Skills Land Surveyor in Canada

Find out what skills you typically need to work as a land surveyor in Canada. These skills are applicable to all Land surveyors (NOC 2154).


People working in this occupation usually apply the following skill set.

  • Survey and lay out subdivisions for rural and urban development
  • Determine precise locations using electronic distance measuring equipment
  • Analyze, manage and display data using geographic information systems and computer-aided design and drafting
  • Advise and provide consultation on matters related to legal surveys
  • Certify and assume liability for surveys made to establish real property boundaries
  • Prepare or supervise the preparation and compilation of all data and documents related to surveys of real property boundaries
  • Record all measurements and other information obtained during survey activities
  • Plan, direct and supervise or conduct surveys to establish legal boundaries of properties
  • Develop survey plans, methods and procedures for conducting legal surveys

Skills and knowledge

The following skills and knowledge are usually required in this occupation.

Essential skills

See how the 9 essential skills apply to this occupation. This section will be updated soon.

  • Read e-mail from clients, colleagues and co-workers to obtain technical support, schedules and directions. For example, they read email from their supervisors to gather additional details about survey sites and confirm meeting times. (1)
  • Read notes about survey locations, contact names and job priorities on survey plan labels and sign-out sheets. They read the notes to plan their daily schedule, and determine equipment, tools and additional documents such as surveys and land registry deeds they require. (1)
  • Read brief descriptive and explanatory notes in survey technicians' daily activity reports. (2)
  • Read notification memos and case law bulletins to stay current on case law rulings. They assess the information for relevancy and apply it to survey evidence and boundary evaluations. (3)
  • Read surveying magazines and publications to stay informed about industry issues, activities, technologies and techniques. (3)
  • May read minutes from executive committee meetings. (3)
  • Read equipment and software manuals for technical instructions on troubleshooting, installation and use. (3)
  • Read project proposals to understand surveying project requirements. They need technical knowledge to interpret the legal and technical terminology. They read the proposals for details, scope, timelines, finances, objectives and challenges of projects. They are required to interpret text that is dense with legal and content-specific terminology to ensure that they clearly understand the requirements and objectives of proposed projects. (4)
  • Read and integrate information about boundaries in field notes, survey plans, and historical documents such as old, cryptic land deeds when completing boundary line retracements. They use the case laws to evaluate and weight evidence to draw boundary line conclusions. The material requires specialized knowledge of legal and technical terms. (5)
Document use
  • Enter brief text, dates and codes on file labels and sign out sheets. (1)
  • Locate dates, quantities and costs on invoices, timesheets and expense forms. (2)
  • Locate property dimensions, locations, codes, encumbrances and severances on deed registration forms, land deeds and legal boundary certificates. (2)
  • Scan longitudes, latitudes and elevations on data sheets and on the display screens of measuring devices. They verify survey data when determining final measurements for placing monuments. Depending on the complexity of the job, there can be several hundred sets of coordinates to process. (3)
  • Refer to assembly drawings including pictures and diagrams when assembling surveying equipment such as total stations onto tripods. (3)
  • Enter hours, dates and locations onto worksheets and work schedules when coordinating tasks for staff and with co-workers and colleagues such as planners, engineers and architects. (3)
  • Use contour or elevation graphs to analyze the topography of an area and to plot it onto scale plans. (3)
  • Complete reporting forms, such as those for expense and survey estimates, by checking off items and entering dimensions, location, costs and brief descriptions. They synthesize information from other sources to complete the forms. (3)
  • Record brief notes, sketches and measurement data into field notes to detail physical characteristics of surveyed areas such as boundary markers, buildings, fences, trees and large boulders. They use their technical knowledge and experience when completing these legal survey documents. (4)
  • Examine survey plans to confirm the placement or retracement of boundary lines, buildings and other physical characteristics. They use supplementary documents such as existing surveys, drawings, aerial photographs, topographical maps, land titles and other historical information as evidence to make their evaluation. (5)
  • Write brief descriptions in notebooks to record physical characteristics and details about properties. They reference the information when preparing job quotes. (1)
  • Write single page letters such as requests for survey plan adjustments to regulatory offices. The letters outline legal descriptions and reasons for the requested change. (2)
  • Write memos and e-mail to colleagues and co-workers requesting or providing information, coordinating schedules and assigning tasks. (2)
  • Complete one or more sections of incident reports. They write several paragraphs to describe the incident, any causal factors, resulting damage and corrective actions taken or recommended. (3)
  • Write descriptive observations to accompany field sketches and data in field notes. The notes detail property characteristics and measurements. Clarity in detail is important as field notes become legal documents when disputes arise. (3)
  • Write letters such as formal notification letters to property owners. For example, land surveyors write letters outlining their decisions such as placing severances on homeowner's property. The letters are dense with technical references to withstand legal challenges. (3)
