Common challenges faced by surveyors and how to overcome them

Common challenges faced by surveyors and how to overcome them

Posted by Philip Hanrahan B.E., B.A., M.I.E.I. on 18th Jun 2023

Surveying equipment plays a critical role in a wide array of industries, from construction and engineering to archaeology and environmental science. These tools provide the data and insights necessary for the planning, execution and successful completion of projects. However, the use of such specialised equipment often presents a unique set of challenges.

In the realm of surveying, precision and accuracy are paramount. Any inaccuracies or errors can have significant implications, potentially leading to flawed designs, project delays, or in some cases, structural failures. Therefore, understanding the common challenges faced by users of surveying equipment and how to overcome them is essential for anyone involved in these fields.

In this article, we will delve into the primary difficulties encountered when using surveying equipment including issues related to calibration, data interpretation, maintenance, technological upgrades, and environmental factors. We will also provide practical solutions and strategies to help you navigate these challenges effectively, enhancing the accuracy of your work and the longevity of your equipment. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a novice in the field, this article aims to equip you with the knowledge you need to succeed.

Overview of Surveying Equipment

Before delving into the challenges associated with using surveying equipment, it's essential to understand the array of tools available and their specific functionalities. Surveying equipment encompasses a broad range of devices designed to measure distances, angles, elevations, and directions, facilitating a comprehensive understanding of a site's physical characteristics.

Explanation of the Different Types of Surveying Equipment

  1. Total Stations: A total station is an electronic/optical instrument used in modern surveying. It is a versatile tool that measures distances, angles, and elevations with high precision. Some total stations even offer integrated GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) capabilities.
  2. Theodolites: An older, yet still crucial tool in the surveyor's kit, theodolites are precision instruments for measuring angles in the horizontal and vertical planes. They are commonly used in construction and civil engineering projects.
  3. Levelling Instruments: These tools, often simply called "levels," are used for determining height differences and for transferring, setting, or measuring horizontal levels. They are crucial in projects requiring flat surfaces such as building construction or land levelling.
  4. GNSS Receivers: These devices use satellite signals to determine precise geographic locations. GNSS Receivers are commonly used in land surveying and in other applications where accurate positioning is needed.
  5. 3D Laser Scanners: These devices create detailed 3D models of structures or landscapes by emitting a laser and measuring the time it takes for the light to return. They are increasingly used in construction, architecture, and even crime scene investigation.
  6. Drones: Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, equipped with cameras or other sensors are increasingly used in surveying for capturing high-resolution images or videos of the land surface. These images can be used to create detailed topographic maps, monitor environmental changes, or inspect structures.

Overview of Their Functionalities and Applications

Each piece of surveying equipment has unique functionalities that make it suitable for specific applications. For instance, total stations are frequently used in construction for laying out buildings, roads, and bridges. On the other hand, GNSS receivers are often used in land surveying to establish property boundaries or in environmental science to track wildlife movement.

Similarly, 3D laser scanners have revolutionised the way we capture and document physical spaces, enabling architects to create highly accurate 3D models of existing buildings for renovation projects, or archaeologists to digitally preserve historical sites.

Despite the differences, all these tools share a common purpose - to provide precise and reliable data that aids in the understanding and manipulation of our physical world. However, the effective use of these tools requires overcoming a set of common challenges which we will discuss in the next section.

Common Challenges

Equipment Calibration Issues

  1. Calibration is a crucial process for any piece of surveying equipment. It involves setting or correcting the instrument to ensure that its readings are accurate and reliable. However, due to factors like prolonged use, environmental conditions, or physical jarring, equipment can lose its calibration, leading to skewed measurements.
  2. The implications of using improperly calibrated equipment can be severe, particularly in fields where precision is paramount. Even minor inaccuracies can result in substantial errors in the final work, such as misaligned structures in construction or incorrect property boundaries in land surveying.
  3. Regular calibration checks are essential to maintain the accuracy of surveying equipment. Users should refer to the manufacturer's guidelines on calibration frequency and process. Additionally, professional calibration services are available for complex equipment. It is also beneficial to handle equipment with care to prevent physical damage that might affect calibration.

Understanding and Interpreting Data

  1. Surveying equipment provides raw data that must be interpreted correctly to be useful. However, understanding this data can be challenging, especially for complex equipment or intricate surveys.
  2. Misinterpretation of data can lead to inaccurate conclusions or decisions. For instance, misunderstanding topographical data might result in faulty building design or land management decisions.
  3. Regular training and continuous learning are crucial for improving data interpretation skills. Taking courses, attending workshops or joining professional forums can provide valuable insights. Practising data interpretation and cross-checking results can also enhance accuracy.

Equipment Maintenance and Durability

  1. Like any other tool, surveying equipment undergoes wear and tear with use. Exposure to adverse environmental conditions can also impact equipment lifespan.
  2. Poorly maintained equipment may fail prematurely leading to unexpected costs and project delays. It may also produce unreliable data, affecting project outcomes.
  3. Regular maintenance, as per manufacturer guidelines, can extend equipment lifespan and ensure reliable performance. This might include cleaning, lubrication, and timely repairs. Protective cases can also prevent damage during transport or storage.

