Surveying Tools

In a recent blog, I discussed laser scanning as a surveying tool. That made me think of all the tools that surveyors carry in their proverbial tool bag today.

Surveying equipment used to be pretty simple when Francis A. Martin did his thing in 1875. We still use Francis A. Martin’s stuff, although often in improved versions, but, boy, has the list grown.

Writing blogs is fun, since it allows me to ponder the subject while I write about. I thought I was going to discuss the growth in surveying tools, but in writing the list, I noticed that in the last 10 years the smartphone has revolutionized the marine surveying field too. It is amazing how many marine surveying measurements and recordings can be made with a smartphone. A smartphone truly is starting to beat a Star Trek tricorder.

1875. Francis A. Martin’s tool bag:

1.  Pocket notebook (we still have some that he used). The neatest ones today are Wetnotes, but they are never easy to find)

2.  Pencil. But we also have some pocket notebooks where he used a fountain pen. Today only Wayne occasionally uses a fountain pen, but we have a favored mechanical pencil in the 0.7mm Bic Velocity.

3.  A surveying hammer. I have a fancy Japanese one on my office shelves. We certainly don’t get to take it on the plane. Often a tool that we can get in the yard when needed (it generally is a chipping hammer).

4.  A piece of chalk. Today we more often use spray cans and sharpies, but a crayon or a piece of chalk still is nice.

5.  A tape measure (in his days all feet and inches). Today I like the tape measures that show feet and inches and metric on the same tape, and tapes that are as rigid as possible when unrolled so you can reach to the overhead or across a deck opening.

6.  A flashlight, although in 1875 I would guess a flashlight was an oil lamp. Today our favorites are LED’s that use AA batteries. My favorite model has an ahead beam and a footlight beam. And let’s not forget the strap on LED headlights either.

7.  A knife or an ice pick to look for wood rot. I am still an avid wood rot digger and I use my Skeletool for it. I think I have left about 6 Skeletools with the TSA when I rush through the metal detector. I wonder what the TSA does with them? The Skeletool has the added benefit of functioning as pliers and a multi-bit screwdriver (and bottle opener). I wonder if Francis A. Martin carried a screwdriver. Maybe he had some type of assistant or maybe his carriage driver kept some tools in the carriage.

In 2017 the toolbag list has grown substantially:

In addition to the above stuff, I generally also carry the following in my bag .

9. Camera. I still carry one that uses AA batteries. No fun to run out of juice on the job. I used to carry two cameras, but with smartphones, it is no longer necessary to carry a backup.

10. Spare AA batteries.  For lights and camera.

11. Smartphone. This is pretty cool because my smartphone actually replaces a few other things. Obviously, it replaced my earlier larger cell phones, but it also replaces my calculator, a camera, my backup flashlight and my little conversions and standards handbook. One other thing that my smartphone offers is a really nice inclinometer app for measuring angles. While I still have the camera, my latest smartphone holds a much better charge and has a brilliant “instant on” camera features that make me use my camera less and less. What is even more amazing is that the smartphone also has effectively ditched a video recorder which I always felt was a nuisance to bring and use, and also has removed the need for a shipboard copy machine. Who bothers to fire up the shipboard copy machine anymore?

12. Boroscope.  Boroscopes used to cost thousands of dollars, but about 10 years ago the price dropped to about $500 and we acquired one. It came in a nice toolbox of its own and needed to be kept charged. That was 10 years ago, a few months ago I think I paid $30 for a USB boroscope that plugs into my smartphone and is smaller than a pack of cigarettes. It does not have the long semi-rigid cable, but I never needed all that length. It comes with about two feet of cable and that is enough. I do miss the old boroscope a little, because, on a number of occasions, it settled arguments where a boat or dock owner claimed that there may be damage in locations that could not be viewed. I would walk to my car and take out the big boroscope box and even before firing it up, the Owner would change his mind. That little USB boroscope is nowhere near as impressive, but, meanwhile, its resolution is just about amazing and it stores the pics on my cell phone so I can email them right away.

