, managers and owners will request a condition survey for their own internal use.  For lack of another term, one might call these surveys, “Condition Surveys for Owners”, even if the end user is the yacht’s crew or a management company.  In my opinion, these are the most valuable surveys for advance refit planning.

This type of condition survey should be completed well before a refit, with a view to identifying and quantifying issues that need attention.

These surveys are usually requested by professional crews that are employed by proactive, experienced owners.  The yachts involved are almost always high visibility operations, well maintained and funded.  That said, more than one skillful captain has used a condition survey to direct the owner’s attention to the conditions aboard a “less than pristine” yacht.

Condition surveys for owners should be organized to best suit the needs of the situation.  Since the yacht’s team will already know the basic timing, budget and extent of a refit, an advance condition survey helps them identify and quantify issues that will negatively affect costs and schedules if detected only after the refit starts.

Specialist surveyors and technicians for coatings, low and high voltage electrical systems, engines, main machinery, AVIT and Comm-Nav electronics can all assist in completing a detailed pre-refit condition survey.

Damage Surveys

Damage surveys will be completed after a damage incident to determine the nature and extent of onboard damage, as well as to identify the needed repairs.  A damage survey might also identify the cause of the incident, the parties and circumstances involved and estimate the approximate cost and time to repair the damage.

Because damage surveys are performed in response to an incident, they are obviously more closely aligned with accomplishing immediate repairs than advance refit planning, but the technical and cost concerns are the same.

It is important to remember that a thorough damage survey will not only identify what is damaged, but also the ancillary work needed to repair it.  Access, ventilation, climate control, dry docking, lighting, tank cleaning, support services, removals, transport, storage, engineering services, classification services, reinstallations and testing may each be needed in various combinations.  Such additional work and services will be a large part of the eventual repair cost, and as such must be recognized in the repair planning, and as applicable, the insurance claim.

Some damage surveys will need only a brief visit by a single surveyor to complete, while complex situations may require multiple surveyors reinforced by subject experts and legal teams to sort out.

Regardless of the circumstances, the basic result should be the same.  The damage survey report must provide an objective, detailed list of damage and necessary repairs that can be used immediately to form the backbone of a repair work package.

Classification & Flag State Surveys

Classification and Flag State regulatory surveys are performed aboard larger “classed” yachts and yachts that operate in commercial service.  Because the satisfactory completion of regulatory surveys is a pre-requisite for insurance and commercial operation, refits of the largest yachts are inevitably planned around the timing and requirements of regulatory surveys, and not the other way around.

Class society survey requirements are published as part of their Rules, and the details can easily be found online at the websites of ABS, LR, BV and DNV-GL.   Similarly, the flag states most identified with yachts such as the UK, Cayman Islands, Marshall Islands and others also publish their survey requirements on line.

Since the regulatory drydocking and five year “special” surveys require access to the underwater parts of the yacht, tank internals or the disassembly of machinery for inspection, these surveys are almost always carried out a shipyard.

It is essential that refit planning for larger yachts anticipates the schedules, services and work associated with regulatory surveys.

Refit Planning

When planning a refit, it is useful to organize the work items into categories relevant to the work needed.  The basic work categories for a refit project include:





Paint Coatings

Deck Outfitting

Interior Outfitting

Safety Equipment & Systems



Most everything that needs to be done during a refit can be categorized under one of those main headings.  Captains and crews are quite familiar with organizing their refit worklists in a similar fashion, including additional sub-categories and details.

Some refit work items might fall into several categories, such as an integral tank that requires not only recoating, but also structural repairs.

Since the purpose of this article is not to show how to make a detailed refit plan, but rather to illustrate how surveys and the resulting reports can assist with the task, a few examples are provided below.

Hull Works

Hull maintenance and repairs can be anticipated and accounted for using condition survey information.

Steel and aluminum yachts tend to corrode from the inside out, so a detailed check of the hull, tanks, bilges and dry spaces should be carried out.  Shifting fixed ballast, opening tanks and removing linings may all be necessary to understand the true condition of a yacht’s hull.  Surveys will often report corrosion under equipment, in tank margins and in way of bilges.   The lower sections of bulkheads, forepeaks and chain lockers are often found wanting.

Fiberglass yachts can suffer from moisture intrusion, dis-bonding, hull blisters and stress fractures for a variety of reasons.  Incorporating the results of an advance, hull examination into a refit plan will help avoid unanticipated costs and repair time.

Machinery Works

Condition surveys will include machinery operational tests.  The testing can reveal conditions such as fouled or improperly assembled coolers, worn running gear, pumps and sealing surfaces.  While most onboard engineers have an excellent understanding of the yacht’s machinery and its condition, problematic conditions can be overlooked due to the pressures of day to day yacht operations.

Engine surveys, air conditioning system surveys and sea trials all form part of good refit planning.  The best results are achieved by including a review of oil analysis records and vibration measurement / analysis in a machinery condition survey.  Machinery survey data is particularly useful for identifying work that will involve ordering long lead parts and specialist services.