Technological Upgrades and Adaptation

  1. The world of surveying equipment is continually evolving, with new technologies offering improved accuracy and functionality. However, keeping up with these advances can be challenging.
  2. Using outdated equipment may limit a surveyor’s capabilities, potentially reducing work quality or efficiency.
  3. Attending industry events, subscribing to relevant publications, and networking with other professionals can help keep surveyors updated on the latest technology. Regularly evaluating equipment and considering upgrades when necessary can also enhance surveying capabilities.

Environmental and Weather Conditions

  1. Surveying often takes place outdoors, subjecting equipment to various weather and environmental conditions. Extreme temperatures, moisture, dust or rough handling can affect equipment performance and durability.
  2. For instance, moisture can cause corrosion or electronic failure, while extreme temperatures can affect the accuracy of some instruments. Dust and dirt can clog sensitive parts, impacting performance.
  3. Using protective covers can shield equipment from weather elements. Selecting equipment designed for specific environmental conditions can also help. For instance, some devices are designed to withstand extreme temperatures or moisture. Regular cleaning and maintenance can also prevent environmental damage.

Additional Tips to Enhance Surveying Equipment Usage

Regular Training and Continuous Learning:

Surveying is a field that requires both technical knowledge and practical skills. Regular training and continuous learning are crucial for staying updated on the latest technology and industry practices. Training can also improve your proficiency in using equipment, interpreting data, and troubleshooting problems. Many equipment manufacturers offer training programs for their products. Online platforms, industry workshops and professional organisations can also be excellent sources of learning and development.

Leveraging Online Resources and Communities:

The internet offers a wealth of resources for surveying professionals. From online tutorials and webinars to forums and social media groups, there are numerous platforms where you can learn, share experiences, and seek advice. Participating in these communities can provide practical tips, keep you updated on industry trends, and offer support when facing challenges.

Implementing Preventive Maintenance Practices:

Regular maintenance is crucial for the longevity and reliability of surveying equipment. Implement a preventive maintenance program, which involves regular inspections, cleaning, and minor repairs to prevent major faults and failures. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for maintenance and consider professional servicing for complex equipment. Keep a record of all maintenance activities to track the equipment's health and predict potential issues.

Remember, the initial cost of setting up a maintenance program can be easily offset by the reduced downtime, fewer major repairs, and increased equipment lifespan. Moreover, well-maintained equipment performs better and provides more reliable data contributing to the overall success of your surveying tasks.


Surveying is a field that demands precision, accuracy, and reliability. The equipment used in this domain is integral to its success, but it also presents a unique set of challenges. From calibration issues and data interpretation difficulties to maintenance concerns and adapting to new technologies, these challenges can be daunting. However, with understanding and careful management, they can be effectively overcome.

By implementing regular calibration checks, investing in ongoing learning and training, maintaining your equipment diligently, staying abreast of technological advancements and understanding how to work effectively in various environmental conditions, you can enhance the longevity and performance of your surveying equipment.

Remember, the challenges are part of the journey, and overcoming them is what leads to professional growth and development. Continue to learn, adapt, and evolve in your surveying practice. With the right knowledge and resources you can ensure the success of your projects and the durability of your equipment. Keep in mind that every challenge is an opportunity for learning and improvement in the fascinating field of surveying.


For an extensive range of surveying equipment, from Total Stations and GNSS Receivers to Lasers, Levels, and essential Accessories, consider exploring Hitechniques, where you can also book a demo, hire equipment or even take advantage of our special offers on used surveying equipment.


Further Reading and Resources

If you're interested in diving deeper into the topic of surveying and the use of surveying equipment, there are numerous resources available that can help expand your knowledge and understanding. Here are some recommendations:

  1. "Engineering Surveying" and "Surveying for Construction and Construction Quantity Surveying" as mentioned in the list of 20 best construction surveying books.
  2. "Surveying and Levelling" by N.N. Basak, and "Elementary Surveying: An Introduction to Geomatics" by Paul R. Wolf are highly rated books in the field of surveying.
  3. "Advanced Surveying: Total Station, GIS, and Remote Sensing" provides a thorough working knowledge of these technologies.
  4. "Surveying Fundamentals and Practices" covers up-to-date surveying technology while still providing a strong foundation in traditional surveying fundamentals.
  5. "Advanced Surveying - Total Station, GIS and Remote Sensing" by SatheeshGopi, R.Sathikumar, and N. Madhu, and "Surveying & levelling" by R. Subramanian is also recommended for advanced surveying subjects.

These resources can provide you with a wealth of information, whether you're a seasoned professional looking to brush up on the latest technologies, or a newcomer to the field seeking to build a solid foundation in surveying.