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It is very interesting to notice that today, when we use GPS systems, we think we are finally able to do position fixing, which we were not able to do before!

This is entirely wrong. The only difference is that we are now able to fix our position based on global co-ordnates. We have been able, however, since the late 1800's, to"tie into" both the US Coast & Geodetic Survey control points and the US Geological Survey bench marks to establish the x, y, and z co-ordinates of survey control points.

In the eastern United States, where the metes and bounds system of describing property boundaries  requires that boundary surveyors locate property boundary points in relation to one another and to the abutting properties, it does not make one iota of a difference what the location of the boundary in relation to a point in Paris, France, London, England, San Francisco, California, etc. Global or National position fixing in the metes and bounds states is not required by law.  In addition, determining the elevation of a point in metes and bounds surveys has only had legal meaning in determining sea and shore boundaries.

Lets talk about it.

David C. Garcelon

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  • Land Surveyor

    I prefer to make some measurements with GPS equipment and others with traditional line-of-sight instruments, however I do find it helpful that by incorporating GPS measurements which are relative within a single predefined coordinate system, I am able to maintain a database of points and surveys which are all on the same datum.  This aids me in cost estimating and overall efficiency.

    • Land Surveyor


      Creating a control network within the geographical area which you work is an excellent way to use GPS.

      Many years ago (in the 1980's) I had a powerline project which required a centerline to be laid out from the Maine/Quebec border to Jay, Maine, a 93 mile survey, completed in three months in the wintertime. The first 35 miles of this centerline did not cross a public road and was entirely through the Maine forest. We began on two GPS established points and 93 miles away ended on two GPS established..our closure was excellent. The experience convinced me of the viability of GPS.

      However, at the risk of being repetitive, I  have the strong opinion that boundary surveys must give top priority to the relationship of the boundary to the neighbors. After all, when you define your clients boundary, you are at the same time defining the neighbors boundary!


      • Land Surveyor


        I completely agree with you.  A boundary is a boundary, no matter which side of the line one is experiencing it from.  Boundary surveying is a game of evidence, law, and procedure more than it is of measurement at all.  Measurement, whether it be done with one type of equipment or another, is only one aspect in boundary determination.

        In exercising my quasi-judicial role (I love quoting Cooley) I may experience some hiccups in determining a boundary.  What I mean is that sometimes all of the evidence of boundary just don't form a preponderance of evidence to weigh my determination in one way or the other.

        Then what?  Did I fail to survey the property?  I don't think so.  In my opinion, in an instance such as this, I have discovered something that is not a matter of survey at all; a matter of title and legal condition are two that come to mind.

        Now, what should a surveyor do when he can not reconcile gross errors in descriptions, themselves, coupled with evidence in the field that does not corroborate any description, at all, and there may tend to exist unwritten title under the doctrine of adverse possession, or other legal conditions such as encroachment, prescriptive rights, etc.?

        This certainly seems like a maze that a surveyor could find himself in, and never get out of until he has no choice but to walk away from the contract.  Or does it?

        When conditions exist in written record and on the ground that, when combined, can be ambiguous to the point that it seems to the surveyor that his quasi-judicial powers can not be exercised without making matters worse, the surveyor should remember that he is not delineating lines of title.  He is merely forming a professional opinion of a boundary location based upon available records and evidence on the ground, and should not feel an obligation to reconcile color of title, or attempt to quiet title in any way except recommending the involvement of those who specialize in these matters.

        Oh no, a good estate attorney?  Perhaps so.

        When conditions that are no longer a matter of survey arise, I opine that a survey that should not be completed until these conditions are reconciled between those who share ambiguities.  Time to stop and finish the survey later.

        What do you think?

        Scott D. Warner, RLS

        Senior Director / Editor

        Land Surveyors United 

  • Land Surveyor

    Unfortunately the public does not comprehend this nuance. Being able to precisely locate something relative to something else does nothing toward actually locating a boundary corner. While boundary corners located by repeatable methods may be helpful for future recovery of those corners it does nothing to help you locate a boundary corner to begin with. 

    • Land Surveyor


      I agree with you.

      At my latitude (43-49-00.72N) and longitude (69-58-01.55W), 0.001 second of latitude arc equals 0.43 feet, and 0.001 second of longitude arc equals 0.10 feet. I don't believe any surveyor "worth their salt"surveying high value property boundaries would find errors of 0.10 feet or 0.43 feet, or their diagonal of 0.44 feet  acceptable. Not only that, but the repeatability of the same latitude and longitude using current day GPS systems is extremely difficult and expensive.

      I am convinced that in using GPS for boundary surveys is not only expensive; it gives the surveyor using it a false sense of comfort, and does nothing to satisfy the quasijudicial role the surveyor has in examining the rules of evidence.

      Beware of falling in love with the technology....

      David C. Garcelon

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