Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

What is this job like?

Do you know where your backyard ends and your neighbor's yard begins? Have you ever wondered how maps are created? These are questions for a surveyor. Surveyors measure and draw what the earth's surface looks like.

Surveyors do different types of work. Some measure land, air space, and water areas. They describe where a certain area of land is. They explain what it looks like, and how much is there. They put these facts in deeds, leases, and other legal documents. They also define air space for airports. In addition, they measure construction and mineral sites. Surveyors might lead survey parties (or surveying projects).

Geodetic surveyors measure large areas of the earth's surface. Geophysical prospecting surveyors mark sites for exploration below the earth's surface, usually related to petroleum. Marine or hydrographic surveyors study harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water.

Another type of worker is a surveying and mapping technician. Survey technicians help land surveyors when they go to a site. Survey technicians use special tools and collect facts. They might hold measuring tapes and chains. Survey technicians write notes. They also make sketches and enter the facts into computers. Some survey parties include helpers. They move bushes from sight lines, stick stakes in the ground, and carry equipment

Another group of worker is cartographers. They collect facts about the earth's surface. They prepare maps of large areas. Their work is like land surveyors, but they cover larger areas. Some specialists, called photogrammetrists, prepare maps from aerial photographs. This group works mainly in offices. They seldom visit the sites they are mapping.

A new type of worker is called a geographic information specialist. This new occupational group started because of the new technology in satellites and computers. Geographic information specialists combine the jobs of mapping scientists and surveyors.

Surveyors study legal records. They look for previous boundaries. They record the results of the survey. They make sure that their facts are correct. Afterwards, they draw what the area looks like. They make maps and write reports. Surveyors who set up boundaries must be licensed by the State in which they work.

Surveyors usually work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week. They spend a lot of their time outdoors. Sometimes they work longer hours during the summer, when the weather is good and the sun stays up longer.

Land surveyors and technicians often stand for long periods. They have to climb hills and walk long distances. Sometimes they have to stay overnight. They carry heavy packs of instruments and equipment. They face all types of weather when they are outside.

Surveyors also spend time in offices. While in an office, they have to make plans, read their facts, and prepare reports and maps. Most of the time, surveyors use computers to do math problems and draw maps. Cartographers spend almost all their time in offices.

How do you get ready?

To become a licensed surveyor, most persons take surveying courses, pass tests, and get on-the-job training. However, as technology advances, a 4-year college degree is becoming more important for surveyors and related workers. Junior colleges, technical institutes, and vocational schools offer 1-, 2-, and 3-year programs in surveying and surveying technology.

High school students interested in surveying should take courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, drafting, mechanical drawing, and computer science.

Surveyors should be able to see objects, distances, sizes, and other forms in their minds. Their work has to be correct all the time, because mistakes can cost a lot of money. Surveyors have to be able to work with people and to work as part of a team. Learning to lead others is another important skill.

Members of a survey party must be in good physical shape to work outdoors and carry equipment. They need good eyesight and hearing to communicate by hand and voice signals.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Sources +
See also: