Buying a new or used Canal Boat – a surveyor’s advice

Mike Carter is a well respected marine surveyor with experience in boat repairs and maintenance. Here are a few brief thoughts with regard to buying a new or second hand (or more) canal boat.

Mike operates Marine Surveys Ltd which has a website at
which details his services. Based in the Northwest he undertakes commissions throughout Britain and across Europe.


What to look for

I always encourage boat buyers to go over the boat very thoroughly and make sure that they are truly happy with the craft before they commission a professional survey. Clients of mine have been deterred from buying a craft once I have reported to them defects that they could have discovered for themselves, had they looked beyond the fit out and decor, or removed their ‘rose coloured spectacles’. There is a limit to what you can see if the craft is in the water, but you can check the accessibility of internal cabin areas and components, such as how much of the floor comes up, could the toilet holding tank be changed if it were to be holed, is the calorifier accessible, are the systems, wiring etc, neat and tidy etc. etc.

It is always a good idea to establish, as far as is possible, what maintenance has been carried out to the craft and by whom. You could always ask to see any receipts the vendor may have for maintenance or materials costs and especially for any slipping or docking fees, and ask to see paperwork to back up claims any that engines or systems have been ‘overhauled’ or ‘reconditioned’.
You should be aware that a Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) pass Certificate is NOT a craft survey and only represents compliance with a certain set of minimum safety standards on the day it was issued. This is also true of new craft which are CE marked in accordance with the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) 94/25/EC. The RCD is not necessarily a mark of quality, but a mark of compliance with ‘Essential Safety Requirements’ – just as it is with a domestic kettle. You can spend £5 or £50 on a CE marked kettle and they both comply to their essential safety requirements but one may be judged to be ‘of better quality’. More details of the Boat Safety Scheme at

Buying a boat is a major investment and should be treated with appropriate care and caution.
Many buyers engage a marine surveyor, to produce an independent survey on a used boat, or to oversee the whole process of building a new boats on their behalf.

The Canal Boatbuilders Association (01952 813572) produce a handbook containing advice. The British Marine Federation (01784 232600) have standard contracts for the purchase of new and used boats.

Boat on the Ellesmere Arm

Why Have A Survey?

Many buyers of new boats choose to employ surveyors to monitor the building process, either because they want to be sure of the quality of the craft throughout its build or simply because the craft is being built a distance from their home. – a good idea if you are spending such a large sum of money.

If you are buying a used boat it can be the case that those buyers who take a friend along who claims to ‘knows about boats’ are often the ones who are least well informed about the craft they are buying or have bought. A professional independent surveyor is commissioned for their impartial and informed opinion generally drawing from a broad experience and often charging less than the cost of a service on a car or the premiums for one year’s insurance.

Insurance companies will invariably want an independent valuation survey before providing cover, especially if as on some policies, the insured sum is the payout in a total loss. In addition, also many insurance underwriters require a hull condition survey before they will offer cover. Therefore, for a few pounds more, a condition survey before the craft is purchased can better inform the buyer of the craft they are intending to buy, offer a valuation if requested and provide the relevant information to the insurance underwriters in order that they may offer insured cover.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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