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Topographic surveys outside of licensure
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4/6/2017 at 9:43:31 PM GMT
Posts: 2
Topographic surveys outside of licensure

I would like to address the issue of topographic surveys being advertised and provided by unlicensed individuals. My first concern is that the public may not be getting a map conforming to 180-7-.04(b), which was set up to protect the public. Second concern is that with the speed at which the UAV-Structure From Motion technology is advancing, we may lose and actually have already lost an abundance of work to the layman. I’m not saying that the UAV will replace terrestrial surveying, it will merely be a tool in the truck, whether it be lidar or photogrammetric. I have heard many Surveyors say we lost GIS and I fear we may lose some topographic surveys also if we do not clearly define them as Land Surveying under 43-15-2. Which brings me to the question of, is a topographic survey defined as Land Surveying under the current code?

The definition states
(6) "Land surveying" means any service, work, or practice, the adequate performance of which requires the application of special knowledge of the principles of mathematics, the related physical and applied sciences, and the requirements of relevant law in the evaluation and location of property rights, as applied to:

(A) Measuring and locating lines, angles, elevations, natural and manmade features in the air, on the surface of the earth, in underground works, and on the beds of bodies of water, for the purpose of determining and reporting positions, topography, areas, and volumes.

This seems to be a grey area between Surveyors. I’ve asked many surveyors that I deeply respect and have received multiple answers when asked if a topographic survey has to apply to property rights to be defined as Land Surveying. If a topographic survey has to apply to property rights to be defined as Land Surveying under the current definition, what are some of your thoughts on redefining the definition to protect the public and our profession as most of our neighbors have? I personally think North Carolina has the right idea and would be a very good place to start.


North Carolina

Practice of land surveying.

a.         Providing professional services such as consultation, investigation, testimony, evaluation, planning, mapping, assembling, and interpreting reliable scientific measurements and information relative to the location, size, shape, or physical features of the earth, improvements on the earth, the space above the earth, or any part of the earth, whether the gathering of information for the providing of these services is accomplished by conventional ground measurements, by aerial photography, by global positioning via satellites, or by a combination of any of these methods, and the utilization and development of these facts and interpretations into an orderly survey map, plan, report, description, or project. The practice of land surveying includes the following:

1. Locating, relocating, establishing, laying out, or retracing any property line, easement, or boundary of any tract of land;

2. Locating, relocating, establishing, or laying out the alignment or elevation of any of the fixed works embraced within the practice of professional engineering;

3. Making any survey for the subdivision of any tract of land, including the topography, alignment and grades of streets and incidental drainage within the subdivision, and the preparation and perpetuation of maps, record plats, field note records, and property descriptions that represent these surveys;

4. Determining, by the use of the principles of land surveying, the position for any survey monument or reference point, or setting, resetting, or replacing any survey monument or reference point;

5. Determining the configuration or contour of the earth's surface or the position of fixed objects on the earth's surface by measuring lines and angles and applying the principles of mathematics or photogrammetry;

6. Providing geodetic surveying which includes surveying for determination of the size and shape of the earth both horizontally and vertically and the precise positioning of points on the earth utilizing angular and linear measurements through spatially oriented spherical geometry; and

7. Creating, preparing, or modifying electronic or computerized data, including land information systems and geographic information systems relative to the performance of the practice of land surveying.


 Here is a link to a PDF containing most, if not all the U.S. states regulations for 2015. I encourage everyone to research our neighboring states as well as other states across the nation to see how they define Land Surveying and its practice. Then begin the dialog of how we can better define and enforce a more protective code. 

Best Regards,

Spence Johnson 

 Attached Files: 

4/13/2017 at 8:16:13 PM GMT
Posts: 3
If the topo shows any property lines it should be performed by a surveyor. Anyone who shows a property line on a plat/plan and is not a RLS is breaking the law.

4/19/2017 at 10:39:25 AM GMT
Posts: 9

I agree. North Carolina does seem to have some good points in their law. Georgia law has some similar stuff in it I have quoted it at the bottom. We have a client who has started using someone to do drone surveys for them and come to find out they were not a licensed surveyor. This is going to become more and more of a problem in the future. Maybe we should spend some time discussing this and maybe changing the wording around some or leave it as is and make sure people are turning in people who are not licensed and are doing this work. At the end of (F) it stats that utilization of these devices for the evaluation or location of property, exc.... does this also mean for topography since topography is in (A)? Should (F) also have a statement pertaining to topography and asbuilts? 


Georgia Law Title 43 Chapter 15


(6) "Land Surveying" 

  (A) Measuring and locating lines, angles, elevations, natural and manmade features in the air, on the surface of the earth, in underground works, and on the beds of bodies of water, for the purpose of determining and reporting positions, topography, areas, and volumes.

(F) Utilitzation of measurement devices or systems, such as aerial photogrammetry, geodetic positioning systems, land information systems, or similar technology for evaluation or location of property, easement, or right of way boundaries

Last edited Wednesday, April 19, 2017
5/8/2017 at 8:26:24 PM GMT
Posts: 10
(6)(A) is too broad to be enforceable, otherwise residential contractors are breaking the law when they lay out a house, and the one call utilities folks are too.

(6)(F) has the qualifier at the end of it "boundaries", so Tomberlin is correct in that property lines are the litmus test as for whether or not a professional work is (or should be) surveying or not.

Some of my efforts on the state board have tried to push these limits, but the AG's office isn't going to let the board waste taxpayer money chasing cases it can't win. That's both good and bad, mostly good. The fix would be to get the definition revised in the law, which takes legislative efforts (and horsepower).

6/14/2017 at 7:42:38 PM GMT
Posts: 1
Why change the law if, ultimately, it is not going to be enforced. Without enforcement, with real consequences, laws are just empty words.

6/16/2017 at 9:01:58 PM GMT
Posts: 24

          If a topo is part of a boundary survey, then, of course, it falls within the scope of the practice of land surveying.  However, what about companies that do topographic mapping from aerial photogrammetry and satellite imagery?  What about situations in which local ordinances require a certain minimum ground elevation for houses and structures to be built on; so a building contractor who is employed to build a house on a lot that has to be filled in to meet the minimum elevation requirement uses a level to determine the existing elevation and how much fill needs to be added to meet the required elevation, and later checks the fill with a level to make sure it is of sufficient height?  What about a grading contractor being employed to build a pond and using a level to determine the height and width of the dam to be built, and, after the construction, checks the work with a level and other instruments to make sure it is constructed to the standards?  What about a farmer who has a grading contractor to design and construct terraces in a field?

          I don't think it is practical or desirable to limit topographic work to licensed surveyors as long as property boundaries are not involved.  What can happen is for the State Board to have certain high standards for topographic surveys (which it does).  If a land owner wants a topographic survey done that meets those standards, he or she can hire a licensed surveyor to do the work, and the surveyor will certify that the work conforms to the State Board standards.  Otherwise, if lower standards are acceptable for the purpose of the work, the landowner can have anyone of his or her choosing to do the work, and the landowner may not have complete assurance that the work meets even those lower standards.



Farris Cadle

Last edited Friday, June 16, 2017
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