Marine Survey

Marine Survey is concerned with the production of maps or charts of the seafloor and the geological structure beneath it. This mapping is conducted using a variety of instruments operated from coastal and ocean going vessels.

Echo sounders are used to determine water depth and hence seabed topography or bathymetry. In addition, a variety of geophysical instruments are employed to examine the characteristics of the seabed and the sediments and rocks beneath it. Samples of the seafloor are obtained using grabs and coring devices.

In common with all measurement at sea, precise positioning is essential and a range of systems are used from lasers for short–range very high accuracy work to global satellite navigation systems for positioning throughout the world’s oceans.

Most of the processing and presentation of the data collected at sea is undertaken using computers. In many cases survey data are processed on board ship providing immediate access to the end product charts and maps. Certain types of survey data processing require access to large computing resources and very elaborate processing software.

Marine survey is of three main types:

  • Continental shelf survey for study of the shallower waters around the land masses. These surveys are conducted to support safe navigation, the design of coastal structures and coastal defences and the development of offshore structures and pipelines.
  • Seismic survey to investigate the geological structure to considerable depths below the seafloor. This type of survey is mainly conducted in support of exploration for offshore oil and gas reserves.
  • Deep ocean survey to investigate the seabed off the continental shelf in water depths of up to 6 kilometres or more. Results of these surveys are used for research into seafloor geology and plate tectonics, as well as for practical problems such as the routing and design of submarine cables.


A wide variety of disciplines are needed to support the marine survey business including electronics, geology, geophysics and computer science.

Career opportunities are good in both the private and public sector. Many of the opportunities in the private sector are associated with the offshore oil and gas industry, which is exploring ever–deeper waters for hydrocarbon reserves. As well as opportunities with seismic exploration companies there are a number of specialist marine survey companies such as Fugro–Geoteam, Fugro–UDI and Racal Survey. In the public sector, appropriately qualified scientists and engineers are employed by a number of research organisations such as the National Oceanography Centre and the British Geological Survey. Many of the companies and organisations concerned with marine survey operate on a worldwide basis and, hence, offer careers with considerable opportunity for overseas travel.

Qualifications for entry into a marine survey career are varied. There are opportunities at both a graduate and technician level for engineering support of survey operations. Professional marine surveyors need a survey or marine science degree with a hydrographic option, and most marine geologists and geophysicists are qualified to graduate or postgraduate level. In all cases a good degree of computer literacy is vital.

For further information:

The Hydrographic Society UK
PO Box 103
Plymouth PL4 7YP
UKt01752 223512
f01752 223512
e [email protected]
National Oceanography Centre
Waterfront Campus
European Way
Hampshire SO14 3ZH
t 02380 506666