I Have a Hand Held GPS! I Can Survey my Land Myself!

Garmin Hand Held GPS“I’ve got a hand held GPS.  I can survey my land myself.”  How many times have you heard this?  This seems to be getting more and more common as hand held GPS receivers are becoming more popular.  Hand held GPS may be great for hunting/fishing/geocaching but shouldn’t be used to survey your property.

With recreational GPS sports such as Geocaching becoming more popular, people are pushing these units to the extreams.  Geocaching is a growing sport where people use their hand held GPS receivers to find hidden containers.  As this sport grows more people are purchasing hand held GPS receivers like a Garmin.  The idea of this sport is to enter a lat/lon coordinate into the receiver.  This is called a way point.  Once the way point is entered you would navigate to it.  Usually there is a container with some hidden treasures inside for you to take.  The idea is that you will take something and replace it with something different.

These hand held GPS receivers are fairly accurate in that you can locate these treasures.  Usually you can get within a couple metres of the cache.  Some people think that because it is easy to find these caches, then it must also be easy to survey your land.  All you really need is some coordinates to enter as way points.  These coordinates are becoming very easy to get for properties.  There are many applications on the internet that have just what your looking for.  Its as simple as hovering over the corner of you property and now you have coordinates that you can type into your receiver and simply walk to where your property corner should be.  You might be lucky enough to have it match up with actual property corner markers.  I’ve actually seen where people move their property corners to match what their hand held GPS tells them.  Please don’t disturb your legal property corners, as these are very important to both you the owner and the surveyors.

There are a couple problems with using hand held GPS to survey your property.  The first problem is that the accuracy of recreational GPS is not accurate enough to survey with.  Try saving a way point and then navigate to it.  You will see that this point is not stationary by several metres.  If you have a buddy that works for a construction company they might be able to borrow a survey grade GPS setup.  This GPS is much more accurate.  It will be within an inch or so.  This sounds like you could easily survey the property now, but this is not the case.

Web Mapping

This is a typical web mapping application

The other problem is that the coordinates that you get off the internet or possibly other sources may not be accurate either.  These mapping applications may show property boundaries and they might be exactly right.  The question you need to ask is where did this information come from.  Sometimes the coordinates shown are only approximate locations for the property.  If the mapper doesn’t know exactly where the survey marks are on the ground they will just make an educated guess.  This is especially true where I am from.  I have seen properties mapped on the wrong side of the street.  There have been plenty of times where the actual parcel looks nothing like how it is mapped.  Here is where things can go wrong.  Land owners can get this information very easily and use it to mark their property corners and lines.  With these new marks they decide they have enough room for a new garage or shed.  What happens 10 years later when the neighbour gets their property surveyed by a licensed Land Surveyor?  They end up finding out that their garage or shed are not within the bounds of what they own.  This is going to cost a lot of money to get fixed.  Property lines could be moved with a subdivision of the properties by taking a piece of land from the neighbour and adding it to your lot.  This may be impossible due to zoning regulations.  There are minimum set backs, areas and frontages that come into play.  Maybe the garage will need to be torn down or moved.


Category(s): Global Navigation Satellite System, hand held gps, Surveying, Technology
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