  • Prepare legal documents and form letters such as 'Subdivision Approval' forms to submit to local authorities. They complete several paragraphs providing details such as encumbrances and covenants. (3)
  • Write reports to supervisors recommending the purchase of specific equipment or suggesting procedure changes. They use the reports to support and justify decisions. (3)
  • Write technical articles for trade publication and association newsletters. For example, they write articles about how to evaluate boundary evidence and how to proceed with requests for legal boundary changes. The intent of the articles is to share best practice principles and techniques for applying case laws and evidence. (4)
NumeracyMoney Math
  • Prepare and verify invoices, expense forms and timesheets. They calculate costs, using established rates, and applicable taxes. (2)
  • Calculate costs for surveying quotes or bills, including mark-ups or discounts for labour, equipment, supplies and registration fees. They apply taxes and verify amounts. (3)
Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math
  • Monitor project hours and schedules to meet deadlines and budget costing. (1)
  • Determine labour requirements for staff, and subcontractor timelines for surveying projects. They set job tasks and schedules for staff they directly supervise. (2)
  • Complete cost analysis of surveying equipment, such as digital sounders, to determine the best value based on cost and features. (3)
  • May prepare and monitor detailed budgets such as annual department budgets, or large surveying project budgets such as boundary and lot lines for large subdivisions. For example, they establish critical timelines and schedule the activities of staff, subcontractors and consultants. They monitor human resources, materials and equipment expenses to ensure projects are within budget, and adjust schedules and budget lines to accommodate unexpected delays and costs. (4)
Measurement and Calculation Math
  • Measure and record the distance between two points such as monuments and buildings. (1)
  • Calculate the surface area of land parcels, often converting between metres and feet when working between old and new survey plans. (2)
  • Create scale survey plans of land parcels using scaled measurements to calculate angles and distances. (3)
  • Set-up and use specialized electronic equipment such as theodolites to obtain measurements of horizontal and vertical angles. (3)
  • Calculate the direction, angle and length of lines, often using principles of triangulation, to locate intersection points and to determine station coordinates. They determine the station coordinates at the beginning of a vertical curve on a highway using approaching and departing grades, elevation and vertical curve requirements as factors in the equation. They calculate parallel offset lines when completing pipeline surveys. They calculate centrelines, shoulder lines and slope stakes when measuring sloped terrain. (4)
  • Use trigonometry and geometry to make indirect calculations of measurements that cannot be directly taken, such as vector calculations and analysis, to determine the curve angle of roads, and the easement distance of a porch or eavestroughing. (5)
Data Analysis Math
  • Compare field coordinates and measurements to plan and verify the accuracy of measurements and data. (1)
  • Calculate average measurements such as height, distance and elevations, and coordinate readings such as longitude and latitude using multiple measurements to determine and verify that the survey measurements meet specifications or acceptable tolerances. (2)
Numerical Estimation
  • Estimate the duration of surveying projects considering the number of hours based on either two and four person crews, the complexity of the job, the weather conditions and the characteristics of the terrain. (2)
Oral communication
  • Speak with property owners to request access to properties when completing surveys. (1)
  • Interact with co-workers and colleagues to discuss projects and coordinate job tasks. (2)
  • Lead field crew discussions and present technical and safety information. They provide directions and instructions to field crew and office staff. For example, land surveyors lead discussions about efficient methods for removing brush and trees, and locating points where direct lines of sight are not possible. (2)
  • May discuss surveying methods and procedures for larger jobs with their supervisors. (2)
  • Discuss new products such as global positioning systems with suppliers. They discuss technical features and negotiate purchase or lease terms. (2)
  • Share information with clients so that they develop an understanding of survey project requirements, timelines and procedures. (2)
  • Discuss equipment purchases with their supervisors. They outline the benefits of purchasing specific equipment by clearly communicating their cases to obtain approval. (2)
  • Negotiate changes to existing survey plans with colleagues and co-workers. They present their justifications in support of the changes they recommended. (3)
  • Participate in group discussions such as weekly engineering services meetings. They express their opinions and provide project management updates. They may help guide decisions, coordinate tasks and distribute work. (3)
  • Interact with clients and other property owners to resolve property conflicts such as fence line locations. They need to be diplomatic and tactful to maintain positive relationships while settling disputes. (3)
  • Consult colleagues to discuss boundary line evidence when working on cases in which the survey outcomes may result in legal disputes. (3)
ThinkingProblem Solving
  • Face scheduling delays due to unforeseen events such as inclement weather, equipment breakdowns and inaccessible areas. For example, when inclement weather and equipment breakdowns occur they reschedule activities, use alternate measurement tools and methods, hire temporary crew and subcontract work to maintain work schedules. (2)
