Hydrographic Surveying Careers

Hydrography is the science of measuring and mapping the underwater features of oceans, coastal areas, lakes and rivers. As part of this process, it also involves understanding tides and currents. Hydrographic Surveying is the process of mapping the underwater seamounts, hills, valleys and any potential obstacles in a similar way to the measurement and mapping of physical features on land.

Mapping the Underwater Landscape: Hydrographic surveyors use sonars and LiDAR combined with GNSS and motion sensing technology, to measure the depth of the water and the shape and type of the underwater terrain. Sonars send sound waves and LiDAR sensors send lasers into the water, and by analysing how these waves bounce back, they create detailed seabed maps.

Navigational Safety: These maps are crucial for safe navigation. Everyone from giant ships to kayaks rely on accurate nautical charts to avoid hazards, like rocks and shallow areas.

Environmental Management: Understanding the underwater environment is essential for environmental conservation. Hydrographic surveying helps monitor changes in the seabed, study marine ecosystems, and assess the impact of human activities on aquatic environments.

Coastal Development and Planning: Hydrographic surveying plays a role in coastal development projects. The hydrographic surveyor’s accurate mapping of the seabed helps decision makers better understand the coastal environment, including erosion patterns and sediment movements and to identify suitable sites for infrastructure development.

Scientific Research: Scientists use hydrographic data for a variety of research purposes including to better understand our oceans (oceanography), marine geology and underwater flora and fauna. These scientific studies contribute to a better understanding of the health of the Earth's oceans and the effects pollution and other man-made activities have on the well-being of our climate and eco-systems.

Climate Change: Hydrographic surveyors play a key role in understanding the effects of climate change, particularly the effects of sea-level rise on the coastal zone, coastal inundation, and the effective management of the coastal environment to make it more resilient.

Natural Disaster Resilience: Hydrographic surveyors are often the first to arrive after a natural disaster, such as Cyclone Gabrielle in 2023, to assess the damage to the coastal domain and facilitate access to remote communities. In the aftermath they are also involved in ‘building back better’, ensuring that infrastructure such as wharves and jetties are more resilient to future environmental impacts.

A career in hydrographic surveying starts with education and training. In New Zealand you can learn to be a hydrographic surveyor at the following locations:


Specialist certification in hydrographic surveying is official recognition that an individual possesses the necessary knowledge and experience to perform hydrographic surveying tasks across various hydrographic disciplines. The professional assessment and certification of hydrographic surveyors is conducted through the Australasian Hydrographic Surveyors Certification Panel (AHSCP), which is jointly sponsored by Survey + Spatial New Zealand and the Geospatial Council of Australia.


Building a successful career in hydrographic surveying involves a combination of education, hands-on experience, and networking within the industry. Stay proactive, engage in regular CPD, and demonstrate a strong commitment to the field – it’s a great profession!