woman setting up survey equipment tide levelling survey

A surveyor could...

Use GPS to tell you where your backyard ends and your neighbor's begins. neighborhood Let an airport know about the boundaries of its official airspace. skyview of airport
Create legal documents that describe and define the boundaries of a piece of land. man looking at plans Describe the legal limits of a mining or petroleum site. mining site
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Did you know three of the four United States presidents on Mount Rushmore had the proud distinction of being surveyors? Surveying is an unusual mix of law and civil (construction) engineering. Surveyors protect the interests and rights of property owners. They create original legal documents describing property boundaries in land and water, and can act as expert witnesses in property or criminal cases.
Key Requirements Good vision and physical condition, organized, detail-oriented, and a love for working outdoors; excellent communication and team skills, and enjoyment of math problems (especially trigonometry).
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Computer science, applied technology, algebra, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus (trigonometry), English; if available, environmental science, drafting, pre-law
Median Salary
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
Interview Learn more from these interviews of many types of surveyors to meet real-life surveyors from around the United States.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Most surveyors have a bachelor's degree in surveying or a related field. Every state requires that surveyors be licensed.

Education and Training

In the past, many people with little formal training started as members of survey crews and worked their way up to become licensed surveyors, but this has become increasingly difficult to do. Now, most surveyors need a bachelor's degree. A number of universities offer bachelor's degree programs in surveying, and many community colleges, technical institutes, and vocational schools offer 1-, 2-, and 3-year programs in surveying or surveying technology.

All 50 states and all U.S. territories license surveyors. For licensure, most state licensing boards require that individuals pass a written examination given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Most states also require surveyors to pass a written examination prepared by the state licensing board.

Licensing happens in stages. After passing a first exam, the Fundamentals of Surveying, most candidates work under the supervision of an experienced surveyor for 4 years and then for licensure take a second exam, the Principles and Practice of Surveyors.

Specific requirements for training and education vary among the states. An increasing number of states require a bachelor's degree in surveying or in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, regardless of the number of years of experience. Some states require the degree to be from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Many states also have a continuing education requirement.

Other Qualifications

Surveyors should be able to visualize objects, distances, sizes, and abstract forms. They must work with precision and accuracy because mistakes can be costly.

Members of a survey party must be in good physical condition because they work outdoors and often carry equipment over difficult terrain. They need good eyesight, coordination, and hearing to communicate verbally and using hand signals. Surveying is a cooperative operation, so good interpersonal skills and the ability to work as part of a team is important. Good office skills also are essential because surveyors must be able to research old deeds and other legal papers and prepare reports that document their work.

Watch this video to discover what a day in the life of a surveyor is like.

Nature of the Work

Surveyors establish official land, airspace, and water boundaries. They write descriptions of land for deeds, leases, and other legal documents; define airspace for airports; and take measurements of construction and mineral sites. Other surveyors provide data about the shape, contour, location, elevation, or dimension of land or land features.

Surveyors measure distances, directions, and angles between points and elevations of points, lines, and contours on, above, and below Earth's surface. In the field, they select known survey reference points and determine the precise location of important features in the survey area using specialized equipment. Surveyors also research legal records, look for evidence of previous boundaries, and analyze data to determine the location of boundary lines. They are sometimes called to provide expert testimony in court about their work. Surveyors also record their results, verify the accuracy of data, and prepare plots, maps, and reports.

Some surveyors perform specialized functions closer to those of cartographers and photogrammetrists than to those of traditional surveyors. For example, geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy techniques, including satellite observations, to measure large areas of Earth's surface. Geophysical prospecting surveyors mark sites for subsurface exploration, usually to look for petroleum. Marine or hydrographic surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the bottom, water depth, and other features.

