Who is a Marine Surveyor – Responsibilities, Qualifications, and Skills

Shipyards take great care in designing and building ships, with regular inspections. They are aware that every mistake they make will cost them heavily in terms of delays and fines.

Once the construction of a ship is finished, the shipowners must then ascertain that the vessel meets the standard laid out in the building contract.

Although most organizations employ in-house specialists, who ensure that the vessel meets the benchmark and an independent inspection may sometimes be required for the same.

Third-party inspectors may need to separately conduct a survey of a vessel. Generally, marine insurers might require an assessment of the condition of a vessel prior to some legal arbitration. Or standardization bodies might need people who are qualified to ascertain the seaworthiness of a ship prior to being registered. In all these scenarios, specialists with an enormous amount of maritime experience and knowledge often handle the situation.

These specialists who inspect and monitor various ships are known as “Marine Surveyors”. Considered to be one of the most prestigious vocations in the industry, it demands a great deal of technical know-how.

In this article, we will dive into the world of marine surveyors, and analyse their responsibilities, qualifications, and skills.

What are the Duties of a Marine Surveyor?

Marine surveyors can inspect all types of ships, right from pleasure yachts that are under 20 meters, all the way up to tankers measuring over 200 meters. To ensure proper functioning and disbursement of duties, there are a number of different responsibilities that these surveyors are required to fulfil.

The primary responsibility of a marine surveyor is conducting thorough and extensive surveys of a ship. Prior to delivery, a complete analysis of the entire vessel must be carried out, as this determines the initial seaworthiness of the vessel.

While playing an important role in maritime arbitration and insurance, it also lets the shipowner know that the vessel they are receiving is in the best possible condition.

During the life of the vessel, various surveys are carried out for different reasons. This could be annual surveys that are used to study the vessel performance on a yearly basis. Or there could be interim surveys that are intended to inspect specific parts of a ship. In case of registration or other formalities, special surveys can also be conducted.

Another responsibility of a marine surveyor is to ensure that machinery and equipment are functioning as required. This includes essential components such as engines, communications and navigation. It also requires emergency and safety equipment to be checked under realistic operating conditions. The surveyor must witness the tests taking place and should also ascertain that any generated reports fall within the acceptable standards.

Along with inspections, surveyors must ascertain the load regulations and limits that have been calculated for a vessel. Gross tonnage and deadweight tonnage (DWT) are to be cross-checked with the values stored in the stability handbook of the ship. Checking the load lines and draft markers are also required, as some companies may attempt to overload their ships. The surveyor assists in load line assignments and checks weight distribution as well.

The next duty that surveyors are required to perform is the investigation of maritime accidents. This could be as a part of an insurance organization, or from the shipowners’ side. When it comes to claiming marine insurance, ascertaining the condition of the ship prior to the accident is important.

Determining the extent of the damage is also required. For this, marine surveyors consult reports of the vessel before the accident. In case of being submerged, salvage operations may be required. Prior to commencing a salvage, surveys may also be conducted to ensure that the wreck can be safely moved without damage to both the vessel and the surrounding biosphere. These marine surveyors can also be employed by Protection and Indemnity (P&I) insurance companies to work as third-party specialists for ascertaining damage compensation.

In case of an accident, a marine surveyor will be required to investigate the occurrence from an official capacity as deemed by a relevant court of maritime law. They report to the court in all matters pertaining to the condition and performance of the ship. They also act as expert witnesses who can provide a clear picture of the condition of the ship. In case of any deaths, the surveyor may have to assist the coroner in ascertaining probable causes and locations of demise. Thus, marine surveyors also play an important role in maritime law and serve as advisors to a court of law.

Lastly, surveyors can also be tasked with a fair and unbiased evaluation of maritime assets. When buying a ship from another party, it would be wise to engage a marine surveyor to determine the condition of the boat that you are receiving. In case you wish to sell a ship, surveyors provide a realistic figure for the market value of the ship, known as the Fair Market Value, that is from an unbiased analysis. During damage reports or component replacements, marine surveyors may also determine the expected costs to be incurred while accounting for various factors in the industry.

Some of the other duties that marine surveyors can perform include:

1. Marine warranty surveys
2. Charter surveys
3. Flag state surveys
4. Offshore structural surveys
5. Hull and equipment surveys
6. Cargo surveys

The Different Types of Surveyors

Since this industry is incredibly diverse and vast, different surveys are carried out by specialised surveyors who are experts in their respective fields. In this section, we will look at the various types of surveyors and the organizations that they fall under.

