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Old 26-10-2010, 12:25   #1
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Question for the Surveyors

Hi guys,

I know there are a few of you here, Wayne et. al and I have a question.

Recently I have witnessed an increase in demand and requests by boaters for "on-demand" propane water heaters and more often than not "vent-free" units. Much if this is driven by disreputable "off-shore" marketers of junk which is claimed for "marine use" yet lacks even the most basic certifications.

I recently came across one manufacturer who claimed ISO 9001 as a "certification". You would need to be certifiably nuts to believe ISO 9001 had any thing to do with combustion safety.

These are NOT standards used in the water heater industry other than for "manufacturing excellence". It is rather ludicrous to claim ISO 9001 as a "standard" as far as water heaters go. How about NSF? It carries no ANSI, ASME, ABYC, AGA (American Gas Association), DOT (they claim it safe for RV's), NSF, UL or any other of the many standards a water heater should at least try to meet.

Just because a manufacturer makes "claims" does not mean they are legit or in the slightest bit true if you want to do things to current and accepted safety standards but how can a NAMS or SAMS guy let this sneak by?

As an ABYC member I am well aware that NONE of these units meet ABYC or ANSI standards and I know most surveyors around here will flag them as "unsafe". What I don't get is how ANY surveyor could do an insurance survey and NOT flag one of these devices? If an accident resulted or death ensued their butt would clearly be on the line. The reason I ask is because I know of a recent insurance survey and the surveyor let it stand with no mention of safety issues. WRONG! I won't mention names, not the point, but this is a little scary.

In speaking with Eric J. it is clear that the ABYC receives many phone calls from irate owners who have been told by their insurance company to remove the unit or lose coverage so I know some surveyors do get it.

What say you guys? How on earth could a NAMS or SAMS guy miss such a GLARING violation of A-26 as a VENT-FREE LPG water heater??

Interested to hear your thoughts....

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Old 26-10-2010, 13:10   #2
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I am sympathetic to the insurance problems, but the bottom line is safety. I personally do not like the use of any unattended propane be it for hot water refrigeration or whatever. There are a lot of problems with these heaters. If they are not clearly labeled with a ABYC approval and UL approval for marine use I write them up. And I have yet to any that are approved but here in the south we do not see many. I have always been told by fellow surveyors that if you end up in court the prosecution will be waving a copy of ABYC as if it were the bible. So any surveyor is well aware we have to follow those recommendations. That aside I have watched as a friend was removed from his boat in a body bag because of CO poisoning, and I have had a couple of close calls testing propane stoves. (I will no longer light them to test during a survey) My job is to make owners and buyers aware of safety hazards as well as rate the condition of the vessel. Safety is my first responsibility in my mind. So if I see it and it does not meet recommendations I write it up and explain why. Sorry if that is a problem with insurance but what good is insurance if you are dead?

As for surveyors that miss this stuff? All I can say is there are good surveyors and bad surveyors, unfortunately just being a member of any organization does not make you a good surveyor. Before you hire anyone talk to them and get a feel for their knowledge. One of the best things I think you can do is ask for a copy of a recent report with the names removed. This should give you an idea of the type of work they do and the thoroughness. Ask around the marina as well but this is not always the best some guys are real nice and well liked but not very good. Also most brokers like surveyors that do not find a lot of problems.

hope this helps some

Capt. Wayne Canning, AMS
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Old 26-10-2010, 16:58   #3
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Many surveyors do not belong to SAMS or NAMS - recently I spent some time visiting with a non-member surveyor and he poo-poo-ed ABYC standards because they are advisory only. Even though it does not guarantee a good surveyor, I encourage people to use SAMS and NAMS surveyors because as part of our membership we are required to survey to ABYC standards. If I were not a SAMS member I would still survey to ABYC standards for reasons including that they are widely accepted as good, safe, common sense guidelines, and are a standardized base point from which to compare boats.

A-26 covers the appliance's construction, installation, and that it has the correct markings and warning labels - there are no requirements for the appliance to be certified by other organizations. A propane water heater falls in the ABYC category of Unattended Appliance, and as such it needs to have its own Room Sealed Combustion System - so it isn't just a matter of a missing vent - the water heater must have its own space that is completely sealed away from the rest of the boat (including but not limited to the engine and fuel tanks) with its own air intake and exhaust systems to the outside.

