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How Do I Find a Surveyor?

Get Your Boat Surveyed — By Mike Smith

It seems every ex-boat captain claims to be a surveyor, and every boatyard and yacht broker has a list of “experts” who will “do a good job.” Some of them are excellent surveyors, but which ones? How do you find a skilled surveyor you can trust to be unbiased (i.e. not a shill for the boatyard) and qualified in your type of vessel? As is so often the case today, the search starts on the internet—specifically, on the Web site of one, or all, of three associations: NAMS, SAMS, or BoatUS. Start with NAMS and SAMS.

Moisture meters are like radars. Users tend to have varying levels of interpretational skill.

Moisture meters are like radars. Users tend to have varying levels of interpretational skill.

Most experienced surveyors serious about the profession belong to either NAMS, the National Association of Marine Surveyors (—Crosby has been a certified member since 1979—or SAMS, the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors ( Both are trade organizations, not government bodies, that certify (NAMS) or accredit (SAMS) surveyors through peer review; they do not issue licenses. (There is no surveyor’s license, by the way, although many surveyors have USCG captain’s licenses, business licenses, etc.) The requirements for full membership differ slightly between NAMS and SAMS, but basically they are equivalent: An applicant must have at least five years surveying experience, must submit past surveys for review, must agree to abide by the organization’s code of ethics, and must pass a comprehensive exam. Continuing education for qualified surveyors is required by both organizations.

NAMS is the older organization, incorporated in 1962 by a group of surveyors who had formerly been associated with Underwriters’ Laboratories Marine Department. Initially there were 84 members; today NAMS has certified surveyors in 32 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 12 foreign countries. SAMS is a relative newcomer, founded in 1987 by 50 charter members for “a different purpose and outlook” from the existing professional surveyors’ organizations, according to the SAMS Web site. Today there are over 1,000 SAMS surveyors in the U.S. and 20 foreign countries. Both organizations’ Web sites have searchable lists of members; look for surveyors with specific yacht or small-craft credentials. 

You can also check the BoatUS Web site ( for a nationwide list of surveyors approved by that association’s insurance underwriters. Most are NAMS or SAMS members; those who are not are carefully screened, says Scott Croft, director of public relations for BoatUS. “To get on our BoatUS Directory of Marine Surveyors, those surveyors that aren’t members of SAMS or NAMS must go through a rigorous vetting process, where a committee looks at credentials, work samples, and other factors,” he continues. BoatUS underwriters will accept insurance surveys from any NAMS or SAMS member with yacht and small-craft qualification, but “we don’t include all members of SAMS or NAMS [in our directory] as they must individually opt in to appear,” adds Croft.

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