California Occupational Guide Number 106, 1995

Land surveys are done to get accurate physical descriptions for property boundaries and for construction and engineering projects.  Surveyors also extend their surveys to the deep underground, the ocean floor, and extraterrestrial space.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pioneers and homesteaders used land marks such as specific tree groves, rocks (even rock shapes, such as "ship rock") and river banks to record property lines.

Modern science has thrust surveying technology into the space age.  Today, the Global Positioning System (GPS) is the newest land surveying technology. GPS is an electronic system that uses information from Earth-orbiting satellites to locate (fix) points on the ground to establish survey lines. It is used only for large projects, but as more information gathering satellites are launched into orbit, GPS will be widely used.

Survey results are used to establish official boundaries, research deeds, write descriptions of tracts of land that satisfy legal requirements, assist in setting land values, measure construction sites and collect information for maps and charts.

Surveys are usually conducted by teams or parties of four to eight members. Licensed (Professional) Land Surveyors direct survey teams.  They take the legal responsibility for all survey results.  Working directly under the Land Surveyor, Party Chiefs plan and supervise day-to-day activities of survey teams.  They also verify the accuracy of measurements and calculations done at survey sites.

Land Surveyor Technicians and Surveyor Assistants (Rod and Chain Persons) make up the rest of the party.  Technicians use standard and sophisticated electronic tools such as on-board computers to measure horizontal and vertical angles; they also use electronic distance-measuring instruments. They compile notes, sketches and records of measurement data.  Assistants hold vertical rods in place while technicians sight on them with special instruments, called theodolites, to establish distances and angles.
Assistants may also clear away brush and trees from the lines of a survey, set up traffic warnings and flag vehicles.

Survey teams also spend time in offices planning surveys, drawing maps, preparing reports and doing computations for completed site surveys.


Surveying teams spend much of their time outdoors and often do strenuous work carrying instruments and equipment over difficult terrain.  Workers also stand for long periods.  They walk long distances with heavy packs of equipment.  They are subject to all kinds of weather as well as sunburn, poison oak, snake and insect bites and other hazards.  There is danger on construction projects from moving machinery, falling objects, and moving vehicles on highway work.  The work requires the ability to communicate by
hand and voice signals over great distances.  Occasionally, workers must drive long distances to survey sites.


The following information is from the California Projections of Employment published by the Labor Market Information Division.  The figures represent the broad occupational group Surveying and Mapping Technicians that includes some of the Land Surveying Occupations.
Estimated number of workers in 1990
Estimated number of workers in 2005 
Projected Growth 1990-2005 
Estimated openings due to separations by 2005
(These figures do not include self-employment nor openings due to turnover.)

Employment opportunities may fluctuate from year to year because of close ties with construction activity.  Growth is in rapid transportation systems and highway construction.  Use of electronic distance-measuring equipment and GPS may displace some workers, but higher level jobs will occur as workers retire, change careers or leave the labor market.


Wages can vary between areas and type of employer.  Typical hourly wage ranges are:
Journeyman Apprentice Level 
Rod and Chain Person 
Instrument Person 
Chief of Party 
Certified Party Chief 
Licensed Land Surveyor 
$ 8.15 - $16.90
$20.00 - 23.00
$25.53 - 26.12
$25.53 - 26.12

High school graduates hired by the federal government with little or no training or experience usually earn about $14,740 a year.  Those that have one year of training earn about $16,060 a year.  Those with an associate degree generally start out as Instrument Assistants and earn about $18,040 a year.  Land Surveying applicants hired by the federal government earn about $20,130-$24,970 a year.  The average annual federal salary for Land Surveyors is $45,100 and for Surveying Technicians $26,400.

Surveying teams usually work a five-day, forty-hour week.  However, many surveyors work seasonally, especially in the construction sector where they work only during dry weather, typically from March through November.

Fringe benefits usually include medical, dental and vision insurance, retirement plans, paid vacations and paid holidays.


High school students should take courses in algebra, geometry, drafting and mechanical drawing to prepare for land surveying occupations.

California is the only state in the nation that has a formal apprenticeship program for surveyors in the construction industry.  Applicants must be at least eighteen years old, be physically able to perform all phases of the work and have a valid driver's license.  They need to read, write and speak English at the level necessary for success in classroom instruction and to safeguard themselves and co-workers on the job.  Applicants must also show proof of high school graduation or an equivalent certificate, complete all
application forms, pass a qualification test, and show legal evidence of employable status in the U.S.  The apprenticeship program leads to journey level Rod and Chain Person and then to Chief of Party.  Chief of Party surveyors can advance to Licensed Land Surveyors by meeting the work experience and written exam requirements of the State Board of Registration of Professional Engineers.

Land Surveyors need six years of land surveying experience to qualify for a license.  They can substitute up to four years of training for part of the experience.


Typically, entry into land surveying occupations is through apprentice programs in construction or survey assistant and helper jobs in government or other industries.  With experience, the career path leads to Rod and Chain Person or Land Survey Technician, then Chief of Party and, finally, to Licensed Land Surveyor.  Some surveyors go on to management positions such as field engineers; others take advanced training to become civil engineers.


Job seekers should contact surveying, engineering architectural and utility companies and local offices of the Operating Engineers union.  They should also register with the nearest Employment Development Department Job Service office and personnel offices of federal, state, and local government.

Source:  State of California, Employment Development Department,  Labor Market Information Division, Information Services Group,  (916) 262-2162.