Reconnaissance: The Surveyor's Report

A 98Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

As noted by Alexander and Hermansen, the use of a "Surveyor’s Report" is an excellent tool to convey relevant information about a survey to a variety of audiences (see sidebar). West Virginia and Indiana also recognize this fact; their respective state survey standards require such a document be prepared and provided to the client.

The essence of the concept of a surveyor’s report is that seldom will the plat of survey alone convey all of the information that played a part in the resolution of a boundary. Depending on the exact content and manner in which the information in the report is presented, clients, attorneys, and title companies may all be interested in reading it so they can understand the results of the survey and the issues that affect the boundary lines.

West Virginia requires that the report include information on the weight given to conflicting evidence, encroachments, overlaps and gaps. Indiana requires the same, in addition to the inclusion of measurement related uncertainties.

What purpose is served by documenting and providing such information? When Indiana first adopted its administrative rule in 1988 requiring surveyor reports, one surveyor was heard to say "I know that my surveys are not perfect, but I can’t tell my client that." Portraying or implying to one’s client that a survey has no error is a rather precarious position to take. Talk about setting yourself up for a lawsuit! If our surveys are not perfect, do we really want our clients–or anyone–to believe they are?

Nearly every boundary survey involves some set of facts or evidence that potentially compromise the surveyor’s ability to develop an "exact" answer. It is logical and appropriate that the client and others who may rely on the survey (lender, title company, and possibly others) have the benefit of the same information that the surveyor had, as well as the logic and principles that the surveyor applied to the problem.

So, what are the types of evidence and facts that inhibit the surveyor’s ability to develop that perfect boundary–the one that has no error?

Most obvious is one that surveyors deal with every day–the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect measurement. Most states outline an acceptable tolerance or closure in survey measurements. This information is very appropriate to include in a surveyor’s report. Even better, we can use the report to provide the client with a bit of education in that regard. "Boilerplate" language could be easily developed to explain in plain words a bit of measurement theory. Think of the possibilities! All of a sudden you are not "just a surveyor" to the client, but an expert in mathematics, statistics, and physics.

Other facts and evidence that contribute to imperfect boundary resolutions include record documents that are erroneous, incomplete, ambiguous and conflicting. Even when or if the sources of such problems are identified, there may still be that current deed description that the client took title to–one that the surveyor did not create (hopefully) and likewise cannot make it go away.

There are problematic reference monuments that descriptions tie to, and that surveys must be based on–monuments that are uncertain, ambiguous or indeterminate–like the description that began at the intersection of two right-of-way lines, neither of which ever existed; or the purported section corner monument that had been used extensively by numerous surveyors for years that has recently been found to be 17 feet in error.

What about potential encroachments or possible unwritten rights? Rather than settle for vague information on a plat of survey, a client should be able to read a detailed explanation of the conditions.

Most of this sort of information simply cannot be clearly depicted on a plat of survey. The surveyor should outline and explain these issues in a surveyor’s report, so the interested parties have the benefit of the surveyor’s extensive and detailed work and resulting opinion.

There are many surveyors who are hesitant or even hostile towards the idea of providing such information in a report. Some believe it is proprietary information that should, for a variety of reasons, not be given out. Some believe it increases their liability. Some think it will take too much time and cost too much.

These are not valid arguments. Providing information so other surveyors can readily understand the evidence and procedures used in a boundary resolution will encourage those that come after to follow in your footsteps rather than wonder what you did. Outlining and explaining the imperfect set of facts and evidence that had to be dealt with will help the reader appreciate the limits of the surveyor’s work and the qualifications to his or her opinions.

On a simple, straightforward survey, the preparation of a report need not be a laborious, expensive, or complicated exercise. If the surveyor formed an opinion based on solid boundary law principles and appropriate evidence, it should not be difficult to distill that information down to a complete, concise account.

In the case of a large or particularly difficult survey, the development of the final boundary may have been complicated as a variety of evidence was weighed and weighted, and as applicable boundary law principles applied to that evidence. The resulting report may, therefore, be relatively lengthy. But even in that case–and perhaps especially in that case–simply going through the thought process of preparing the report will give the surveyor confidence in and confirmation of the boundary resolution that was developed.

Explaining to clients, attorneys and title companies that the results of a boundary survey are not perfect–and that, in some cases, there may be issues that prevent a singular, definitive solution–is simply good business, and truthful. And what a valuable opportunity to explain what surveyors really do–that the measuring is actually the easy part!

Here’s a sample preamble to help you get started:

"The following observations and opinions are submitted regarding the various uncertainties in the locations of the lines and corners established in this survey due to uncertainties in reference monumentation; in record descriptions and plats; in lines of occupation; and as introduced by random errors in measurement. There may be unwritten rights associated with these uncertainties. This survey was based on…"

Gary Kent is Director of Surveying at The Schneider Corporation in Indianapolis. He is past-president of ACSM and chairs the ALTA committee. He is on the Indiana Board of Registration and lectures locally and nationally.


The purpose for creating a survey report is to provide clear, concise and complete information on the facts, assumptions, analyses, procedures and results obtained during the survey. The motive for preparing a report varies among surveyors. The five most popular motives are the following:
(1) The report provides the client with a more detailed and complete explanation than the survey plat typically provides. In other words, the report allows the surveyor to express with words what he or she may not be able to display graphically. In this regard, the report provides extra information and may help prevent misunderstanding and end some confusion that many clients have in interpreting the plat.
(2) Supplying the client with a report motivates the surveyor to devote the necessary time and thought to the research, reconnaissance, and analysis. To prepare the report without devoting enough time and thought to the survey soon exposes the shortcomings of the survey.
(3) In conjunction with the second reason, the preparation of a survey report forces the surveyor to organize the survey information, analyze the information in a rational manner, and explain the results in a coherent style.
(4) Once the report is finished, it provides various end-users, such as other professionals and intraoffice personnel, with a detailed record of the survey.
(5) Finally, even assuming the contents of the document may not be read by others, the report provides an archival source to refresh the surveyor’s memory at a later time.

[A] report of survey shall be used when the plat and description of survey do not adequately address all matters considered by the surveyor in performing the survey and should be provided to the client with the plat and the description of survey. The report of survey shall include all unusual circumstances surrounding the survey, with the weight given to conflicting evidence and encroachments, overlaps or gaps and how they were resolved and the names of adjoiners contacted and the information they supplied.

(a) When conducting a retracement survey or an original survey, a registered land surveyor shall do the following:
(1) Furnish the client with a written surveyor’s report that, in addition to other pertinent data, explains the theory of location applied in establishing or retracing the lines and corners of the surveyed parcel and gives the registered land surveyor’s professional opinion of the cause and the amount of uncertainty in those lines and corners because of the following:
(A) Availability and condition of reference monuments.
(B) Occupation or possession lines.
(C) Clarity or ambiguity of the record description used, and adjoiner’s descriptions.
(D) The theoretical uncertainty of the measurements.

A 98Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Gary Kent, PS

Gary Kent is Director, Integrated Services at The Schneider Corporation in Indianapolis. He is past-president of ACSM and chairs the ALTA/ACSM Committee for NSPS and the Liaison Committee for ALTA. He is on the Indiana Board of Registration and lectures both locally and nationally.