We are often asked by clients to look at old Asian trawlers, motor yachts or sailboats. Usually, in
our first conversation leading up to the survey these beloved potential boat buyers say something
like this. We have looked at a lot of boats and this is what we have been looking for and what
we can afford. My first thought is usually, here we go again. Now don’t get me wrong. I want
to survey boats, but our main objective is the eyes wide open theorem. We want to guide our
clients through the mine field without getting them or us financially blown to bits.
Having worked in Taiwan in the early 70’s and my family importing Asian vessels for sixteen
years, I do have some first hand experience upon which to base my opinions and cautionary
Let’s talk about materials and their affect on aging systems.
- Stainless steel: most stainless steel on a vessel’s twenty years and older is poor quality,
low series or has contaminates from re-smelting. This fact affects many components,
tanks, chain plates, salt and potable water system components, exhaust components, and
any of these components failure can cause expensive and often disastrous results.
- Mild steel: Many trawlers and motor yachts had mild steel fuel cells that are subject to
catastrophic failure which can cause severe federal pollution fines and costly machinery
removal to replace. Most of these tanks have ceilings covering them which excludes even
a good partial inspection. Some Asian manufacturers glass reinforce plastic wrapped
these tanks which increases their expected useful service life, but interior corrosion
problems still exist.
- Wiring: I see lots of welding cables used for battery cables. Although their size may be
correct for the load, there are hidden problems. The small individual strands are more
subject to corrosion which results in high resistance especially at lug connections. The
sheathing is not oil or fuel resistant and often feels like melted licorice. The wire itself is
poor quality as well as the buss bar connections. The switches or breakers are
substandard both in material and construction. There is no chafe protection where
passing through partials and battery boxes. The support is usually inadequate. All these
factors coupled with years of add ons by owners and techs not familiar with ABYC
standards makes for a general electrical mess.
IF you are hell bent on buying one, at least be safe and hire an ABYC certified electrician to do a
complete AC and DC inspection to correct what may be multiple unsafe conditions. If you don’t,
my advise is to sleep with an active smoke alarm and a five lb. BCI fire extinguisher to hedge
Plumbing: Many of the sea cocks won’t operate and may have stainless steel tail pieces that are
about to fail or just fall off if bumped. If there are bond wires, you can’t see the connections for
the corrosion. The hoses are another story. Some are suffering from Electro chemical
degradation. Many are delaminating with rusted reinforced wire. When you look up the exhaust
exit, don’t be surprised to see your money going away with the dirty exhaust fumes.
Machinery: Old boats have old machinery and lots of these old engines may be obsolete or some
of the rebuild components are no longer supported by the manufacturer. Have a certified tech do
a mechanical survey on the machinery to determine condition and necessity for repairs. You may
need new mounts, exhaust components, transmissions, shafts. There may not be a good stopping
point with the end result being a re-power.
End game: What looked like your potential dream boat may turn out to be a nautical nightmare.
One of my past clients once remarked to me after the survey. You know, Neil, that is the best
boat I never bought.
Good luck and happy sailing.
Neil K. Haynes June 23, 2017