There can be two main types of surveyors depending on their primary objectives- proactive surveyors, and reactive surveyors. Proactive surveyors aim to identify problems before they occur. In general, they are given responsibility for assessing a vessel prior to purchase, or during routine checks.

In case any flaw or damage is located, a probable mishap is averted. Hence, the surveyors are considered to be proactive. On the other hand, reactive surveyors are called in after some incident has occurred. They include insurance, arbitration, and claimant surveyors. Since they assess the vessel as a reaction to some occurrence, they are referred to as reactive surveyors.

Now moving on to the main types of surveyors. Cargo surveyors are specialists hired by a charterer or organization that is transporting cargo in bulk. The cargo owner entrusts the surveyor with ensuring that the cargo is loaded and unloaded in a manner that is appropriate. In addition to assessing the cargo operations, the surveyor also calculates the permissible loads, maximum and minimum drafts, and cross-checks the manifest with the loaded cargo.

In the case of loose goods carried in bulk carriers, there may also be a necessity to ensure that there are sufficient provisions to prevent cargo from shifting during the journey. In case of expensive and high-value goods, the surveyor may be required to personally oversee the loading and unloading operations. When transporting goods prone to contamination or infection, the surveyor is responsible for ensuring that precautions are taken to secure the goods in a safe manner. As the name suggests, the cargo surveyor is responsible for all cargo related operations and inspections.

Classification surveyors are representatives of classification society and ensure that a vessel adheres to pre-set regulations. A classification society is a standardization body that is responsible for ensuring that ships are built and operated in a manner that is safe. They may impose restrictions on ships based on the vessel class, and require the ship to maintain these standards to retain their registration under the society.

The Lloyd’s Register, Bureau Veritas, and Indian Register of Shipping are prominent classification societies. These surveyors are required to inspect a vessel and its machinery to ensure that it meets the set standards. They also serve as representatives of the vessel’s flag state, to ensure that domestic statutes are adhered to. A flag state refers to the country’s flag under which a ship operates. This surveyor checks the construction, outfitting, maintenance, pollution levels etc. of a vessel and passes a recommendation to both the flag state and the classification society. If there are any issues, a window of time is provided to correct the problem. These surveyors usually work alongside government surveyors.

Government surveyors are officials that represent two main points of interest- a flag state representative, and a port state representative. The flag state official ensures that a vessel registered under its country meets satisfactory requirements to continue their registration. In case of any prolonged and uncorrected issue, the flag state has the power to suspend or revoke a registration. This prevents the ship from entering any port, as it no longer has any affiliation. On the other hand, the port state official reports to the government of a country in which a particular ship is docked. They are tasked with ensuring that all incoming and departing ships satisfy requirements pertaining to that particular port. In addition to surveying ships, they can also be responsible for ensuring that the draft limits of a port are maintained.

A yacht and small craft (Y&SC) surveyor is responsible for inspecting and monitoring a small boat. They check the various equipment and machinery onboard. Since the majority of these vessels are for personal uses or for pleasure, the owners hire surveyors to inspect their vessel. Although there are some surveyors who operate under organizations, the vast majority of these hires are as independent surveyors.

An insurance and warranty surveyor inspects vessels for insurance and P&I purposes. They can be hired by either party in an insurance claim. For instance, insurance companies often hire staff surveyors to estimate the damage and determine whether it falls under a valid insurance claim. The claimant, on the other hand, would hire a surveyor to conduct a private inquiry, and may use their report in a court of maritime law. Although insurance companies often suggest that claimants hire a surveyor to run their own analysis, both parties prefer involving an unbiased third-party. It is illegal for an insurance company to force a particular surveyor on the claimant.

Lastly, an independent surveyor is an individual who carries surveys independently, without being associated without any organization. They are usually hired to run private third-party reports on a particular vessel construction or incident. They offer their services in pre-purchase surveys, evaluation, draft surveys, private insurance enquiries etc. Independent surveyors rely mainly on goodwill and spoken publicity for increasing their customer base.

Training, Qualifications and Accreditation

Being a marine surveyor requires several skills that need to be certified from official bodies. The training and certification phase is extremely important as it creates a foundation for being a successful surveyor. To show expertise in certain skills, working in that field for several years can be useful.