As far as a SAMS or NAMS surveyor missing such an egregious violation as an unvented Unattended Appliance, which probably also means that it is incorrectly installed, this bothers me hugely because it reduces people's respect for these professional organizations, thereby reducing the perceived value of my membership. It is complicated, and there is no easy answer that I know of - if somebody does I would very much like to hear it.
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Old 10-11-2010, 02:45   #4
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I completely agree with Mr. Canning and ShipShape. In my travels here in south Florida and the Caribbean I do not see many LPG water heaters, however if I did the red flag would go up and my check for venting and compliance would be next. Anything unattended that is LPG powered is a CO hazard in my book. I have lived aboard my own sailing catamaran and had a Force 10 LPG stove. After using the stove I always took the extra effort to turn off the LPG at the tank. Death while sleeping from a CO2 leak is not my idea of how I would prefer leaving this world.

I follow ABYC, Federal CFR's, and the NFPA as guidelines to all my surveys. And like ShipShape I have seen non affiliated surveyors (mostly in the lower Caribbean and Central America) "poo-poo" these organizations for various reasons. However I think it is mainly a reason to validate why they are not affiliated with NAMS or SAMS and perhaps because of their own insecurities.

For me I have this nightmare of being in court because of a vessel sinking or boating death resulting from some overlooked issue and my survey is blown up to a six foot image on a overhead projector and I have to explain why I never sighted the issue in my survey. I have no intentions of ever letting that happen. With every finding or recommendation I not only write it up, I photograph it, write the standard it applies to, and what needs to be done to correct it.

As far as other surveyors, I have seen very good ones that I aspire to be like, and others that truly seem to do surveys with a half #@! effort. I have seen major things missed from some of these surveyors.

Like Mr. Canning, I think the proof is in the pudding. A recent sample survey will reflect the kind of surveyor you are getting. I keep a sample survey on my website for clients to see when they are inquiring on my services. A thorough survey should be at least 20 pages long, lots of photos, a findings and recommendations section, and all systems and construction of the vessel should be covered and explained in detail. I recently did a survey on a sailboat where the seller showed me a three year old survey from another surveyor on the same vessel (over 30 feet long) which was seven pages, not one photo in the report (aside from the cover page), and the survey was more or less a boat check off with "yes" or "no" boxes checked off throughout the survey. And yes he missed some important things on his survey.

I share Shipshape's parting thought about how some of these surveyors with this lower standard of practice diminishes people's perception of the professional organization I happen to belong to. I have no answer except to offer this advice, look into the surveyor before you hire him. This forum is a great tool to get feedback on just about anything including surveyors. Also look at a recent sample survey, ask the surveyor many questions to get a feel for him. If they are short with you on the phone and do not take the time to answer your questions, that is a red flag, and as a boat owner I would move on. I hope this has helped.
Capt. John Banister, AMSŪ
SAMSŪ Accredited Marine Surveyor
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
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Old 10-11-2010, 05:53   #5
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Originally Posted by SuenosAzules View Post
... I have no answer except to offer this advice, look into the surveyor before you hire him. This forum is a great tool to get feedback on just about anything including surveyors. Also look at a recent sample survey, ask the surveyor many questions to get a feel for him. If they are short with you on the phone and do not take the time to answer your questions, that is a red flag, and as a boat owner I would move on. I hope this has helped.
Indeed, your contributions have been very helpful. Thanks Wayne, ShipShape, and Capt. John.
Gord May
"If you didn't have the time or money to do it right in the first place, when will you get the time/$ to fix it?"

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Old 10-11-2010, 06:10   #6
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Agree with all

I agree with all of the comments above, they are very well stated. I have seen a number of propane water heaters and recommended they be removed along with the propane lines.
I remember see them on several Gemini cats and on one of them I took the time to read the fine print on the label (I think it was a Paloma unit). It said among other things that it was not for use on boats! I think this unit was factory installed and Gemini may still be installing them, I'm not sure. I also remember hearing a well known surveyor say they are great and that he used one on his boat for years.
Unfortunately, some people refuse to listen, lie to their insurance company, and do it anyway.
I guess that makes it unanimous so far.
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Old 10-11-2010, 07:03   #7
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Gemini used to also offer the galley fridge as a 12v/110v/ too said not for marine use...but they were factory...
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Old 10-11-2010, 07:45   #8
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While I don't agree with a number of ABYC guidelines, unvented or improperly vented water heaters are quite hazardous. I know of someone who was nearly killed from CO poisoning due to the improperly installed water heater on his boat. I would think that a CO/smoke alarm in the water heater compartment should be standard practice regardless of whether the heater is approved for marine use.

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