Take a look at this vital licensed profession
They’re a common sight: Hard-hatted, safety-vested people looking through scopes by the side of the road, at construction sites, or in the landscape. But who are they, what are they looking at, and what are they doing? Let’s “see” if we can find out more about surveyors, their profession’s long history, and today’s day-to-day duties and licensure.
AN ANCIENT CAREER
Throughout the ages, surveyors have shaped our world—literally—and they continue to do so today.
For instance, have you heard of Stonehenge? How about the Pyramids of Giza, or the Maya “megalopolis”? Surveying—the process of recording observations, making measurements, and marking the boundaries of tracts of lands—was there all those millennia ago to help make these wonders happen.
Surveying continued through the centuries, with Roman surveyors playing a major role in the empire’s expansion via structures, roads, and aqueducts—many of which still stand today—and Chinese surveyors planning the ultimate tract-boundary marker, the Great Wall of China.
In much more recent times in the United States, several presidents have been surveyors, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
Even in California’s early history, the importance of surveying and shaping the young state was emphasized with the establishment of an elected “surveyor general” position: a constitutional office that continued for several decades before being absorbed into the California State Lands Commission.
And the Golden State has licensed and regulated surveyors since those same early days, with the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists (BPELSG) having been tasked with the profession’s oversight for nearly a century.
SHAPING OUR WORLD
While surveying technology has changed since Honest Abe’s day, many of today’s common surveyor duties would sound familiar to past professionals:
- Measuring distances and angles between points on, above, and below the Earth’s surface.
- Traveling to locations and using known reference points to determine the exact location of important features.
- Researching land records, survey records, and land titles.
- Looking for evidence of previous boundaries to determine where boundary lines are located.
- Recording survey results and verifying data accuracy.
- Preparing plots, maps, and reports.
- Presenting findings to clients and government agencies.
- Establishing official land and water boundaries for deeds, leases, and other legal documents and testifying in court regarding survey work.
However, “surveyor” now encompasses many cutting-edge specialties, including:
- Boundary or land surveyors, who determine the legal property lines and help determine the exact locations of real estate and construction projects.
- Engineering or construction surveyors, who determine the precise location of roads or buildings and proper depths for building foundations. They show changes to the property line and indicate potential restrictions on the property, such as what can be built on it and how large the structure can be. They also may survey the grade and topography of roads.
- Geodetic surveyors, who use high-accuracy technology, including aerial and satellite observations, to measure large areas of the Earth’s surface.
- Marine or hydrographic surveyors, who survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the floor, water depth, and other features.
AN IN-DEMAND PROFESSION
According to BPELSG, there are four basic paths with specific requirements to become one of California’s more than 4,000 “Professional Land Surveyors,” namely:
- A four-year college surveying degree, two years of qualifying land surveying experience, and passage of the required examinations.
- Six years of qualifying land surveying experience and passage of the required examinations.
- California civil engineering licensure with two years of qualifying land surveying experience and passage of the required examinations.
- Out-of-state surveyor licensure with passage of California-required exams.
And as always, surveyors are in demand: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects steady growth for the profession.