The Sea Trial – What is a sea trial? Do I need one?

Taking a boat for a sea trial—or basically a “test run”— I feel should be an essential part of the boat-buying process for higher value vessels. What to look for during this test, however, isn’t always clear to new owners even if they are experienced boaters due to the new boats complexity and new systems. This said there are several areas worthy of your attention during a sea trial, but the final decision to do one is up to the buyer.

Here is Ontario sea trials do not seem to be as popular as I have seen in the Caribbean or the United States boat markets. I am not exactly sure why this is but I suspect it has to do with the fact the boating season is so short and many buy & sell transactions happen during the off season when the boat is out of the water, or the weather is not suited for a sea trial. Weather and boating season aside I still stand by the recommendation for a sea trial on more expensive vessels. Does it make sense to sea trial an 18k boat with minimal systems and a single engine, maybe, maybe not, does it make sense to sea trial a 150k boat with twin engines, two generators, water maker, inverter charger, integrated control system, and a whole pile of other components, yes 100%

Basics of a Recreational Boat Sea Trial

Whenever possible, we believe in testing a boat like you plan to use the vessel. We see too many sea trials that are done on a boat loaded with low fuel, no passengers, no passenger belongings, empty holding tanks and an absence of gear. This just does not paint a true picture of the vessel being tested and should not be considered a valid trial. As well consider the weather including heat and sun, do you plan to operate in the summer heat? Find out if your air conditioning can keep up. Do you plan to operate late into the fall? Sort out if the heat works. Basic number one – setup a realistic situation.

Second Skiing and wakeboarding? Think back to the basics and put the heaviest person you intend behind the boat and see how the performance is. If you dealer or seller will not let you do it… move on.

In actual use, odds are the boat will be loaded with all of the above items and probably a few things I forgot, thus adding hundreds or even 1,000s pounds or more to your boat’s load. Keep in mind that the performance you feel during a lightly loaded test ride will never equal the real world performance at a much heavier operational displacement.

what are sea trials

The next basic we like to focus upon is the operational parameters of engines, gensets, and other equipment. In the cases of engines and gensets a real world test should be accomplished per the manufactures ratings. The ratings are easy to find for nearly every engine and generator on the market today. Simply hit the manufactures site, search the model, and download the PDF. Within the PDF you will find the operating parameters for the equipment.

Engines and drivetrains can potentially be some of the most expensive equipment to repair on the vessel. To check the engine health the engine should be operated in a method to see if it will deliver the rated RPM without overheating or having other abnormalities for the specified time within the manual. Many manuals will specify a temporary power rating, and a continuous power rating. The engine and transmissions should be able to run without issue at the continuous power rating, this will not damage or harm the engine if it is in good health. Does the engine overheat? Transmission temperature and pressure ok? Will the engine not make RPM? Excessive smoke or steam? Any yes answers and it is time to start diving deeper into the engine and drive system and head back to the docks.

Generators should be tested in much the same way, gensets have specifications for power out put and RPM. During the sea trial load up the generator and observe how it behaves. Again the generator should be able to run continuously at the rated power without any issue, RPM should not flux or cycle, voltage output should be steady, it should not overheat, when loads or added or removed the genset should quickly fix any variations in RPM or voltage. Personally I find that using the vessels air conditioners, water maker, and refrigeration components provide a great opportunity to load the generator on a sea trial. Second, while testing the long term loading on the generator it give you a chance to review the performance of the items you have the generator loaded with.

After a check of the other operational equipment not used to load the genset this should conclude the basics of sea trialing the engine room. Next lets talk about boat performance and ground tackle performance.

Next up for the basics of the sea trail are focusing on actual boat performance, because at this point we have decided that the engines are in good health and we are ready to move on to some more complex maneuvers and tests. At a minimum we would be seeing if the boat will make the advertised performance speeds from the manufacture, does the boat track in a straight line at idle?, at power?, are there abnormal noises shifting from forward to reverse, what do the engine mounts do shifting from forward to reverse, what do the mounts do at higher speeds shifting from forward to reverse (with time for the transmission to spin down)? Any findings here should be documented and or recorded with video for a qualified mechanic to review.

At this point of the sea trail we like to start getting into the actual boat performance, checking steering, ground tackle, and deck equipment. We will save these items for a future post.


Based in the GTA, Toronto Marine Surveyors serves central Ontario as far north as the Muskoka’s, East to Ottawa, and West to Sarnia.  We will travel to the USA as required.

Start the process by contacting us through our web form, or phoning us at: 647-812-4117.


The Why, What, When, and How of Marine Surveys?

Marine surveys are conducted on boats or yachts for a variety of reasons, and for various entities or people. Marine surveyors are, by nature of their industry standards, supposed to be impartial and unbiased. Their job is to tell the truth about a boat or yacht, as pleasing or painful as that may be.

