Surveyor Symbols & Signs – A Guide

The following guide is a simplified description of a variety of markings that are used by land surveyors. Throughout an active shale gas field, the first signs of pending expansions are the simple markings of stakes, flags, and pins. Many months or even years before the chain saw fells the first tree or the first dozer blade cuts the dirt at a well pad location, the surveyors have “marked the target” on behalf of their corporate tactical command staff.

The three most commonly used markings are the simple stakes, flags and pins. These surveyor symbols are common to any construction project and guarantee that everything gets put in the right place. In an active gas field, these marking tools are used for all aspects of exploration and production:

  • access roads to well pads,
  • widening the traveled portion of the roadway,
  • well locations,
  • ponds and impoundment locations,
  • temporary water pipeline paths,
  • surface disturbance limits,
  • compressor stations,
  • gas processing sites, and
  • rights-of-way for roads and pipelines.

Quite frequently these simple markings are undecipherable by themselves, especially by non-professionals. One cannot just know what is happening, what is likely to occur, or how concerned one should be. Context and additional information are usually needed. Sometimes the simple colors and combinations of colored tapes might only make sense in conjunction with similar markings nearby. Sometimes public notices in the newspaper and regulatory permits must be used to decipher what is planned.

For an example, the proposed 30″ diameter EQT pipeline called the Ohio Valley Connector seems to be regularly marked using a combination of blue and white (see figure 10 below) surveyors tape to mark the actual pipeline location, then green and white (see figure 4 below) to mark all the proposed access roads along the routes that will be used to get pipe trucks and excavation equipment into the right of way. These access roads might be public roadways or cut across private leased property.

Common surveyor symbols & signs (click on images to zoom in)

Surveyor flags and tape: Sometime the flags or streamers are just attached to trees, fence posts, or put on a stake to make them visible above the weeds. There might be no markings on the stake, or only simple generic markings. This could just mean that this is the correct road and turn here. It could also signal a proposed or approximate location for some future work.

Simple surveyor’s flags or tape

Simple surveyor’s flags or tape

Surveyor flags and tapes: These are a selection of typical surveyor tapes, also called flags or ribbons. Many other specialty color combinations are available to the professional surveyor.

A selection of surveyor tapes

Stakes with simple markings: Flags with some type of identification (it might be names or numbers). This one was used for a proposed well pad access road location. There are no dimensions given on these.

Stake with simple markings

Stakes with simple flags and basic identification: The stakes shown here all indicate an access route to be used for equipment and trucks to get to a proposed pipeline right of way. The “H310″ is the EQT name for the 30” OVC pipeline.

Stakes indicating an access route

Control points: These three stakes are identifying a control point that is outside the limits of disturbance (LoD). These markings surround a pin to be used for reference.

Control point stakes

Controls points: This stake is also identifying a control point location. All control points will have some type of driven metal rod, usually with a plastic cap identifying the surveyor. Frequently there are three stakes with extra flags or tape. They are always set off to the side of the intended work area. They are not to be disturbed.

Control point stake and pin

Control points: Another set of three stakes marking a Control Point location. It is common to see triple stakes with elaborate, multiple flags. Even if only two stakes are present, there always will be a driven steel pin and identifying cap.

Control point stakes and pin

Control points: This shows a close-up of the identifying cap on a metal driven steel pin. Control point locations are not meant to be disturbed as they are for future and repeated reference. They might give the latitude and longitude on the stake plus the altitude above sea level.

Control point pin and cap

Control points: This is another, older control point location. This represents a typical arrangement where the stakes somewhat try to protect the metal pin from a bulldozer blade by warning its operator.

Control point pin protection

Limit of disturbance: The “L O D” here means the limits of disturbance. Beyond this point there should not be any trees cut or dirt moved. The stakes shown here indicates that this is the outside limit of where the contractor will be disturbing the original contour of the surface soil.

Limit of disturbance stakes

Limit of disturbance: The “L O D” means the limits of disturbance of the proposed pipeline right of way. Beyond this point there should not be any trees cut or dirt moved. This could also be used for the outside edge of well pads or access roads or pond locations.

