How to become a marine surveyor (With duties and skills)

Updated 15 June 2023

Working as a marine surveyor may be a suitable career choice if you're passionate about the maritime industry and have strong attention to detail. In this role, your primary responsibility is to survey and value various yachts, boats and ships. Learning about the path to becoming a marine surveyor may help you create a plan to pursue this insurance and surveying specialisation. In this article, we explain how to become a marine surveyor, share useful skills for success in the role and offer a list of related careers.

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What is a marine surveyor?

A marine surveyor inspects vessels of all types and sizes, such as commercial, cargo and passenger vessels. These specialists work for insurance organisations or private buyers who want to ensure a ship or yacht they plan to buy is in good condition. As part of the inspection, surveyors check a vessel's documentation and interview current owners to collect information about the asset's history and performance. Surveyors also collect photographic evidence that shows the vessel's current state, for example, to document any signs of rust or repairs. This thorough analysis helps them determine the value of the vessel.

Related: 9 interesting jobs on the ocean (With duties and salaries)

How to become a marine surveyor

Learning how to become a marine surveyor helps you define your career goals and discover the qualifications to enter this role. The following are the steps to becoming a marine surveyor:

1. Determine the type of surveying you want to specialise in

There are two core types of surveyors, proactive and reactive surveyors. Proactive marine surveyors usually work on behalf of prospective buyers to assess a vessel's value and identify any potential issues that might occur in the future. These surveyors may also represent insurance agencies the current owner contacted to purchase insurance for their asset. Reactive surveyors step in after a vessel problem, such as a faulty part. Their job is to evaluate the damage and determine how much it may cost to fix the vessel.

Related: How much does a surveyor make (Plus highest paying cities)

2. Gain experience in the marine industry

To become a marine surveyor, gaining relevant work experience is essential. The type of job you seek depends on the type of surveying you want to do or what vessels you want to value. For instance, if you're interested in cargo ships, consider securing an entry-level position at a cargo port. This way, you can see what it's like to work in the industry, liaise with cargo ship specialists and work your way up by gaining practical experience.

Specifying the types of vessels you want to survey is beneficial, as both owners and insurers may focus on different aspects of a boat when buying and selling them. For example, surveying high-end private vessels, such as luxury yachts, requires a surveyor to consider not only the asset's technical condition but also its aesthetic appearance. Yacht surveyors may also find it easier to complete surveys if they're familiar with standard pieces of equipment on yachts, such as smart home systems.

Related: 12 oceanic jobs to consider (Plus duties and salaries)

3. Obtain marine surveying qualifications

When you're ready to participate in surveyor training, consider your options. Depending on your situation, you may explore in-person and distance learning options. The organisation that can provide you with up-to-date information about education for marine surveyors is the International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS). Here are examples of level 4 qualifications you can obtain through the IIMS:

  • Professional Qualification in Cargo & Commercial Ship Marine Surveying

  • Professional Qualification in Yacht & Small Craft Marine Surveying

  • Professional Qualification in Marine Corrosion

It's also possible to train with international organisations. These include the Maritime Training Academy or Det Norske Veritas Germanischer Lloyd. When choosing a course, you may prioritise organisations serving as societies that issue memberships and maintain formal registries of marine surveyors.

Related: 11 types of surveying jobs (With duties and requirements)

4. Obtain a professional certificate

Once you complete training, you can obtain a marine surveying certificate. In addition to the IIMS, other organisations that offer certifications are the National Association of Marine Surveyors and the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors. A valid certification serves as proof of your reputation and qualifications. Marine surveying is a highly specialised and responsible role, so most clients and insurance agencies prioritise certification when choosing a surveyor.

Related: What is a seafarer? (With definition and responsibilities)

5. Become a member of a marine surveying society

In addition to obtaining a certification, look for organisations that offer marine surveyor memberships. A valid membership gives you access to attractive supplementary training resources and industry events. It also makes it easier to network with other surveyors, engineers and marine industry specialists, which you can use to build a reputation for yourself.

Related: 9 types of networking opportunities and their importance

Useful skills in marine surveying

Attention to detail and organisation are mandatory soft skills that surveyors use to validate vessels. Working in this role also requires investing in developing strong practical abilities, such as the following:

Basic photography skills

The role of a marine surveyor is to document the state of a vessel they're inspecting. They usually start by collecting factual information by interviewing owners and reviewing technical documentation. The next step involves collecting visual evidence, frequently in the form of photos. Learning to operate a digital camera lets you ensure that your pictures are always clear and accurately document a vessel's condition.

Related: Photographer skills: definition and what you need to know

Knowledge of marine survey types

Marine surveyors may focus on different aspects of a vessel. Depending on the job, they use different types of procedures and documentation. Examples of surveys they use include cargo, marine warranty, flag state, charter, offshore or hull and equipment surveys. Understanding the purpose of each one allows you to be more efficient as a surveyor.

Understanding of cybersecurity trends

Technological developments allow vessel manufacturers to use more advanced digital systems when building ships, yachts and boats. Since these systems use internet connectivity, they may require periodic updates or additional software tools that protect them from cybersecurity threats, such as hacker attacks. As a surveyor, understanding the importance of marine cybersecurity may improve your reputation and position you as a highly trained inspector.

Related: What are cyber security policies? (With goals and examples)

Technical vessel expertise

This practical ability demonstrates your understanding of vessel machinery, equipment and systems. Because surveying is a practical profession, strengthening this skill usually requires you to work directly with specific types of vessels, for example, as an engineer or crewmember. In addition to learning about the vessels' technical side, consider gaining knowledge about their purpose. This is because vessels such as cargo and passenger ships may require different insurance or safety systems.

Similar careers to consider

If you want to pursue a career in the maritime industry, a marine surveyor is just one of many roles you may consider. Here are a few other roles that might interest you:

  • Marine administrator: A marine administrator handles marine and vessel-specific paperwork, working alongside operational managers and providing administrative support to them. They also perform standard administrative and office tasks, including photocopying, responding to emails or managing the operational team's calendar.

  • Group services coordinator: Pursuing this job, you can work for a cruise line and help your employer provide high-quality services to cruise ship passengers. For example, the job may require checking passengers' information before boarding the ship.

  • Stevedore: Stevedores are cargo specialists who work at a dock and handle ship loading and unloading. Their responsibilities may include deciding how to stack cargo to facilitate quick and efficient unloading.

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