What Surveyors Do
Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries.
Surveying involves both fieldwork and office work. When working outside, surveyors may stand for long periods and often walk long distances, sometimes in bad weather. Most work full time.
How to Become a Surveyor
Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree. They must be licensed before they can certify legal documents and provide surveying services to the public.
The median annual wage for surveyors was $63,420 in May 2019.
Employment of surveyors is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations. Surveyors will continue to be needed to certify boundary lines, work on resource extraction projects, and review sites for construction.
Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries. They provide data relevant to the shape and contour of the Earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects.
Surveyors typically do the following:
- Measure distances and angles between points on, above, and below the Earth’s surface
- Travel to locations and use known reference points to determine the exact location of important features
- Research land records, survey records, and land titles
- Look for evidence of previous boundaries to determine where boundary lines are located
- Record the results of surveying and verify the accuracy of data
- Prepare plots, maps, and reports
- Present findings to clients and government agencies
- Establish official land and water boundaries for deeds, leases, and other legal documents and testify in court regarding survey work
Surveyors mark and document the location of legal property lines. For example, when a house or commercial building is bought or sold, surveyors may mark property boundaries to prevent or resolve disputes. They use a variety of measuring equipment depending upon the type of survey.
When taking measurements in the field, surveyors make use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), a system of satellites that locates reference points with a high degree of precision. Surveyors use handheld GPS units and automated systems known as robotic total stations to collect relevant information about the terrain they are surveying. Surveyors then interpret and verify the results on a computer.
Surveyors also use Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—technology that allows surveyors to present spatial information visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, a surveyor can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as tree density in a given region, and create digital maps. They then use the results to advise governments and businesses on where to plan homes, roads, and landfills.
Although advances in surveying technology now allow many jobs to be performed by just one surveyor, other jobs may be performed by a crew, consisting of a licensed surveyor and trained surveying technicians. The person in charge of the crew, known as the party chief, may be either a surveyor or a senior surveying technician. The party chief leads day-to-day work activities.
Surveyors also work with civil engineers, landscape architects, cartographers and photogrammetrists, and urban and regional planners to develop comprehensive design documents.
The following are examples of types of surveyors:
Boundary or land surveyors determine the legal property lines and help determine the exact locations of real estate and construction projects.
Engineering or construction surveyors 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.
Forensic surveyors survey and record accident scenes for potential landscape effects.
Geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy technology, including aerial and satellite observations, to measure large areas of the Earth’s surface.
Marine or hydrographic surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the floor, water depth, and other features.
Mine surveyors survey and map the tunnels in an underground mine. They survey surface mines to determine the volume of materials mined.
Surveyors held about 48,000 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of surveyors were as follows:
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||69%|
|Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction||2|
Depending on the specific job duties, surveying involves both fieldwork and office work. Fieldwork involves working outdoors in all types of weather, walking long distances, and standing for extended periods while taking measurements. Surveyors sometimes climb hills with heavy packs of surveying instruments. When working near hazards such as traffic, surveyors generally wear brightly colored or reflective vests so they may be seen more easily. When working in underground mines, surveyors work in enclosed spaces.
Traveling is often part of the job, and surveyors may commute long distances or stay at a project location for an extended period of time. Those who work on resource extraction projects may work in remote areas and spend long periods away from home.
Surveyors usually work full time. When construction activity is high, they may work more hours than usual.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of surveyors.
For information about surveying, career opportunities, and licensure requirements, visit
National Society of Professional Surveyors
For information about a career as a geodetic surveyor, visit
For a list of schools offering accredited programs, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Surveyors,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/surveyors.htm (visited ).