Land surveying is an old profession that measures and records land distance. Surveying requires education and in the past, the profession was held in high regard. Famous surveyors include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Professions such as civil engineers, architects and the building industry use land surveyors. Surveyors work for the public as well as the private sector. Public work would be such things as building roads, buildings, and working with various public departments. The military also uses surveyors in many capacities.

Surveying EnvironmentU. S. Airforce surveyor.Credit: U. S. Government Public Domain

Surveying is a physical profession. It requires a person to be outside to do the field work. It is done in all kinds of terrain, and sometimes in inhospitable weather. During the long summer days, professional land surveyors may work longer hours to take advantage of the light. Analyzing and processing field data is inside work.

A surveyor should be in reasonable physical condition. The work requires a surveyor to stand on his feet for long periods of time. It’s not uncommon to walk up and down hills while carrying equipment.

Purpose of Land Surveys

Land surveying is done for several reasons. Boundary surveys determine property boundaries and ownership. Sometimes this requires a basic legal knowledge and being familiar with legal records when dealing with boundary disputes.

Marine surveyors acquire information for harbors and other data related to oFEMA surveyorCredit: PD U. S. Gov courtsey Patsy Lynchcean areas.

Cartographers make maps. They do this by identifying points precisely, and then record them on a map.

The military uses surveyors on construction projects, and other operations where they need specific geographic points.

What Surveyors Do

Surveyors carry survey instruments to different points. This could be on flat land, or up and down hills. Once to the point, they set up instruments such as theodolites, and GPS systems. Theodolites measure angles and elevation. The operator sets up the instrument and takes these measurements. GPS systems use satellites to determine points and elevation. As they complete readings, they record the numbers in a surveyor’s notebook along with a sketch of the survey. Sometimes survey tapers measure distance with older equipment such as survey tapes if it is easier and cheaper than setting up newer equipment. Often, a surveyor will do more than one thing as required. All phases of field work requires care to avoid mistakes and achieve a high degree of precision. To do these jobs requires taking the proper land surveying courses.

Survey Positions

There are several survey positions. Sometimes the jobs are combined depending on the size of the firm and the job. These descriptions may vary between states, companies and survey specialty.

The Crew Chief: This person is in charge of the field survey. He directs the operation, and indicates where to set up the equipment and directs the general survey operation. The crew chief may do instrument duties.

Instrument Man: This person sets up the theodolite and other survey instruments, and takes the readings. If there isn’t a recorder, he records the information in the survey notebook.

Recorder: Records instrument readings in the notebook. Also draws sketches of the survey.

Apprentice: Apprentices are unlicensed helpers and do tasks such as taping distances, setting out range poles and elevation rods. They also remove brush in the sight line and other tasks. It is a good way to get good survey experience. By attending land survey courses, a person can advance to more difficult positions with more responsibility and pay.

Education Surveyors Need

Land survey relies on mathematics and accuracy to achieve precision. Common courses include algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Drafting and computer science are necessary for office work with raw data. Community colleges offer a 2 year land survey degree, and a 4 year college degree is helpful. Helpers can get on the job training, but to advance in the field one should become a licensed surveyor, which requires passing certification tests offered by the state, or surveying organizations.


Wages for land survey jobs vary. The figures vary whether the surveys are in engineering, mining, or some other variety of survey. In May, 2010 The Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, listed the median pay as 37,900 dollars. The range was from 23,450 dollars to 60,870 dollars.