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Are States Cracking Down on Drone Surveying Services without a Land Surveyor's License?

Mar 29, 2018
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There's been some discussion on the potential need for a Land Surveyor License to provide drone surveying and mapping service. I saw somewhere that recently the State of California was cracking down on this. Just got a call from an investigator from my state wanting to learn more about my surveying and mapping service. Sounded like an older guy and thereby my hunch was this was all new to him. He came across as genuinely curious, not like it was a sting operation. Coincidentally this happened shortly after we started advertising on the Internet. May have rubbed one or more existing Land Surveyors the wrong way prompting a call to our department of licensing.

I explained to him that we make it explicit to all our customers that we are not land surveyors and that we just collect image data that can be used to produce things that land surveyors produce but we don't provide drafting services, and we cannot and do not certify the accuracy of our data for use in land surveying and mapping. We work with land surveyors unwilling to this point to add a drone to their toolbox, to help them and the customer save time and money.

Here's the interesting gray area though. In some states I believe the law is worded to define land surveying as any service that provides spatial measurements of land. This linked in article talks about it and has actual wording from various states:

UAS Mapping: Is a Surveying license required?

The big unanswered question for me though is what if the customer acknowledges they aren't looking for anything very precise? Obviously, an orthomosaic photo of a land area would be okay in my mind. But what if they want a contour map that just estimates/approximates land contours for their own information and the map isn't going to be part of any deliverable certified by a land surveyor? Technically, that's still providing a service for measurement of land.

So maybe the answer for now is, it depends on the state's wording and how vigorous they are going to try to enforce it or interpret it.

My response was that we make it explicit to anyone we work with that we are not land surveyors and do not provide certification or any other guarantees as to the data accuracy for land surveying and mapping purposes in any situation. That is the responsibility of a licensed land surveyor that the customer chooses to work with." But what if they just want an orthomosaic with precise absolute geolocation data so we subcontract a land surveyor to lay down the ground control points, but the ortho isn't going to be used in any legal document or certified land surveying map? Same thing for something like a topo contour map.

So what do people think, as long as the disclaimer is made to the customer and the deliverable, if its a map, DEM, DSM, etc, isn't used as part of a drawing stamped by a licensed surveyor without a disclaimer, is everything kosher? I talked to one licensed Land Surveyor who said it is not uncommon to include information in their drawings that are for informational purposes only and are not suitable for making measurements with "survey grade" accuracy.

I really hope smaller Land Surveying outfits or individuals look at us as a boon to save them the hassle of learning to operate and maintain a drone, as opposed to being a competitor.
Jul 14, 2017
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When I started supplementing my land surveying business with aerial data I reached out to my states board of engineering/surveying to see what I needed a stamp/signature on and they're answer was pretty simple...if you are showing measurements of any kind on your deliverables(property lines even if no dimensions are shown, acreage, even contours are included since they are a measurement of the grounds elevation) or your deliverables are used to quantify anything for payment(think volume calculations for quarries, excavation quantities for construction companies etc.) than it must be stamped by a licensed surveyor. But every state is different so I always recommend pilots that want to offer these services call their state board and have a conversation about whats allowed.

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