Scott Marine Surveyor of Florida Blog


Posted On: June 03, 2020

Lighted Beacons

The Coast Guard has approved certain lighted beacons as visual distress signals. These include the Sirius Signal Electronic Flare Distress Light from Weems and Plath ($99, It is approved as a day-night flare in coastal waters. It is battery-powered and flashes an SOS signal via an LED light that’s visible up to 10 miles for up to 60 hours.


During the daytime, you can also use an orange distress flag to signal for help. The orange flag measures 3-by-3 feet and includes a black square above a black circle. You can find these at West Marine or online sellers such as Amazon.

Non-Approved Ways to Signal

There are ways to signal that are not approved by the Coast Guard but can still help when all else fails. Does anyone on board have on a brightly colored shirt? Attach it to a boat hook, paddle or oar, and wave it into the air from the tallest accessible point on deck. Buy and learn to use a signal mirror (or any reflective device). Waving both arms from overhead to your hips is a generally recognized help signal. At night, try rapidly turning on and off a flashlight or spotlight to catch the attention of anyone nearby. At the same time, try honking your boat horn. If they don’t see you, maybe they will hear you.



Posted On: May 27, 2020

Not Sea-Trialing The Boat After Repairs Are Made

A client purchased a used powerboat with a large outboard that had a cracked head. Because he wrote into the contract that the engine had to be working before he would buy the boat, the dealer had the engine fixed and claimed they performed a compression test to verify everything was fine. After paying for the boat, the first time the new owner took the boat out, the rod blew a hole in the side of the engine. The dealer he bought it from first said he'd replace it with a used engine, but eventually said that the contract stated that boat was purchased in "as-is" condition and was working on the day of the sale.

Lesson: When contingencies are written into a contract, spell out the details and don't formally accept the boat until you've verified that all repairs have been made properly. Because of the high value of the engine, it would have made sense to have an independent technician check it out and even come along for a sea trial.

Not Letting The Shop Be Involved In The Diagnosis

The small diesel engine in a client's sailboat was having starting issues. He brought it to a shop, and they told him they found water in the cylinders. The shop said they could fix it, but the member decided to buy a new engine himself and have the shop install it. He bought the engine and had it delivered to the shop. The new engine didn't come with such things as a starter, alternator, and intake and exhaust manifolds, so the shop reused the old ones.

After installing the engine, the next spring after only one use, the engine wouldn't start. The shop found water in the cylinders again and claimed their warranty only covered the installation of the new engine. There was no warranty on the old manifolds that leaked into the engine.

Lesson: For major work especially, let the shop recommend the repair. If your engine is running rough and you instruct a shop to, say, replace the carburetor, and that doesn't fix the problem, they will only warranty the work they did on replacing the carb. On the other hand, if you tell the shop the engine is running rough and want them to troubleshoot it and fix it, their warranty will cover a rough-running engine and not simply the parts that you directed them to install.

Not Using A Purchase Contract

A client wanted to buy an old 22-foot sailboat from a private seller for what she thought was a great price. When she looked at the boat, the usual equipment was onboard, such as a battery, anchor, and radio. She gave the seller a deposit and told him she'd be back with the rest of the money the next day. She returned and paid for the boat, but after she got it home and eagerly took the boat out for a quick sail to see how it performed, she noticed that the battery and some other equipment had been removed. The value of missing equipment was nearly half the value of the boat. With no purchase contract spelling out what was to be included in the sale, the member had no recourse.

Lesson: The details of any boat purchase should be included in a simple purchase contract, which will list the price, included equipment, and other details — and should be signed and dated by both parties.



Posted On: May 20, 2020

Renewing your boat’s U.S. Coast Guard documentation

The Coast Guard can't prevent outside vendors from helping boaters with renewals, but it comes at a cost — private companies typically charge three times more than the U.S. Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC).

Some of these third-party companies may also send out official-looking letters offering renewal.

A number of boaters  have complained that these letters direct them to the same misleading websites. Often, the mailings and websites have no easily discernible disclaimers to warn boaters that they are not dealing with the Coast Guard. Some companies may try to get you to pay for two or even five years of renewals, potentially costing boaters hundreds of dollars more than if they did it themselves.

The Coast Guard has confirmed that third-party businesses do not get priority, and paying extra for any "expedited" service will not get your renewal any faster than dealing directly with NVDC.

To easily renew your vessel documentation, simply go to the U.S. Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center website and click on "instructions and forms." Renewal is simple and the cost is approximately $26 per year.

To be documented, a vessel must measure at least 5 net tons and, with the exception of certain oil-spill response vessels, owned by a U.S. citizen. Boats about 27 feet in length or longer generally meet the weight requirement.