Surveyors use global positioning systems (GPS) to locate reference points with a high degree of precision. To use this system, a surveyor places a satellite signal receiver—a small instrument mounted on a tripod—on a desired point, and another receiver on a point for which the geographic position is known. The receiver simultaneously collects information from several satellites to establish a precise position. The receiver also can be placed in a vehicle for tracing out road systems. Because receivers now come in different sizes and shapes, and because the cost of receivers has fallen, much more surveying work can be done with GPS. Surveyors then interpret and check the results produced by the new technology.

Field measurements are often taken by a survey party that gathers the information needed by the surveyor. A typical survey party consists of a party chief and one or more surveying technicians and helpers. The party chief, who may be either a surveyor or a senior surveying technician, leads day-to-day work activities. Surveying technicians assist the party chief by adjusting and operating surveying instruments, such as the total station, which measures and records angles and distances simultaneously. Surveying technicians or assistants position and hold the vertical rods, or targets, that the operator sights on to measure angles, distances, or elevations. They may hold measuring tapes if electronic distance-measuring equipment is not used. Surveying technicians compile notes, make sketches, and enter the data obtained from surveying instruments into computers either in the field or at the office. Survey parties also may include laborers or helpers who perform less-skilled duties, such as clearing brush from sight lines, driving stakes, or carrying equipment.

Work Environment

Surveyors and surveying technicians usually work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week and may spend a lot of time outdoors. Sometimes, they work longer hours during the summer, when weather and light conditions are most suitable for fieldwork. Construction-related work may be limited during times of inclement weather.

Surveyors and technicians engage in active, sometimes strenuous, work. They often stand for long periods, walk considerable distances, and climb hills with heavy packs of instruments and other equipment. They also can be exposed to all types of weather. Traveling is sometimes part of the job, and land surveyors and technicians may commute long distances, stay away from home overnight, or temporarily relocate near a survey site. Surveyors also work indoors while planning surveys, searching court records for deed information, analyzing data, and preparing reports and maps.

On the Job

  • Verify the accuracy of survey data including measurements and calculations conducted at survey sites.
  • Search legal records, survey records, and land titles to obtain information about property boundaries in areas to be surveyed.
  • Calculate heights, depths, relative positions, property lines, and other characteristics of terrain.
  • Prepare and maintain sketches, maps, reports, and legal descriptions of surveys to describe, certify, and assume liability for work performed.
  • Direct or conduct surveys to establish legal boundaries for properties, based on legal deeds and titles.
  • Prepare or supervise preparation of all data, charts, plots, maps, records, and documents related to surveys.
  • Write descriptions of property boundary surveys for use in deeds, leases, or other legal documents.
  • Compute geodetic measurements and interpret survey data to determine positions, shapes, and elevations of geomorphic and topographic features.
  • Determine longitudes and latitudes of important features and boundaries in survey areas using theodolites, transits, levels, and satellite-based global positioning systems (GPS).
  • Record the results of surveys including the shape, contour, location, elevation, and dimensions of land or land features.
  • Coordinate findings with the work of engineering and architectural personnel, clients, and others concerned with projects.
  • Establish fixed points for use in making maps, using geodetic and engineering instruments.
  • Train assistants and helpers, and direct their work in such activities as performing surveys or drafting maps.
  • Adjust surveying instruments to maintain their accuracy.
  • Plan and conduct ground surveys designed to establish baselines, elevations, and other geodetic measurements.
  • Analyze survey objectives and specifications to prepare survey proposals or to direct others in survey proposal preparation.
  • Develop criteria for survey methods and procedures.
  • Survey bodies of water to determine navigable channels and to secure data for construction of breakwaters, piers, and other marine structures.
  • Conduct research in surveying and mapping methods using knowledge of techniques of photogrammetric map compilation and electronic data processing.
  • Locate and mark sites selected for geophysical prospecting activities such as efforts to locate petroleum or other mineral products.
  • Direct aerial surveys of spec ified geographical areas.
  • Determine specifications for photographic equipment to be used for aerial photography, as well as altitudes from which to photograph terrain.
  • Develop criteria for the design and modification of survey instruments.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Surveyors

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