View From Aloft

As a surveyor I’m always walking on thin ice, so I’ll test the thickness once again. When you order a survey on an auxiliary sailing vessel, be sure that your surveyor is willing to perform an aloft inspection.

Lots of my peers don’t agree with me, and I’ll take some heat over this one, but thats just because they suffer from acrophobia or are too out of shape to do the job. If they don’t go aloft on sailing vessels to inspect the rig, they probably don’t get down to the engine compartment, and inspect the machinery on power boats; its almost as simple as that.

Have I had a few close calls in twenty one years of going aloft? Sure I have. The fact is that you can’t tell your client that the rig isn’t coming down on his or her head if you don’t go and take a look.

Just last week when I got to the top floor I found the head stay fitting on the deck stepped mast cracked through and lived to tell the story. You could not have identified this problem from deck level. If your surveyor doesn’t understand the dynamics and construction of standing and running rigging or how to safely get aloft, they have no business giving you an opinion about anything above deck level. Go get another surveyor. You can’t inspect a vessel’s mast head with binoculars. I use a 10X monocular two to three inches away from the item in question.

I give my client or anyone else present on the date of the survey implicit instructions on how to handle the precious cargo. I no longer use a chair, but a climbing harness, a safety harness, a safety strap, and a mechanical ascender. I carry a 10X monocular, a micrometer, a digital camera, voltmeter, and a straight Phillips screwdriver.

It helps to tell the broker or owner that if someone drops me, the boat flunks survey, and I’ll be sure to fall on their head. If you take the necessary precautions going aloft, it is probably more safe than driving to the survey in your car. The only time I’m really uncomfortable going aloft is on unstayed rigs, such as carbon fiber masts. I always feel like a hog on the end of a fly rod when I get to the mast head.

There are many components that are interdependant on each other that compose the modern mast head rig and each one deserves close scrutiny. Most surveys are performed in day light hours and steaming lights, anchor lights, and tri-color lights need to be inspected and proved operational as well.

I normally spend 30-45 minutes aloft to complete the job and usually find it quite refreshing to escape the normal stresses of the buyer, seller, and broker. When I get back down to deck level, I always say, Praise God and thank the crew the Turkey has landed. If your surveyor won’t go aloft, give them my number and I will in detail tell them what gear to aquire and explain in detail how to safely get the job done. No one would expect his or her Dentist to inspect their mouth from fifty feet away, you need to get up close and personal to perform the job. I always take a photo of the vessel’s deck and crew from aloft. It gives them a different perspective. I hope that my efforts in the past two decades have helped my clients keep their mast head high, and their crews safe from danger. It is really a lot simpler to inspect a power boat, you don’t have to get so high to do it. Not inspecting the rig is like buying a car without opening the hood. thats a no brainer.

Some surveyors will say strike the mast for inspection, or go up in a crane bucket. Others will suggest a separate electrical inspection by a qualified Marine Electrician. If a surveyor defers to inspect rigging, electrical components, machinery, sails, and suggests experts be called in to perform seperate surveys, the average buyer may run out of money before the purchase is made. Surveyors should be general practitioners and fully capable of identifying potential problems, no matter how lofty, that do require a separate expert technician to be called in if deemed necessary.

As I ascend to do my job, I discuss my keeping with the one above. When all is done and I’m safely down, I praise his name for solid ground.

Happy sailing and remember, the Lord loves boaters.

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