For instance, to be a surveyor for container ships, having worked onboard such a ship or at a port terminal can serve as a certification prospective clients wish to see. On the other hand, if you wish to survey a particular domain that you have no valid experience in, being certified by some third-party is possible. Taking specific courses is relatively easy, as there are a large number of bodies that conduct them. These include Lloyd’s Register, Maritime Training Academy, and Det Norske Veritas Germanischer Lloyd (DNV GL). It is interesting to note that most standardization societies provide certification on a large number of maritime courses.

When it comes to certification for Marine Surveying itself, there are relatively few options available. This may be because surveying is a skill learnt with extensive experience, and is not something that can be picked up overnight with a classroom course. Reputation is king in this industry, and no amount of certification will bring in clients unless you possess certain key qualities.

Nevertheless, there are certain international organizations providing certification in this surveying. These include Lloyd’s Maritime Academy, International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS), the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS), and the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS). Members of SAMS, known as Accredited Marine Surveyors (AMS) hold valid certification and represent a large group of surveyors who establish precedents and maintain standards for all members to follow. Most societies suggest getting immediate experience under a marine surveyor after completing their courses. However, one can also directly approach an experienced surveyor at first instead of joining for a course.

The main skills that prospective clients look for in a surveyor are subjective. Generally, well-spoken and confident individuals portray a positive image. However, anyone who is able to prove their expertise in this field is quickly given opportunities. A candidate must be able to write reports in a compact yet detailed manner. Since survey reports are the first impression of any surveyor, they must stick to mutually acceptable standards. In addition to these skills, having prior experience in any field of the maritime industry is preferred. Training under an experienced surveyor is the best method to picking up essentials and useful skills.

Salary and Perks for Marine Surveyors

The enormous responsibility of determining the condition of a ship is by no means an easy job. Livelihoods, industries, and large amounts of money hang in the balance waiting for the marine surveyor’s approval. Being thorough is a necessity, as any error on their part can affect the global shipping industry. Thus, being properly compensated for their skills is also a must. The marine surveying industry has certain standards that ensure their members are provided with adequate benefits as well.

Marine surveyors usually require a minimum experience in the various industry domains that they are tasked to handle. The more the experience, the higher the package they can expect to receive. In addition, certifications from prestigious institutes can also go a long way in ensuring that clients value your opinion. Although starting your career as an independent surveyor will ensure that you receive your entire fee, you will lack in terms of other perks and benefits that organizations can provide you.

The annual salary for a marine surveyor in the USA is estimated to range anywhere between $60,426 and $81,974, with the average salary coming in at $70,089. This salary can depend on the size of the vessel to be surveyed, its location, costs you may incur to prepare a report, the cost of travelling etc. Also, enjoying goodwill amongst reputable ship owning companies will provide you with a good client base. When estimating the average fee or commission per survey, it is important not to follow a ‘one size fits all’ strategy. The perks and benefits that are enjoyed by surveyors engaged with organizations include medical insurance, rent allowances, travel allowances etc. It also provides them with a network of like-minded individuals involved in the same field.

Report preparation is regarded in the marine surveying industry to be a tricky subject. It can be the make-or-break component in any surveyor’s career. A well written and detailed report would increase their client base through word of mouth marketing. On the other hand, a poor report could also effectively tank their prospects. Thus, most marine surveyors go to great lengths to learn the skill of report writing.

The important points to look out for include language that is easy to comprehend, a detailed analysis of the various areas of the vessel, photographs or other visual media to emphasize on a particular finding, and concisely preparing a report. Most clients find reading bulky and large reports to be counterproductive. They prefer to keep away from surveyors who use too many words to convey a simple concept. Being able to write succinct reports that even laymen can understand will go a long way in attracting more customers.

The marine surveying job also features benefits that go beyond the monetary aspects. It is a prestigious occupation that allows you to utilise your skills even after you retire from active sailing. It is also an opportunity to pass on knowledge to other individuals, and actively connect with them.

The bottom line is that this industry presents an amazing chance for motivated individuals to face new challenges every day that put their skills to the test. Based on your marketing and performance, you may be able to make much more than the industry average. It is important to realise that there is no fixed salary or income aspect in this field, as opposed to other industries. Although the above figures are based on extensive studies and research, the actual values may differ depending on your expertise and geographical location.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight.


  1. Very well said, so useful so wonderful it emphasize clear views direct to the point. Many thanks wish to read more from you soon.

  2. I’m really very close to choosing my route to become a Marine Surveyor. This was really helpful


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