Electrical equipment and machinery can be evaluated by several survey techniques, including infrared imaging, current, voltage, insulation resistance and temperature measurements, vibration and power analysis.  Certain test equipment is expensive and is typically not found onboard, particularly where system voltages exceed 1000 volts.  An electrical survey can clarify if electrical equipment can be serviced in place, or if shop level repairs are needed.

Electrical surveys that include operational tests and measurements will provide results that can help define an electrical work package.

Topside Coatings

Topside or “high gloss” coatings are one of the most expensive and time-consuming aspects of a yacht refit, work sitting firmly astride the project’s critical path – and atop the invoice.

The yacht’s paint and fairing conditions should be objectively pre-identified and documented so in-process change orders can be avoided during the refit itself.  A few examples of what affects the cost of a yacht’s topside paint job include:

  • Blisters that will require repair of fairing and possibly substrates
  • Unfair areas that will require additional fairing and sanding before priming
  • Areas that have been repeatedly top-coated and will require longboarding
  • Primers needed to deal with existing coating system conditions
  • Ceramic coating treatments applied to a yacht’s topcoat
  • Removal and reinstallation of caulking and fittings

So, in this instance, a thorough coatings survey can be used to plan the necessary work and negotiate baseline as well as unit rate costs, right up front.

Tank Coatings

Tank and underwater coatings will deteriorate in service.  The disruption associated with preparing and recoating tanks during a refit is significant.  Tank access, cleaning, ventilation and protection are all necessary and costly pre-requisites.  The surface preparation, paint materials and in process inspections will all vary widely depending on the service of the tank and conditions present at the time of a refit.

Accordingly, the most detailed advance tank examinations possible should be a part of refit advance planning, even if it means accessing and cleaning out tanks well before the yacht goes to the yard.

I recently encountered a set of waste water tanks with widespread paint blistering.  Given that these tanks had previously been properly cleaned, grit blasted and recoated with top quality product, the problem was disconcerting.  In the end, improper ventilation during curing was found to be the root cause of the issue and the tanks had to be re-coated.  The survey information was then used to prepare the tank coating work package for the yacht’s next refit.

Underwater Area Coatings

Antifouling systems are expensive to maintain. The condition of the existing paint system, surface preparation needed, the paint used, and the application method will all affect the refit cost and time.

The usage patterns of the yacht will dictate the type and thickness of the antifouling paint itself, however the condition and thickness of the underlying coating system will greatly affect what must be done on dry dock.  The work might vary from a fresh water washdown followed by an antifouling touch up upward to a full grit blast removal and reinstatement of a complete coating system.

Knowing the condition of the anodes and the area of the hull bottom that must be scraped free of marine growth is essential to preparing the concise work package necessary for a meaningful cost estimate.

While it might not be possible to fully evaluate the condition of a yacht’s underwater area coatings before going on drydock, the coating history and survey reports from prior refits should be available and reviewed.  An underwater examination should be carried out by divers, be they from the yacht’s crew or a specialist diving contractor.

As is the case for any refit work that has the potential to increase or decrease in scope, work package should then be tailored to suit the most likely scenario, with unit rates negotiated for greater or lesser work.

Works for Class & Flag

Most large yachts that are classed or commercially operated have skilled crews and managers that participate in the refit planning.  Since regulatory surveys run across almost all the main refit categories, the yacht’s team will organize the basics of the refit around the regulatory survey tasks that must be completed.

For example, during a special survey on drydock, at minimum the hull will be cleaned, sea chests and sea valves opened, tanks accessed and examined.  Ultrasonic thickness soundings may be taken on steel and aluminum hulled yachts.  The machinery will be variously examined or disassembled.  The anchor chains will be ranged and measured, and the operation of vital safety systems confirmed.

Since these survey tasks can be anticipated years in advance, refit planning for classed and commercial yachts can be arranged to efficiently comply with regulatory requirements.

In Closing

Yacht refits are more easily planned and organized when relevant survey findings are available and used.

The findings of a pre-purchase survey will help a new owner and captain get started with the yacht. Captains and owners that take advantage of internal condition surveys will be well placed to plan and decide when and what to maintain, repair or service onboard.

Damage surveys help owners, captains, underwriters, and others understand what has been damaged and what it will take to fix it – in terms of materials, services, time and money.

Classification societies and flag administrations have their own well-defined survey requirements.  Understanding applicable regulatory requirements when planning for what must be surveyed when is essential to a successful and cost-effective large yacht refit.

Dan Robsham is a licensed chief engineer and a NAMS certified hull & machinery surveyor.  His seagoing career has included assignments on motor, steam and gas turbine vessels.  Formerly an ABS Americas and ABS Europe classification surveyor, Dan has worked since 1999 as a surveyor and owner’s shipyard representative for new build and repair projects totaling over $2.5 billion worldwide.