13. Engineering pad. Maybe Francis A. Martin also carried an 8 by 10 pad, but I doubt he carried an engineering pad. The quarter-inch squares and the title section and M&O address on top always make me feel more “engineer” when something needs to be sketched out, and when I run out of business cards I can hand out a sheet with our name and address printed on it. When I handwrite a Field Survey report (I still handwrite them, I just think they are more impressive that way), I tear the page off and use the back of the page. The grid lines shine through very faintly so I can write nice and straight, but there is no company identification on the paper, because a proper Field Survey is a joint document, and therefore is written on blank paper.

14. Laptop. It is not really surveying gear, but I always carry my laptop computer. I do not use an iPad or its ilk. My computer is quite compact but is a true laptop that is also my office computer. I used to carry a laptop with a built-in DVD reader/writer, but fortunately, USB thumb drives have superseded them. (We still keep a couple of portable USB DVD readers in the office). One thing that irritates me is that modern laptops require dongles to hook up a second screen. It is quite common to show up in a conference room at the completion of a survey and a hookup to a projector is required, but there is no way to connect the laptop to the projector unless you brought your dongle. Moreover, those dongles hook into a mini USB port that is weak and often the first thing to fail on a laptop.

15. Headphones. This is not really surveying gear either, but I carry my own headphones to use wherever I am waiting or on an airplane. I can’t stand the little buds that squeeze into your ears. After having used various bulky muff types over the years, I think I may have found the perfect earphones. They are Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic noise-canceling headphones. They are super clever external buds, incredibly comfortable, stow to the size of a cigarette pack, have a built-in remote volume control, and provide superb sound.

16. Coveralls. I don’t know if Francis A. Martin brought his own coveralls to the job. When I started in the business, the ship or the shipyard almost always offered coveralls to visiting surveyors. But with some Asiatic exceptions, that custom pretty much disappeared with the Blue Rooms and the Whitehall Club. So today I carry a bunch in my car, or pack one in my bag.

In our cars and in the office we keep more stuff:

17. Personal Safety Equipment. This is pretty weird, but in 1988 all I used were a hardhat and gloves. Today the list is much longer. Now there are steel-toed boots, a lifejacket (I always get one with pockets to carry my stuff), high visibility jackets, mustang suits, fall protection, sound protection, safety lights and eye protection. Often this stuff is not available at the end of a flight, so you end up lugging it with you on the plane. If you pack very carefully, you sometimes can still make it carry-on, but for a multiday trip, we are talking checked luggage. Eye protection is most frustrating. I wear glasses, and safety glasses almost never fit properly over my eyeglasses, and if they do, they fog up, or have blind spots. A number of years ago I scored a set of safety glasses with dark lenses that fit perfectly. But they are dark lenses so they do not work in tanks or indoors. I am still looking for the same model with clear lenses.

18. Personal gas detectors. In addition to the above PPE, I suppose I could add personal gas and oxygen detectors, but I tend to avoid those and rely on strict safe entry procedures. I just don’t think it is right to rely on a piece of equipment that is not meant to provide strict confined space entry protection.

19. Duct Tape. Let’s face it, if you are a surveyor and you do not carry duct tape in your car you are an embarrassment to the profession. Suppose I need a rigid boroscope lead. A welding rod, or coat hanger and duct tape fix the problem right away. I will not further elaborate. I have not done it in years because it keeps getting stolen, but it makes perfect sense to take a pencil and to roll some duct tape on the pencil and stick it in your bag. Generally, you only need a little piece and it just looks too cool when you whip it out.

20. Multimeter. I used to carry a tiny Radioshack multimeter. It was analog and small. They are no longer available and that is a shame because if you are just looking for a signal an analog meter reads better and faster. Today’s meters have gotten much bulkier. I do not know why.

21. Audio thickness gauge. There are thickness gauging specialists who get hired to take thousands of thickness readings, but to be able to just take a few quick thickness measurements on the job saves a world of hurt.

22. Calipers. Some of us carry one in our bags. I don’t, maybe I should. Today, the digital ones are quite handy and inexpensive.

23. Weld throat gauge. It is a clever little steel gauge that direct reads fillet weld sizes. I never had one, but on one job Jim Dolan whipped one out and I was a little jealous.

24. Moisture meter. We have one of those. We take it with us when we do fiberglass boats. Sometimes useful in wooden boat new construction too.

