Authored by: Tim Fassbender, PLS, CWRE, Board Member
Periodically, the Board is asked whether bathymetric surveying is the practice of land surveying, requiring a Professional Land Surveyor’s license or Professional Engineer’s license. Using bathymetry is not, in and of itself, the practice of a licensed profession. Instead, bathymetric mapping is a tool, which can be used for activities that require licensure, and for activities that do not require licensure. Whether the surveying done with bathymetry requires OSBEELS depends on whether it falls within the statutes defining the practices of licensed surveying, and whether it then falls within a statutory exemption from licensure.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may explain it best:
Bathymetry is the study of the “beds” or “floors” of water bodies, including the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes. The term “bathymetry”…has [generally] come to mean “submarine topography,” or the depths and shapes of underwater terrain. In the same way that topographic maps represent the three-dimensional features (or relief) of overland terrain, bathymetric maps illustrate the land that lies underwater.
Surveying under PE Registration
Under OSBEELS’s laws, using bathymetry to perform surveying:
- To determine area or topography;
- To establish lines, grades or elevations, or to determine or estimate quantities of materials¹ required, removed or in place; or
- Required for design and construction layout of engineering and architectural infrastructure,
all requires the individual surveying to be a licensed Professional Engineer (see ORS 672.005(1)(c) to (f)).
Surveying under PLS Registration
Subsection (2) of the law, ORS 672.005, also describes the type of bathymetric surveying work which only a licensed Professional Land Surveyor may undertake, which includes:
(2) “Practice of land surveying” means doing any of the following
(a) Providing or offering to provide for others professional services that…involve:
(A) The making of geometric measurements and gathering of related information pertaining to:
(i) The physical or legal features of the earth;
(ii) Improvements on the earth; or
(iii) The space above or below the earth; or
(B) The development of measurements and information described in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph into graphics, data, maps, plans, reports, descriptions, projects or other survey products.
(b) Performing geodetic surveys [marine geodesy] for others.
(c) Establishing, reestablishing or replacing boundaries or geodetic control monuments or reference points.
(d) Locating, relocating, establishing, reestablishing or retracing any property lines or boundaries for any tract of [underwater] land… or [“bed or bank”] easement.
(e) Making any survey for the division or subdivision of a tract of land or for the consolidation of tracts of land.
(f) Locating and laying out for others alignments, positions or elevations for the construction of fixed works.
(g) Performing or offering to perform for others any investigation, interpretation or evaluation of, or any consultation about, any of the services described in paragraphs (a) to (f) of this subsection.
(h) Collecting, preparing, manipulating or modifying data related to activities described in paragraphs (a) to (f) of this subsection for others, other than acting as a scrivener.
(j) Making surveys that involve horizontal or vertical mapping control or geodetic control.
However, even if someone is using bathymetry to engage in one of the activities listed above, those activities will not require OSBEELS licensure if they fall under one of the below 18 subsections contained within ORS 672.060, activities not requiring registration.
One example previously discussed by the Board of how licensed surveying and exempted surveying can connect in the world of bathymetry was that of using bathymetric surveying to find underwater marine craft or sunken treasure. The Board members opined that, if bathymetric surveying was used to find a sunken ship or sunken treasure, it appeared to fall under the “depicting the distribution of natural or cultural resources, features or phenomena” exemption of ORS 672.060(18), and no OSBEELS license would be required. However, if bathymetric surveying was used to determine who owned the seabed, riverbed, or lake-bed property on which the ship or treasure rested, the exemption would not apply, and the law likely requires a PLS license.
Similarly, if a Professional Land Surveyor and a Professional Engineer were in a boat crossing a river and taking soundings to find the deepest part of the river for the best fishing spot, then their activity may fall under the exemption of ORS 672.060, and it would seem likely neither of them would need to be licensed to locate that spot in the river. However, if the Professional Engineer used bathymetry to gather information on the riverbed topography to design a bridge for a municipal client, then no exemption appears to apply. And it is likely the Professional Engineer would need to stamp the bathymetric topo map they produced. If the Professional Land Surveyor used bathymetry to determine the thread of the river, itself used to determine the boundary location between the two land owners of both sides of the river then – again – no statutory exemption appears to apply and the Professional Land Surveyor would need to prepare a map showing the information and location, stamped by the Professional Land Surveyor.
In conclusion, the activities surrounding Bathymetry can be confusing to the lay person and a point of argument between Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors. The Oregon Revised Statutes defining the gathering and use of information for either engineering or land surveying are clear. The confusion comes when separating bathymetric mapping activity from the purpose or use of that bathymetry. It is not bathymetry itself that requires licensure. Instead, licensure is required when the use or purpose of the bathymetric mapping requires professional registration, and determines which type of registration that is (e.g., if used for determining the location of any type of property boundaries or ownership -- then the law typically requires the gathering, mapping and determination to be performed by, or under the direct supervision of, a licensed Professional Land Surveyor).
¹ Note: the OSBEELS has not yet formally addressed the question of
whether water is a “material” within the meaning of this section of law.