Hydrographic Surveyor • Job Description, Salary & Benefits

Did you know that 70% of the earth’s surface is made up of water? Underwater environments are home to many natural resources, plants and animal species and are also vital in moving people, goods and services across the entire globe.

Hydrographic surveyors are expert professionals who strive to make sure that marine resources and environments are maintained, explored and utilised in an ethical and sustainable manner.

Essentially, this profession involves collecting scientific data and mapping the underwater topography of oceanic and inland bodies of water. These scientific professionals use state-of-the-art hydrographic surveying equipment and innovative techniques in both commercial and non-commercial fields.

The vital surveying work that these guys do helps in the plotting of charts, maps and routes for navigation purposes. The information that they collect is also useful for planning aquaculture projects, the construction of artificial harbours, ports and dock facilities and the exploration and extraction of minerals, ores, oil and gas.

Hydrographic surveying is also an essential part of the planning process when it comes to laying and installing communications infrastructure such as underwater and seabed cables, transmitters and sonar equipment.

Furthermore, hydrographic studies facilitate marine research into ocean currents and the effect of climate change and industrialisation on marine environments.

Hydrographic surveyors are employed by commercial consultancies that offer cartography and surveying services, academic research institutes and private companies in the mining, energy and construction industries.

Defence organisations, such as the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) and the Royal Navy, also employ complete divisions of scientific professionals to work on marine-based activities, including hydrographic surveying.

Salary & benefits

Annual salaries for entry-level surveyors range between £20,000 and £26,000. However, in addition to your basic pay, you’ll receive an offshore allowance for each day that you spend working out on the high seas. This can add around £10,000 to £15,000 onto your salary each year. Not bad eh?

Experienced personnel can earn basic salaries of around £25,000 to £50,000, but with the addition of offshore allowances your total earnings could reach £75,000 per annum.

Experienced freelance hydrographic surveyors can even charge between £200 and £450 a day.

Working hours

Field or offshore work is likely to take up around 150 days of your time each year, with the rest of your working hours being spent in an office or lab facility.

Daily working hours are usually quite long (ten-14 hours) and office-based personnel are occasionally required to be on-call during weekends and national holidays to deal with any emergencies or issues in the field.


To break into this line of work, a strong undergraduate degree is essential (2:1 minimum), preferably in a subject such as mathematics, physics, computer science, statistics, operational research, geology, geography, cartography, surveying, marine sciences, civil engineering, environmental engineering, environmental geoscience or oceanography.

To really boost your chances of getting the hydrographic surveying job that you want, it may be advisable to do a relevant postgraduate degree in hydrographic surveying, geomatics or geographical information systems (GIS).

Gaining work experience through vacation schemes or industrial training placements can also be useful since the number of jobs available in this field is limited, while the number of aspiring candidates is huge. A valid driving licence is also required by many employers.

Training & progression

Training and development is primarily provided whilst on the job. However, most employees will go through a preliminary induction period, which also includes formal training sessions in onshore and offshore environments.

Gaining membership and professional qualifications from professional bodies, such as the International Federation of Hydrographic Societies (IFHS), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST), is essential if you’re aiming for a long and successful career in this area.

As you progress in your career, you will start as a trainee before becoming a full-on surveyor, and then eventually you’ll be promoted into the position of a senior hydrographic surveyor.

Since salaried employment opportunities at higher levels are limited, many hydrographic surveyors tend to start their own businesses after working between five and ten years for a large organisation.

It’s also possible to move into other related surveying fields, or specialise in niche areas of hydrographic surveying, such as geomatics, geographical information systems, technical support or geophysics.

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