25. Ultrasonic hatch cover tester. This is a $10,000 piece of equipment that is used to check the tightness of hatch cover seals. It is pretty cool, but once you use it once, the excitement is pretty much gone. And we are still waiting for all of those P&I condition surveys that were supposed to pay for it. I once used it to test for a leak in my roof. It worked pretty well.

26. Rubber hammer. I have my favorite rubber hammer that I use to sound out wooden and composite boats. I just randomly hammer away on a fiberglass hull, and just the sound tells me more than I often want to know.

27. Light meter. We have a classic light meter to measure lighting effectiveness, especially in slip and fall cases. Today there are smartphone apps for that.

28. Sound meter. We have a classic dB meter but, again, today there are smartphone apps.

29. Raytek thermometer. The Raytek thermometer may well be the most game-changing piece of equipment out there. It is a nice digital thermometer. But to be able to just point at something from a distance and to get a temperature readout is just amazingly useful. Only rarely is an exact temperature required. I don’t care how hot twelve cylinder heads are, but if one is much hotter my interest is peaked.

30. Rangefinder. Sometimes it is nice to be able to measure something at a distance. We have one, but I could not find it. I suppose David put it in his golf bag.

31. Fish scale. For certain jobs, I bring an old fashioned fish scale to measure forces and weights. The scale is not super accurate, but it is consistent, so I can take the field measurement and if somebody wants to calibrate it, we can do that when we get back to the office or the shop.

32. USB microscope. These are small microscopes that hook into your laptop. They are great for checking out cylinder liner wear.

33. Dye penetrant. We keep a couple of cans in the office. Fun to have on hand at the right moment.

32. Photogrammetric modeling. This is actually a computer program that creates a 3D model from various photos of an object or space. We don’t carry it in the field, but we have used it occasionally to figure out the distances in accident photos or to obtain dimensions on things we could photograph, but not reach. When we first did it about 10 years ago, the program was very expensive. Today I would not be surprised if Google has a public version that interacts with Google earth.

Stuff we like but do not do ourselves:

33. Thermographic imaging. It is just too much fun to expose a super expensive carbon fiber racing boat to a blow torch and to use an IR camera to see what is going on inside the composite structure. We have a couple of people who we rely on to do this work for us, but it looks like for a few bucks you can get a smartphone app/attachments for this. I love the method because having built and repaired composite boats, the images tell me almost exactly what happened when the boat was built, or damaged. Essentially the same equipment is used for electrical equipment surveys

34. Laser scanning. See this blog.

35. Helicopters. It is amazing how handy those things can be in surveying. One time I was asked to survey a berth and was being flown over by helicopter.  Instead of landing first, I asked the pilot to hover near the berth. I could have gone home from there since I saw much more than I would have seen from the berth. We decided to land in the facility just to say hello to the managers and to brag a little. I also once used a helicopter to measure water depths in the surf ahead of a grounded wreck wreck. Really fun and really no other way to do it.

36. Handheld depth sounder. I generally use a rope with flags and knots and a weight to measure water depths, but about 20 years ago Ted Hoskins of Smit loved showing off his handheld depth sounder. It looked like a flashlight with a digital readout on the end, and it actually worked, but not if you cannot reach the water with the thing, then you are back to the rope.

37. Diving. We don’t dive, we just watch the monitors. Probably the most excruciatingly boring job there is for a surveyor. Diving is fun though, but I only SCUBA. Great commercial inspection and salvage divers are a rare and precious commodity.

38. Vibration measurements. I suppose vibration sensors are much cheaper today, but it is really a specialized trade and generally we have others do our vibration measurements. The measurement is not really the fun stuff anyway. It is the interpretation that is the most fun.

39. Drones. These are going to be interesting, and, not too long from now, I plan to have one of our junior engineers write a full blog on them. For the time being, I am just keeping my eyes open. I am sure, someday soon, I will be able to fit a tiny one in my survey bag.

Altogether quite a list. But I think, in the future, with higher levels of smartphone integration, my tool bag will continue to shrink in size. Interestingly, I do not think that these smartphone apps will displace full-sized equipment, but since surveyors so often only need to take a quick look, having all this stuff supported by just one device is pretty cool. Maybe, some time not too long from now, I will write a blog about all the smartphone surveying tools that can be crammed into one cellphone.