Limit of disturbance ROW stakes

Pipelines: Stakes with flags and “center line” markings are usually for pipelines. Here you see the symbol for center line: a capital letter “C” imposed on the letter “L”.

Pipelines center line

Pipelines: Again you see the capital letter “C” super imposed on top of the letter “L” used frequently for pipe line center lines, but can also be used for proposed access roads.

Pipelines center line

Pipelines: As shown here, “C” and “L” center line flags can also be used for future well pad access roads.

Road access center line

Precise location markings: Stakes like this will usually have a steel pin also associated with it. This stake gives the latitude, longitude, and elevation of the site.

Precise location stake

Permanent property lines: You may also find markings, like this one inch steel rod with an alum cap, that denote permanent property lines and corners of property.

Permanent property rod

Permanent property lines: Another kind of permanent property line or corner marker is the “boundary survey monument.” This is likely an aluminum cap on top of a one inch diameter steel bar.

Boundary survey monument

12 replies
  1. Jeremy Thompson
    Jeremy Thompson says:

    It’s amazing that so many things are to be taken into account when surveying one’s land such as the LODs and property lines. If I do get my own land in the future, I’ll keep these in mind and seek a professional. Thanks for the detailed guide!

  2. Taylor Bishop
    Taylor Bishop says:

    Thanks for explaining all these different surveyor symbols and signs. I didn’t realize that control points were meant to give the latitude and longitude and are not meant to be disturbed. It definitely seems beneficial to learn about these symbols. After all, you don’t want to mess up a surveyor’s work, especially if it’s currently being used or will be used in the future.

  3. John P Ruiz
    John P Ruiz says:

    yellow cap on stake rpls
    next to a wooden stake pink flagged and 2-1412

    just moved in and this passed my survey marks into my property

  4. Raynard C jones
    Raynard C jones says:

    Can you tell me what H/W mean. It is written in green on the road in front of our house. They are starting a interchange here soon and i think our house is in the way.

    • Sam Rubright, DrPH
      Sam Rubright, DrPH says:

      Hi Veronica, can you give us a little more details about this signage? Is the arrow spray painted on the road, a stake, or on a sign somewhere? Is there any other notation accompanying it?

  5. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    If there is a orange rubber elasticity tie around a tree stump. What does that mean? Our neighbors doing a land survey on her property. Plus there is a orange rubber band in the ground at the
    Opposite end between our properties

  6. Lance Nunez
    Lance Nunez says:

    How do you determine your location on 100 mile pipeline. For example on one of the images of stake reads P CL 501 + 17, what does this mean?

    • Sam Rubright, MPH, CPH
      Sam Rubright, MPH, CPH says:

      The markings on this particular photo refer to this surveyor stake picture here.

      OVC – Ohio Valley Connector – the pipeline it is marking
      P and the C-L – mean the centerline of the actual pipe once it is buried.
      501 + 17 – requires some math. We need to multiply the 501 by 100 = 50,100 feet, then divide that by the number of feet in a mile, which is 5,280 feet. This yield 50100/5280 = 9.488 or 9.5 miles.

      Then look at this map photo here.

      That is a photo taken of a set of FERC-approved maps of the pipeline construction documents. The black square that I added shows where the photo of this surveyor stake was actually taken. It is where the red or orange line, the pipeline, crosses this road called Barker Run Road. The Road is in dashed red marks. To the left and the right the pipeline mile markers are shown, 9.0 and 10.0. Where it crosses is about 9.5 miles from the zero point or start point of the pipeline.

      The surveyor stake is somewhat confusing since the background is the nearby guardrail and the pavement behind it also.

      Now it is up to you up to extrapolate this info to your 100 mile pipeline question. Other surveyors might do this differently.

      On behalf of Bill Hughes
      Wetzel County

  7. Kairi Gainsborough
    Kairi Gainsborough says:

    Bill, it is really interesting that land surveyors use so many signs and symbols to mark the ground as they work. I never knew that all the stakes and flags you see by the road were put up by surveyors to communicate some sort of meaning. I’ll have to look at the writing the next time I pass one of these to see if I can guess what they are saying.

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