  • Encounter hostile and angry landowners. For example, they face landowners who are angry about property damage. They speak with crew leaders and visit work sites to assess damage and negotiate resolutions with landowners. (2)
  • May be denied access to properties by landowners. They negotiate with owners for conditional access. They contact local authorities to assist them in gaining property access if negotiations with property owners fail. (2)
  • Find improper recording of physical features and missing survey information on survey plans and other land planning documents. This makes it difficult to verify property boundary lines and underground services. For example, they are unable to confirm the location of underground services such as water mains and gas pipes. They consider existing information and data to determine service locations and then complete initial ground searches. (3)
  • Find that particular survey technicians continually fail to obtain accurate data. They review their data results and field notes to locate where the technicians are experiencing difficulties. They coach them to correct their surveying techniques and place them with more experienced technicians. They may terminate employment if all previous attempts fail to yield improvements. (3)
  • Find physical features are not properly recorded in previous survey field notes and plans, making it difficult to verify property boundary lines. These discrepancies become more complex on small city lots where little space is available to absorb minor survey adjustments. They speak with experienced city surveyors and read case law to develop strategies for evaluating boundary line evidence for retracement. (3)
Decision Making
  • Decide not to enter property where personal health and safety may be at risk, such as locations guarded by large dogs or where debris and waste pose health hazards. (1)
  • Decide task assignments for field crews to fairly distribute hours and types of work. They also consider crews' skill levels, working locations and the complexity of the surveying jobs. (2)
  • Decide to accept the position of existing survey monuments or to request new surveys. They consider historical evidence such as survey plans, drawings, field notes and other related information when making their decisions. (2)
  • Decide to purchase new equipment and computer programs such as total stations, global positioning devices and AutoCAD after completing cost analyses. They consider the price, quality, reputation, functionality, capacity, service plans and warranties offered by the equipment and software manufacturers. (2)
  • Decide what methods and landmarks to use to complete surveys. They consider evidence and measurements from previous surveys, the location of buildings and physical structures such as trees and sloped gradients and the purpose of the survey. They constantly revise their decisions to respond to field crew requests for coordinate and measurement adjustments due to unexpected impediments. How and where they collect readings directly affects surveying efficiency and the quality of the final survey plans. (3)
Critical Thinking
  • Evaluate the quality and completeness of survey technicians' field notes. They consider the tone, language clarity and descriptive recording of observations, measurements and work performed. (2)
  • Evaluate the compatibility of field crew when grouping technicians and assigning tasks. They consider workers' personalities, their experience in the field and their willingness to work in rough terrain. (2)
  • Judge the authenticity of boundary monuments and survey plans. They use established criteria and procedures to evaluate and weight evidence such as existing survey plans, field notes and historical information to draw conclusions. They must provide proof of their evaluation processes, as requests to change survey line locations often require resolution before committees or in court. (2)
  • Evaluate the quality of survey plans before approving and submitting them to land registry offices. They gather information by reviewing existing surveys, aerial photographs, topographical maps, historical information, reading surveying procedures and viewing direct and indirect measurement data. They use established criteria such as the precision and accuracy of measurement data and its conformity to specifications and surveying standards. Ineffective or faulty evaluations can result in poor quality surveys and problems with land title transfers. (3)
  • Evaluate options for gathering survey data for complex projects such as surveys for dumpsites emitting toxic gas or for proposed rapid bus roadways through densely developed areas. They establish the site specific factors that need to be considered and evaluated during the survey. They gather information from project objectives, land impact studies and environment reports to ensure key factors are accounted for in the survey procedures. Failure to create relevant evaluation criteria can result in poor quality surveys and loss of reputation as content experts as the implications of their work are not always supported due to strongly held contradictory views. As a result they are often required to justify the evaluation criteria and survey options used. (4)
Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Land surveyors receive projects and deadlines from their supervisors but are responsible for tasking and prioritizing their duties to complete surveys on schedule. Self-employed land surveyors set and prioritize their own schedules. They work on multiple projects at varying degrees of completion. They are responsible for planning daily, weekly and long-term schedules. They meet with clients, answer phone calls, attend meetings and complete ongoing analysis and review of surveys and survey information. In addition, they deal with daily disruptions. Their work plan is flexible to integrate work crew needs and changing project priorities. They integrate their work plan with work crew, co-workers and colleagues. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Land surveyors organize and direct the weekly schedule of work crews, subcontractors and equipment. They collaborate with co-workers, colleagues and clients to develop and implement integrated work plans for larger projects. (3)