American Boat and Yacht Council


To be very blunt, if you are a recreational boater, you most likely put the most precious cargo you have in your boat… your family! Then you trust the boat to safely take you to a destination or provide enjoyment through touring or watersports while on the water. A marine survey can help you assure your boat is safe and reliable for these fun times.

Second, if you plan to insure your boat most insurance companies will require a recent survey. You may be thinking, what a drag, but keep in mind a properly documented survey will protect the owner in the event of a major claim. By having proper documentation of the vessel overall, equipment on board, condition, and any upgrades the owner can prove insured value to the insurance company in the event of a claim.


Marine surveyors use Transport Canada, US Coast Guard, federal laws, and published industry standards as guidance for evaluating boats and yachts. These are a mix of mandatory standards defined by government entities and voluntary standards recognized as best practices in the yachting and boating industry.

  • The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), what US Coast Guard regulations is based upon, is very specific as to certain construction requirements, especially for smaller and/or gasoline powered vessels, as well as for equipment such as navigation lights, flares, fire extinguishers and life jackets. Transport Canada and Canadian regulations follow much the same standards.
  • The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) Standards and Technical Information Reports for small craft. This set of standards provides guidance on certain aspects of the vessel’s design and construction, such as visibility from the helm position, and installation of many of the systems and equipment found on a vessel, but does not delve into hull design, structural standards or rules.
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is concerned with the things that can cause, prevent or put out a fire, as well as with carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed boatbuilding standards that are used in some areas outside the US, especially in Europe.


The following are the general cases and times when a marine survey would be required or desired by a boat or yacht owner.

  • A Prepurchase Survey is conducted when someone is contemplating buying a vessel. It is a very comprehensive inspection that includes operational testing of all systems and equipment, in many cases a pre purchase survey will also include a sea trial. The vessel is typically inspected both in and out of the water. The overall goal of the pre purchase survey is to provide the potential buyers with the information that they need to make an informed purchase decision.
  • An Insurance Survey is done specifically for insurance purposes at the request of the insurance company. An insurance survey may be done with the vessel either afloat or ashore, depending on the insurance carrier’s requirements, an insurance survey generally does not require a sea trial or operational testing of all equipment and systems. Every insurance company has their own guidelines as to what age/size vessel needs a survey, how often a survey must be accomplished, and what the survey report should include.
  • Valuation & Appraisal surveys are completed for application to financing companies, estate and divorce requirements, and possibly donation of vessels to charities.
  • Damage Surveys are performed for insurance companies, vessel owners and other parties after the unfortunate incident causing harm to the vessel or surrounding objects. The marine surveyor will work to document the nature, cause and extent of damage to a vessel.


At Toronto Marine Surveyors we work with vessels both in the water and on land. Depending upon your own personal needs or your insurance companies requirements a decision will be made on the location for the survey. If you boat is in the water and it requires haul out we can help you with arranging a quick haul to complete the out of water requirements.

Our surveys generally cover the following topics and base inspections on the following format:

  1. Hull material, construction, and condition
  2. Deck material, construction, and condition
  3. Propulsion – engine
  4. Running gear – shafts, struts, outdrives, propellers
  5. Fuel system – tankage, fill fittings, valves
  6. Ground tackle – anchors, anchor rode, windlass
  7. Standing rigging – if a sailing vessel, mast, boom, and related hardware
  8. 110/120 volt system – shore power feed, main electrical panel, switching, generators, air conditioners, battery chargers, wiring type
  9. DC electrical system – battery security, wiring type, alternators, chargers, switch panels, battery switches
  10. Navigation systems – navigation lighting, entertainment systems, RADAR, chart plotters, GPS, compasses, instruments, autopilots
  11. Bilge pumping systems – electric pumps, float switches, related plumbing, manual pumps
  12. Accommodations – general condition of accommodations, galley installations including LP stoves, ovens, sinks, water heaters, refrigerators, ice makers, freezers, etc
  13. Safety equipment – inventory of safety equipment on board compared to Transport Canada guidelines for the applicable vessel

After the surveyor is completed with the physical inspection a report will be delivered to the owner or prospective buyer. For pleasure craft these reports range from 25 to 50 pages and include a both a written and visual description of the vessel.

Findings or recommendations from the surveyor will be categorizes as HIGH, MEDIUM, AND LOW.

Recommendations are provided based upon the logic of high priority items not meeting the above stated standards, medium level items impacting safety of the vessel per the surveyors opinion, and low priority items impacting long term integrity and value of the vessel.



Based in the GTA, Toronto Marine Surveyors serves central Ontario as far north as the Muskoka’s, East to Ottawa, and West to Sarnia.  We will travel to the USA as required.

Start the process by contacting us through our web form, or phoning us at: 647-812-4117.

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