Wisconsin Geospatial News

Can I survey my property with my smartphone?

Smartphones have become an essential part of our daily lives, providing convenience and accessibility to numerous tasks. With their built-in GPS capabilities, it is tempting to consider using them for property boundary surveying. However, it is important to understand that when it comes to accurate and precise measurements required for professional land surveying purposes, cell phone GPS falls short.

Cell phone GPS can be useful for everyday tasks like navigation, but lacks the necessary accuracy and precision for land surveying. A Google search of the question “Can I survey my property with my smartphone?” yields some questionable results.  Some companies and smartphone application creators claim that any smartphone with GPS capabilities can be used to serve that purpose.  However, relying solely on cell phone GPS for property boundary identification can lead to inaccuracies, misunderstandings, landowner disputes, and have potential legal implications.

A recent case study that was brought to the attention of the President of the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors (WSLS), Bryan Meyer, is the Wisconsin landowner who in 2022 went on a quest to determine the boundary of his newly purchased property. Using a cell phone app, the landowner determined what he believed to be the location of the boundary, which was 80 feet away from the location of the previously surveyed line. Assuming (incorrectly) the previous survey was done in error, the landowner removed the iron markers at the corners, which is a violation of state law.

To address this type of problem, the WSLS and Wisconsin County Surveyors Association (WCSA) released a white paper on the subject. This statement delves into the issue associated with using smartphones for property surveying and provides their professional positions on the subject. It serves as a valuable resource for landowners and anyone interested in understanding the limitations of cell phone GPS for accurate land surveying.

The message from the White Paper is clear: if you are considering surveying your property, consultation with a licensed land surveyor who possesses the expertise and equipment to ensure accurate and reliable results is essential.

The Cell Phone App White Paper can be found here.