Significant Use of Memory
  • Recall details of how they dealt with challenges encountered with similar projects in the past to solve current similar problems.
  • Remember what information approving authorities require when submitting land surveys.
  • Remember developers' names so that they can address them personally during meetings.
  • Remember different rules and regulations in order to apply them without referring to codebooks and legislation.
  • Remember user identification passwords and access codes for land title databases.
Finding Information
  • Locate property ownership history by accessing information at land title offices. (1)
  • They find information about remote sites by looking at maps and aerial photographs and by talking to colleagues and staff at provincial lands and forest or natural resources departments. (2)
  • Locate technical information and data needed to complete work tasks such as operating surveying equipment and using global positioning systems in equipment manuals, specification sheets and satellite schedules. (2)
  • Draw on and integrate information from land title offices, local authority by-laws and provincial codes and regulations to determine what information to include on survey plans. (3)
  • Locate information from maps, drawings, aerial photographs, existing surveys, field notes, historical documents, land deeds, onsite visits and case law rulings to complete cadastral surveys. They use the information to retrace boundary lines and develop new surveys. (4)
Digital technology
  • Use graphics software. For example, they use graphic program features to modify and overlay aerial photos with scale drawings, crop images, adjust sizes and create presentations. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use Internet browsers to locate technical information on websites, access information on databases and satellite reading software. They upload and download maps, surveys and information using the File Transfer Protocol. (2)
  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, they use Coordination Geometry software to enter surveying data; global positioning systems to locate survey points and coordinates and geographical information systems (GIS) to access data and mapping storage systems. They use GIS features such as magnifying tools and picture overlays. (2)
  • Use word processing. For example, land surveyors use word processing programs to write and format letters, memos and reports. They use features such as page numbering, tables, graphs, and headers and footers to format the reports. They also embed illustrations. (3)
  • Use databases. For example, they enter data into geographical information systems or download data from global positioning systems to run queries. They export the data to spreadsheets for viewing. (3)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they create and format spreadsheets. They use features such as formulae, data sorting, and display features including graphs and tables. (3)
  • Use computer-assisted design, manufacturing and machining. For example, they use programs such as Micro Survey and AutoCAD to create and verify survey plans. They use features such as image insets, image rotation, and cross-sectional drawings. They select different types of lines, curves and angles to insert into construct drawings. They adjust sizes, lengths and curves to represent the area being surveyed into three-dimensional formats. They format the final survey plans by inserting text boxes and adding data and textual details. (3)
  • Use communication software. For example, land surveyors use programs to send and receive e-mail and attachments. They maintain address lists and distribution lists. In addition, they may use Outlook calendar to track tasks, schedules, meetings and appointments and other functions such as spell check, alarms and 'out of office' e-mail management systems. (3)
Additional informationOther Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Land surveyors work alone, independently and as part of teams depending on projects and job tasks. They spend part of their time working independently to plan schedules and review survey data and information. They work as part of teams with survey crews, computer specialists, office staff and engineers to produce survey plans that fit the goals set by clients. They are responsible for giving and listening to directions, coordinating tasks and sharing information with team members. (3)

Continuous Learning

Land Surveyors attend mandatory safety and first aid training offered by their employer and associations. They attend Surveyor Association courses, seminars and conferences to maintain their membership, which soon may become a licensing requirement. They learn through their day-to-day work, talking with colleagues and co-workers. There is no set learning program for land surveyors so they usually select their own training, which may include reviewing manuals, textbooks, case laws and regulation books. They may attend courses to update their knowledge of code changes, computer programs and surveying techniques. They draw on their background knowledge to apply new learning in their particular surveying specialty. Their learning goals may be self directed and established with their supervisor. (3)

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