Posted On: May 13, 2020

Helping out is not optional. You have a responsibility when you boat.

Asking for Help

Offer to help catch the dock lines of a vessel coming to a dock; however, if the captain or crew wave you off, respect that they have a method and aren’t looking for assistance. If you’re on the ocean, stopping to assist a vessel in distress (or at least offering to relay messages to authorities or rescue agencies) is necessary—you’re legally obligated to render assistance so long as you don’t imperil yourself or your vessel.

VHF Radio Conduct

VHF channel 16 is for hailing and distress calls. Don’t use it for extended chats with other boaters. Once you’ve contacted another vessel ask them to switch to another frequency to continue the conversation. Making a false distress call is against the law. Keep kids off the radio because it’s not a toy.

Frequently Asked Questions on Boating Etiquette

What should I do if I’m a guest on a boat and I feel seasick?

First, tell someone, primarily the captain. Second, don’t go below because that will make it worse. Third, try to lie down or look at the horizon and breathe deeply. There’s no shame in getting seasick but it can be a dangerous condition that makes you weak and disoriented.

When should a Mayday call be made?

Mayday is a distress call that is a request for assistance. It should be made only if there is immediate danger to life, property or the environment. If you’ve run out of gas but are otherwise okay, don’t call a Mayday on the radio. Contact a vessel towing organization or the Coast Guard to relay a request for assistance.



Posted On: May 06, 2020

Wi-Fi has invaded just about every aspect of our lives. It's in our homes, our workplaces, and our cars.

Now it's even showing up on our boats.

But do we really need or want Wi-Fi aboard?

Despite the downsides of cost, complexity, and ceaseless badgering from the outside world, the answer for most of us is a resounding "Yes."

Getting your boat connected has some huge advantages. The enhanced communications offers both convenience and security; the ability to communicate with the cloud allows for effortless marine-electronics software and cartography updates; and the ability to integrate your boat's brain with your phone or tablet makes for easier operation.

With benefits like these, Wi-Fight it?

Before this conversation gets too confusing, we should differentiate between local Wi-Fi networks and those that connect to the rest of the world. Many marine Wi-Fi systems are essentially local network devices that simply integrate several devices on your boat, while others network your boat with the World Wide Web. Both have their own purposes.

Even if your boat can't communicate with the web while at sea, a local Wi-Fi network will allow you to integrate the devices on board it. For example, you could use your phone as a chartplotter repeater or to change the settings on your fishfinder. And some systems can be set up to operate both locally and in a broader context. Cartography updates, for example, can take place on your multifunction display (MFD) screen in real-time by tethering your plotter, fishfinder, and your Navionics app wirelessly. The data you've gathered can then be shared with the rest of the world when you return to port and get reconnected to the rest of the world.

What many of us are really after, of course, is the complete connection. Luckily, in this day and age, you can get one virtually anywhere on Earth. If, that is, you're willing to pay for it. The bottom line? The farther from civilization you get, the more it'll cost you.



Posted On: April 29, 2020

If you're taking a group of friends and family out, follow these tips to make sure you don't overload.

Be Responsible....

Capacity Plates On Smaller Boats

Boats measuring less than 20 feet and powered by a motor are required to carry a plate showing the manufacturer's designed capacity limits. Some manufacturers also provide capacity plates on boats up to 26 feet in length. This plate includes the boat's maximum capacity, usually in number of passengers as well as in total pounds, and may include maximum horsepower as well. Treat these numbers as an upper limit, and don't overly rely on them; if your boat was built before 2011, the capacity plate will assume an average weight per passenger of 160 pounds instead of the 185 pounds now in use. Keeping weight within the boat's capacity limit is key to safety.

Capacity On Larger Boats

If your boat doesn't have a capacity plate, your owner's manual or the manufacturer may offer guidance on how many passengers or how much weight your boat can carry. If not, one rule of thumb, used with caution, is to carry only as many people as there are fixed seats in the main cockpit of the boat; don't include seats in the bow or the flybridge in this calculation. If the boat does not handle well, feels sluggish, rolls excessively, or is taking water in through the scuppers, you need to lighten the load.

People Distribution

Even if your load is less than the maximum, poor weight distribution can still cause a capsize. Don't let everyone gather on one side or at one end of the boat to watch fireworks or help bring a fish aboard. The flybridge offers the best seats in the house, but four or five people on the flybridge with no one down below can cause even 35-foot boats to capsize. Have people take turns up top, and keep the number small enough that the boat doesn't heel or lean as they move around up there. Fore-and aft-weight distribution is just as important as lateral. Keep most of the weight in the center of the boat and as low as possible.

