Blaine boat surveyor learned lifelong love for boats in Norway

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Blaine resident Tom Johannessen’s interest in the maritime sector began while growing up in Norway. His first job was at a boat manufacturer in Hemnesberget, a Norwegian peninsula town with a population of just over 1,000 residents. 

“It was just by osmosis. Everybody was involved,” Johannessen said. “Everyone hung out on the water on the weekends, fishing and boating in general. It was born-and-bred boating.”

His latest job is as the founder and boat surveyor for Hemnes Marine Surveys LLC in Blaine. Johannessen started the company in January 2019 after transitioning back to the maritime industry from his previous career as a biotech engineer. While starting up, Johannessen conducted free surveys as practice and applied to become a member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) to work on small crafts and yachts. He is also a member of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and BoatUs, an advocacy group against additional boating taxes, fees and regulations. 

“It materialized out of thinking about what I would be doing if I did return to the maritime industry,” Johannessen said. “That was the profession that I felt made the most sense, where my knowledge would be utilized.”

Johannessen said his diverse job background through his career gave him the knowledge to start Hemnes Marine Surveys LLC. Johannessen’s resume includes working for the Norwegian Army Corps of Engineers and serving as a ship mechanic and assistant refrigeration engineer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. 

“My capacity to consult with people and to see things a little different than most surveyors is a plus for me because I have a diverse engineering background,” Johannessen said. 

After six years of living in Blaine, he said he saw a need for a boat surveyor in Blaine after learning no one else was doing it.

The boats Johannessen works on range from small ski boats to 60-foot-long vessels with multiple engines. 

Johannessen first talks to a customer about doing a survey, which is a high-level assessment of the vessel that ensures that safety equipment is on the boat and not expired. He then begins the on-boat inspection. He boards the vessel, takes photos and writes notes, a process that can take two to six hours depending on the size and complexity of the boat, Johannessen said. If a boat requires a sea trial, he will inspect the boat in open water while testing navigation equipment and observing the engine. He then fills out a detailed report from the information gathered about what maintenance is needed.

“The cost of the survey depends on the size of the boat and the complexities of the boat,” Johannessen said. “It’s a matter of how much time I need to spend to do the work.”

At the low end, a survey can cost about $18 per foot on a small boat, but a higher-end survey can cost $25 per foot on a larger vessel with more equipment, Johannessen said.

Hemnes Marine Surveys LLC has served clients from Anacortes to Canada, Johannessen said. His clients are either looking to buy a boat or currently own a boat and need an updated inspection for insurance purposes.

Canadians are required to have their vessel surveyed every five years, but in the U.S., the time between inspections varies by the insurance company. American insurers may let a new boat go 10 years without inspection, while older boats may have to be surveyed at least once every five years, Johannessen said.

“We end up getting a lot of boats from Canada because they’re staying in either Birch Bay, Semiahmoo, Blaine or even the Bellingham marina and we end up having to do surveys for them,” he said. “It’s a nice thing to have that big of a market and to have that positive of an impact on the local economy.”

Johannessen said business has slowed since social-distancing measures took effect but he is still able to do surveys while following social distancing guidelines. 

For Johannessen, the most rewarding part is consulting with customers after surveying their boats.

“My favorite part of the job is to find something that the owner doesn’t necessarily know, or isn’t aware of, that could be a risk,” he said. “I’m helping mitigate the risk by pointing it out and suggesting a solution for it.”

Visit hullsurveys.com for more information about Hemnes Marine Surveys LLC and its pricing. There is no charge for the first half-hour of consultation with Johannessen.

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