What Do Cargo Surveyors Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2020
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Cargo surveyors inspect loads of cargo to address safety and liability concerns associated with the contents of the cargo, how it is loaded or handled, or restrictions on the ship. Firms that offer cargo surveying services are located in a number of ports to address the needs of customers, including remote shipowners concerned about cargo, insurance companies, captains, and government agencies. Individual cargo surveyors may work for such firms or on an independent basis, and many also offer services like appraisal as well.

When a cargo surveyor gets on board a ship, a complete inspection is necessary. The surveyor looks at cargo areas, can open cargo and ask to inspect it, and may meet with personnel to discuss the loading and unloading of cargo. If the cargo hasn't yet been loaded up, the surveyor can review it in a warehouse and discuss the loading plan. Cargo surveyors usually take pictures and make ample notes while they perform their jobs, to create documentation they may need later.

One concern for a cargo surveyor is regulatory compliance. A ship should have documentation for all cargo on board, and no illegal or questionable items. If the ship is traveling to a nation with restrictions on incoming cargo, this can also be an issue, unless the ship plans a stop to unload problem cargo at another destination. The cargo surveyor also looks out for safety issues, like improperly sealed explosives, that could pose a hazard to the ship.


Cargo surveyors also want to determine if cargo is properly stowed. It should be securely fastened and must be arranged in a safe and logical way to distribute weight across the ship and limit contact between potentially hazardous materials. The cargo surveyor can ask members of the crew to relocate cargo if there are concerns about the safety of the load, and may provide advice to help crew members avoid safety issues in the future.

After reviewing a planned cargo, the surveyor can return to the office to prepare a report. Cargo surveyors may be involved in the preparation of declaratory documents used when moving loads between ports. They also prepare reviews of the contents of a ship for insurance purposes, and for shipowners who might be concerned about fraudulent activity on board. The surveyor's report of what was actually on board, for example, may not mesh with statements provided to the owner by the shipper or captain.


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