The wide scope of P&I cover is such that it is practically impossible for an individual surveyor to possess the required experience and expertise to investigate the full range of potential incidents, whether that be in respect of crew injury, cargo loss or damage, pollution, damage to fixed and floating objects, or casualties where a ship owner’s (or charterer’s) liability may be exposed. It is therefore important that the Club and member can be assured the appointed surveyor is the right person for the job.

Surveyors are typically drawn from a variety of backgrounds.  A company offering a full range of P&I related services would be expected to employ personnel with a mix of superior technical or maritime qualifications, seagoing experience (preferably in a senior deck or engine room rank), superintendent engineers and naval architects.  As many incidents may require nautical, engineering and other specialist technical input, a survey company with these diverse attributes will be better equipped to respond as a team, avoiding the inconvenience of outside surveyors being sourced.

It is of the utmost importance that surveyors declare their qualifications and experience accurately and honestly. An instructing party must have confidence in the surveyor’s suitability for the task and may also need to be assured that the individual will be capable of performing as an expert witness should the matter progress to litigation. High stakes proceedings have collapsed due to expert witnesses misrepresenting themselves or otherwise being incapable of dealing with the demands of cross-examination. Therefore, if a surveyor considers instructions to fall outside the scope of his competence, he should say so from the outset.  Similarly, any potential conflict of interest must be declared prior to substantive instructions being given.

Upon appointment, the surveyor should be satisfied that the instructions are clear and if not, further clarification must be sought. Surveyors must also be sure at this stage that their office has the capacity to fulfill the needs of the instructions in terms of time and personnel availability. There will be no thanks from the Club or member for compromising a job by prioritizing business considerations.

Many assignments will require that the surveyor attends on board or on site as soon as possible.  However, if time allows the appointed surveyor should take the opportunity to do some background research on the matter so as to be better prepared (for example, checking cargo characteristics). Advance notice of who is attending and when should be provided to all interested parties and local agents to enable trouble free access to the port and the vessel in compliance with ISPS requirements.

Surveyors should also double check that they have the necessary equipment for the job, that it is fully functional and batteries charged. They must also “look the part” and be properly attired with helmet, safety shoes, gloves, high visibility clothing and eye protection as required. Remember, the appearance and preparedness of the surveyor will reflect upon the instructing principal.

Once on board, the surveyor should introduce his/her self to the Master and confirm by whom they are instructed. The scope of the survey will be discussed as well as the need for additional crew assistance and applicable safety precautions.

The scope of this article does not allow specific detail as to how surveys should be conducted due to the very wide range of potential assignments. However, a number of universally applicable basic principles apply as follows:

  • Show respect and patience with crew and others involved
  • Never interfere with the operation or safe working of the ship
  • Keep detailed and legible written notes
  • Take plenty of photographs (restrictions will apply on tankers)
  • Keep your eyes and ears open
  • Keep an open mind and never jump to conclusions
  • Unless specifically instructed, do not take written/signed statements from the master or crew
  • Beware of changing circumstances and compatibility with instructions
  • Know when to ask for expert or specialist advice
  • Keep the principal fully informed of progress

The collection of evidence is perhaps the most important task of the surveyor, the quality of which will have a critical bearing on the further handling of a claim. In addition to traditional sources of hard copy evidence in the form of log books, operational and maintenance records, weather reports and records of communications, a wide range of electronically stored evidence may also be available for preservation as applicable to the incident. In particular, the surveyor should confirm that information stored in the Voyage Data Recorder has been saved so that data is not over-written. Stored electronic data storage may also be obtained from other equipment, including the ECDIS, GPS and echo sounder.

In the likely event that surveyors appointed on behalf of parties other than the Ship Owner/Club are involved, it will be necessary for their access and conduct to be carefully managed. The following guiding principles will apply:

  • No surveyors should be allowed on board without the Owners permission
  • All surveyors must positively identify themselves and their principals
  • Has the scope of their attendance been agreed with Owners and Club?
  • Surveys must be carried out jointly
  • No unsupervised access to crew or documents
  • If documents are requested, a list should be submitted for consideration by the principal
  • Aim to agree the extent of damage on board (measurement/weight)
  • Do not make agreements on causation
  • Promote good cooperation – It can assist with mutual problem solving

It is essential that the report is maintained within the scope of instructions, does not include irrelevant detail and is written in clear, simple and concise language. The report should include a summary of the incident based upon witness observation and the facts and any opinions on causation must be consistent with the evidence. In this respect, the surveyor should never speculate and should exclude comment on liability.  Advice upon the nature, extent and cause of the incident, loss or damage should be advanced as well as an estimate of monetary loss as applicable. The surveyor may also provide recommendations for future handling. Good quality and annotated photographic images will greatly assist in illustrating the report findings.


Written by David Nichol, Regional Loss Prevention Executive, Thomas Miller P&I (Europe) Ltd.

The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.


David Nichol is a master mariner with 39 years of experience in the shipping industry. After sea service on tankers, bulk carriers and OBO’s, he worked as a ship surveyor and marine consultant for 18 years performing a wide range of casualty investigations, ship inspections and cargo surveys, with the majority of assignments being P&I related. From 2010, he was employed as a P&I Club senior claims executive before joining the loss prevention department of the UK P&I Club 3 years ago. David is based is the UK Club’s Piraeus office assisting members with loss prevention advice, training and education initiatives, as well as carrying out regular shipboard P&I risk assessments.