Northwest Yachting June 2017

Page 88





“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” —Benjamin Franklin

S ERIK BENTZEN Erik Bentzen has lived in Seattle since the early 1980s after moving down from British Columbia. He ran a boat repair yard in Lake Union from 1983 to 2005 before becoming a successful full-time boat surveyor. He lives and breathes the marine industry and loves to race sailboats in his spare time. “My father was a Danish shipwright and I grew up in the wood shavings in his shop. You hear some guys say that kind of thing, but in my case, it’s very true,” says Bentzen. His father was also one of the first accredited marine surveyors in Canada in an age when surveyors were not widely used in the recreational boating sphere. The two of them worked together as travelling surveyors when Benzten grew up and would eke out some time in between gigs to catch up over lunch.


Seeing a boat, especially for a potential buyer, is often an emotional experience. The rose-colored sunset casts the deck in a flattering light and already the soul yearns for blue horizons and a full fuel tank. “Let’s just get it already!” one wants to shout. Take a deep breath and heed conventional advice. Before you go any further, you’re going to want a professional marine surveyor to write up a report. Marine surveyors have established themselves over the last few decades as integral components of the boat-buying process, largely with the increased presence of boat insurance companies in the recreational sphere. Perhaps corporations, most of all, are inclined toward dispassionate analysis? Regardless, the marine surveyor’s job is to assess the true value and condition of a boat. No more, no less. The best surveyors seek the truth even as opposing forces, like overselling yacht brokers vs. under-offering boat buyers, are at odds around them. The ingredients for high stakes drama are a fact of life for the surveyor as large sums of money and the realization of lifelong dreams hinge on his or her every word. For this month, we turned to Erik Bentzen, a locally based surveyor with over 35 years of

experience with his own successful surveying and consulting firm, for a pro’s look at the marine industry from his seasoned perspective. We joined him aboard a J boat that he had surveyed in the past with our questions. Q: Can you outline the process that leads clients to you? Joe and Mary see a boat they want to buy and they realize they should get a survey… The process is not complicated per say, but definitely a sort of dance. When you see a boat that you like, you say, “What do I want to do next?” The next step is for you to write up an offer for that boat that’s contingent upon a survey. Some people buy a boat and try to do a survey after, and that’s not good at all. That situation makes my job not enjoyable, because nothing I can say will be good. Q: Is that because there’s always something wrong? Yes, there’s always something wrong. When I do a survey, I’m not looking at the great parts of a boat. I’m walking around and saying things like, “these are chaffed, so no heavy weather until they’re checked” or “the mast needs tuning” or “there’s grounding damage.” I’m concentrating on the deficiencies, so I’m not a cheerleader. It’s important to note that, in all the transactions involved with a boat purchase, I’m the only person who is an advocate for the buyer. Everybody has their roles, like the sellers who are selling the boat and trying to get that commission. Mine is to provide the buyer with the truth about the boat’s worth. Luckily, our area has a really great group of people who are all

fundamentally honest and you’ll usually get a square deal. Outside of our area, it is much different and more like a shark tank, like if you were going into a used car lot. If you get a surveyor, then you’ve got an advocate. They will inspect the boat, usually in one day for a mid-sized boat. Then they will leave, and write up a report. The report is really the work product we offer. It’s a PDF document we have with a list of what is there, an inventory, and what kind of boat it is, what’s the HIN number, is it registered, is it documented, what engine does it have, and much more. You’d think that’s repetitive, but it’s part of the process. What are we looking at? The fundamental purpose of all of this is to see what you’re buying vs. what you think you’re buying. I’d hopefully be able to answer that. Then I put a fair market value on the boat, based on what I think the boat is worth, after I complete the document. Then I go and look at comparable boats or sold boats. I can hone into a comparable boat and come up with a fair market value. There’s always magnetic forces that try to pull me one way or another, but it’s my job to block them out and tell them what I truly think. Q: Is there a lot of tension between you and brokers sometimes, like when they’re trying to sell a boat for a lot more than your fair market estimate? Yes, brokers, use the words “deal killer” sometimes. I show up with the philosophy that, when I’m not surveying, I’m boating myself on the water. I’m in the industry, living and breathing in the industry and

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