Land Surveyor Job Description
Land surveyors use specialized equipment to measure and mark property boundaries, calculating the dimensions, elevations, shapes, and contours of sites for public, government, and private development. Land surveyors can work in a number of fields ranging from construction and engineering to mapmaking and government.
Many projects depend on a land surveyor’s measurements, so they must conduct surveys and perform mathematical calculations with a high level of accuracy. A land surveyor should also be an effective researcher, since this role can involve examining historical property records and maps to determine the legal boundaries of a specific piece of land.
Land Surveyor Duties and Responsibilities
Land surveyors can work in many public and private fields, but the core responsibilities of the position remain relatively consistent:
Measure Distances and Angles on Properties
The foremost duty of a land surveyor in any industry is taking measurements of distances and angles on a piece of land to support a variety of activities and establish legal property boundaries. Land surveyors use specialized equipment that can range from simple distance measuring wheels to advanced global positioning satellite (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) devices to gather accurate data regarding a property’s boundaries, easements, and contours.
Perform Mathematical Calculations
Land surveyors perform a variety of mathematical calculations to determine slopes and measurements of properties and segments of land. This aspect of the role requires exact calculations to ensure that final results are free of errors, since they are used in development projects and are critical in the decision-making and design process. Land surveyors primarily rely on geometric calculations while determining both property sizes and elevations.
Delineate Boundaries and Reference Points
When a land surveyor begins measuring a property, they delineate boundaries and reference points to provide a starting point. A land surveyor determines established boundaries based on previous surveys and records, marking these reference points or landmarks to aid in the measurement and calculation process. Later in the process, the surveyor also marks boundaries that they have identified on the property itself.
Develop Land Survey Reports and Guidelines
In any industry, the land surveyor prepares detailed reports for project managers, construction crews, and government agencies. These reports are held by local offices for future surveys and can also guide construction and development projects. In this aspect of the role, the surveyor ensures that their survey reports are highly accurate and contain all the necessary information to establish legal boundaries and support development activities or the sale or transfer of the parcel of land.
Conduct Historical and Legal Property Research
Land surveyors also rely heavily on previous surveys to conduct their work. They frequently consult historical maps and surveys, along with legal documents relating to the parcel of land they are measuring, to determine current boundary information and historical surveying activities on the property. This aspect of the role can also involve researching land titles to gain further information about the parcel.
Land Surveyor Skills and Qualifications
Land surveyors are highly technical and mathematical, conducting accurate measurements and calculations of properties and boundaries. Surveyors need state certification as well as the following skills:
- Measuring skills – land surveyors should have extensive experience performing complex measurements, specifically those related to elevation and angles as well as distances
- Mathematics – this role requires many mathematical calculations, so land surveyors should be skilled with geometry and trigonometry
- Research skills – because they frequently need to consult historical and legal records, land surveyors should possess excellent research and data-gathering skills
- Attention to detail – this role requires a high level of attention to detail, since many people rely on the accuracy of a land surveyor’s measurements and calculations for construction projects, mineral resource claims, and land sales
- Communication skills – land surveyors should be effective written and verbal communicators, since they need to work with project personnel, land owners, and public records offices
Tools of the Trade
Surveyors tend to work both in offices and in the field, where they use highly complex tools to conduct and record measurements, including:
- Hand surveying tools (distance measuring wheels, plumb bobs, levels)
- Electronic surveying tools (transit levels, GPS equipment)
Land Surveyor Education and Training
Land surveyors usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as math or a degree from a program that specifically prepares students to work as land surveyors. Surveyors need to complete at least four years of work under a licensed surveyor after graduating (although some states require more than four years). Finally, land surveyors need to achieve certification by passing the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) and the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exams.
Land Surveyor Salary and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), land surveyors earn a median annual salary of $61,140. The lowest-paid surveyors earn less than $34,470 per year, while the highest-paid 10 percent earn more than $100,420 annually.
The BLS expects employment for surveyors to grow at a faster than average rate of 11 percent by 2026.
If you’re interested in beginning a career as a surveyor, we found many resources on the web for further reading and information:
National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying – NCEES provides certification and licensing for surveyors, along with exam prep materials and career information
Surveying Fundamentals and Practices – read this book to learn the basics of surveying and examine real-world examples of surveying activities and measurements
“The Mathematics of Surveying” – this article from the American Mathematical Society explores the calculations that go into surveying, along with in-depth examples of math problems that surveyors need to solve
Land Surveying Simplified – Paul L. Gay provides a helpful introduction to land and boundary surveying for beginners in the field
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