There are marine surveyors and there are "marine surveyors". Here are some tips on shopping for a surveyor: what to look for and what to avoid.
Surveyor accreditation matters. Accreditation ensures that a surveyor has a thorough education that is appropriate to their trade and that they meet standards established by the authoritative marine and safety organizations. Your lender probably cares about that, and probably your insurance company does too. You should too.
Experience matters. Not only should a good surveyor have a solid education: they should have extensive experience on the water too. Understanding the principles of sailing is not like knowing how to sail, and knowing how to sail helps in knowing how to look at a sailboat.
Depth of knowledge is important. The difference between reporting that an engine runs “rough” and giving you detailed information on why that engine likely is running rough may save a whole season of hunting around trying to diagnose an issue, wasting time and money and replacing parts that work perfectly well.
Do not hire a surveyor based on price. Price is not likely to vary by any significant amount and the price of the survey is insignificant compared to the cost of the vessel and the potential cost of the wrong marine surveyor.
Don’t accept an old survey done for another client. You will miss out on half of the process. Many times the process of going through the survey, with the surveyor, gives you a more complete vision of what exactly you are about to jump into (or out of). A good surveyor can point out a variety of possible fixes from DIY approaches to high end complicated repairs performed by a reputable local shop.
A word on other marine professionals that a good surveyor works with...
Brokers (most) desire long term relationships with boat owners. They know how important it is to have the true condition of the vessel determined and any issues resolved at the time of purchase. This results in a satisfied customer who feels that they were treated fairly, and this feeling builds a relationship. A good broker therefore usually limits their referral list to good marine surveyors. Referring to sub-standard marine surveyors can come back to bite brokers.
Mechanics, fiberglass repair shops, sail lofters, riggers, metalworkers and a good marina/yard. These are a few of the many professionals that a good surveyor will have knowledge of. A good surveyor will know who in the area is good at what, and a good opinion from a surveyor is better than 100 reviews on the internet. The reality is that most vessels will require the services of some of these professionals during their lives. The quality of your surveyor can determine the quality of the people that they recommend to you. This can mean the difference between a quality repair that lasts the length of your ownership or a poor repair that can sink your investment.