Total Built-In Seats

Don't assume that the total number of seats is the number of passengers you can carry or the best weight distribution for the boat. Many boats have seating in the bow, yet too much weight there while under way can adversely affect the boat's balance, its ability to plane, and your ability to steer while increasing the danger of flooding if you power into a wave or a wake.

Other Weight Distribution

A large cooler filled with liquid in the stern of a center-console boat can cause flooding from wakes or when backing down to bring in a fish. Take into account the levels of fuel and water tanks and bait/fish wells when deciding how you distribute the rest of the weight.

Adjust Weight Distribution Under Way

Proper weight distribution for your boat may not be the same when it is sitting still, running, or running on plane. If you experience poor trim, sluggish steering, or unusual responses when you turn the wheel, you may have a loading problem. Don't attempt to "correct" improper weight distribution with trim tabs. Stop and reconfigure the weight.



Posted On: April 22, 2020

Below is a list of acronyms used in the past.

If there are other marine abbreviations you need an explanation for, or some you think we should include, email us and we'll do our best to answer or add them.

ACR: An automatic charge relay is a one-way gate for voltage that allows the second battery in a system to be charged when the motor is feeding the system via the alternator without having to select "both" on your battery selector switch.

AIS: Automatic Identification System (displays real-time ship and marine traffic positions).

BoatUS App

APP: Not strictly an acronym, but shorthand for application (for mobile phones and tablets).

AWA: Anchor Watch Alarm

CPA: Closest Point of Approach, the predicted minimum distance between your vessel and a target on radar or AIS if you both continue at present course and speed

DSC: Digital Selective Calling (allows a distress signal to be sent from a VHF)

DSM: Digital Sounder Module, also called a black box in some cases, a microprocessor dedicated to interpreting and improving sonar displays on your fishfinder

EBL: Electronic Bearing Line, bearing to a target as displayed on a radar screen OR Exposed Location Buoy if you're talking aids to navigation

EPIRB: Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (used to alert services in an emergency)

GPS: Global Positioning System (a satellite navigation system providing location and time)

IP: Internet Protocol, just a name for how devices speak to each other

Multifunctional display

LED: Short for Light Emitting Diode, a form of semiconductor that gives off light when an electrical current is applied. Far more efficient than incandescent bulbs, they also have a longer lifespan (when fed proper voltage) because there's no filament to break or burn up.

LCD: Liquid crystal display, just another way of making images appear on a screen

MFD: Multifunction display. Your chartplotter, can do more than show you charts, hence the "multi" part

MFI: Depending on where you see it, it could be Made for Apple (iPhone, iPad, etc) or Multi-port fuel injection, if you're talking engines

Personal locator beacon

MMSI: Maritime Mobile Service Identity (the number that identifies your boat. Important in an emergency.

MOB: Man Overboard

NMEA: National Marine Electronics Association

PLB: Personal Locator Beacon (portable transmitter capable of sending an emergency distress signal)

RTE: Route, in shorthand, or Radar Target Enhancer if you are being fancy with your radar reflector

VHF: Very High Frequency, the designation for the frequency bandwidth that marine radios operate on. Specifically from 156-163 MHz. Distinct from UHF (Ultra High Frequency) where cordless phones and baby monitors work

VRM: Variable Range Marker, the rings on a radar display that indicate distances from your vessel at the center. 



Posted On: April 15, 2020

Don't choose a surveyor on price alone.

Of course you need to know up front what the cost of the survey will be, but it could be a case of "if you don't pay now, you'll pay later." That bargain-basement-price survey could cost you in the long run should the surveyor miss some important fault on the boat.

If problems are caught before inking the deal, you have the option of renegotiating the price or getting faults corrected before you take delivery of the boat. While there is no guarantee that you will get more from a more expensive surveyor, as in all things, you typically get what you pay for. Prices are generally around $20 to $22 per foot, but if you're quoted $12 per foot you need to ask yourself why.

Surveyors often get concerned when a client asks for a cheap survey because "it's only for insurance." Most surveyors are professionals and want you to be happy with your boat and ensure your safety on the water. In return, you want him or her to spot any deficiencies with the boat. Surveyors need to be able to stand behind their work (possibly even in the courtroom), and doing a "light" survey doesn't help anyone. Most surveyors have a set fee based on the size and type of boat, the type of survey, travel costs, and so on.

By all means ask how much the surveyor charges, but don't wait until the day of the survey and then try to start negotiating the fee. You have the right to back out of the purchase up until your contract acceptance deadline, which is often at least several days after the survey date. If you change your mind about the boat after the survey is done, the surveyor still has to be paid. Most surveyors expect payment on the day the service is completed. Surveyors typically won't send out the completed survey report until they get paid. It's the surveyor's version of "no cash, no splash."