What Is a Survey Marker?

Mary McMahon

A survey marker is a permanent or temporary object that marks a point of interest or reference on a survey. Such markers can be placed by government agencies as well as surveyors on private contracts. A careful record goes with each marker to note where and when it was set and record any relevant details. Disturbing survey markers is forbidden, as it could interfere with government operations and other business.

A property surveyor may leave markers to note boundaries.
A property surveyor may leave markers to note boundaries.

The history of survey markers is ancient. Humans have used maps to delineate boundaries and other points of interest for centuries, and relied on markers like stone cairns or distinctive geographical features to orient themselves. Maps would note the location and significance of a marker so the reader could find it and use it as a point of reference. The practice of making markers from stone, wood, clay, and other materials has a long history in some regions of the world.

Surveyors may place permanent or temporary survey markers as part of their work.
Surveyors may place permanent or temporary survey markers as part of their work.

Government agencies typically place permanent survey markers, anchoring them in cement or staking them in place to make them hard to move. The marker can include an identifying number and other information that may be useful for observers. When it is used in triangulation observations, it may have a small triangle icon or a notch for a tripod. A clause warning of legal penalties for anyone who attempts to move the survey marker is also common.

Surveyors may place permanent or temporary survey markers as part of their work. They typically use a survey marker to note part of a property boundary, or a point of interest in a survey. When they record data about the marker and its placement, they can note any particular findings or observations. These markers can also be used in activities like staking claims or preparing timber harvest plans, where physical markers in a location of interest may be legally required.

The falsification, removal, or tampering of survey markers can carry significant penalties. These markers are part of the official record used for activities ranging from generating detailed topographical maps to determining national boundaries. If a marker is accidentally disturbed, this should be reported to the appropriate point of contact, usually listed on or near the marker, so the issue can be corrected.

In some regions, enthusiast organizations conduct survey marker scavenger hunts. Members of these organizations seek out markers listed on maps and other documents. They take pictures to document their survey marker finds and share them at meetings and through websites.

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Discussion Comments


For Washington state: In a boundary dispute, a neighbor hired a surveyor who put markers on our side of the fence. Needless to say, it is quite frustrating while we deal with the legal issues.

He placed both permanent markers in the ground and then temporary white survey stakes with pink flags next to them. These have been up for over 90 days. Is it legal to take the temporary white stakes down while leaving up the permanent markers?

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