How to Become a Hydrographer


If you want to become a hydrographer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills and interests. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for working in this field:


• You have an interest in the ocean: the ocean floor, currents, tides and waves

• You have technical aptitude and are able to use specialized research equipment

• You are interested in fieldwork and collecting data

• You have an education in surveying, civil engineering, geography or a related field

• You have competence in seamanship


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a hydrographer. We've also included helpful occupational information, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Hydrographer

Hydrographers tend to have one (or more) of the following types of educational background:


• A diploma or certificate from a technological institute for hydrological surveyors

• An undergraduate degree in civil or survey engineering

• An undergraduate or graduate degree in areas such as hydrography, geomatics, environmental science or geography





General Job Description

Hydrographers are responsible for surveying and charting coastal and inland waters. They monitor, measure, analyze and describe aspects of the water cycle, the ocean floor, currents, tide measurements and wave information.


They also study natural resources that are found in the oceans, as well as the human use of water resources. The information they gather has multiple applications, including the safe, orderly and efficient conduct of marine vessels.



Typical Job Duties

Below is a list of tasks that hydrographers may conduct on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, depending on the specific responsibilities of their job:


• Perform both field work and data analysis

• Perform surveys of the ocean floor, currents, tide measurements and wave information in order to obtain hydrographic data

• Monitor water levels and flow, meteorology, sediments and water quality

• Search for underwater obstacles in oceans or lakes

• Analyze field data using geographic information systems (GIS) software

• Select, install, use, calibrate, maintain and repair specialized surveying instruments

• Use underwater acoustic equipment to establish and monitor tidal data and outline coastlines

• Archive and quality control collected data and information



Training Needed to Become a Hydrographer

The work of hydrographers is very specialized; it requires competence in both seamanship and the operations and theory of sophisticated instruments and equipment. Because of this, hydrographers need to be trained above and beyond their university education in order to gain the knowledge, skill set and competencies that are needed to do this job effectively.


Many hydrographers are trained on the job and others, such as those that work for their national government, may be trained via specialized programs.


The Department of Fisheries and Oceans of the Government of Canada, for example, provides an accredited Class A Hydrographic Career Development training program. This program helps to train personnel in the skills and competencies necessary to carry out the different tasks of a hydrographer.





Why is the Work of Hydrographers Important?

The knowledge gained as a result of the work carried out by hydrographers has many important applications, both for human use and for the protection of the environment. The data and information obtained by hydrographers can be applied for such purposes as:


• The production of charts and related information for navigation

• Planning and designing dams, bridges, irrigation projects, water supply schemes, sewerage systems, flood protection works

• Designing nautical warning services and marine facilities

• The effective management of the country’s water resources, both for human use as well as the environment

• Locating offshore resources (oil, gas, aggregates)



Typical Working Conditions

Setting: Hydrographers spend about half their working time in the field conducting surveys, and the other half in offices working with the data they’ve collected.


Hours: Hydrographers may work normal business hours when working in an office or classroom setting. In the field however, hours of work depend on the weather and the duration of the field season. Those conducting fieldwork may be away from home for months at a time.


Work Environment: Hydrographers that conduct field surveys are frequently exposed to hazardous conditions at sea, such as extremely cold temperatures and uncooperative water conditions. Hydrographers in the field must also spend extended periods of time at sea or in isolated areas. 



Skills and Traits Needed to Become a Hydrographer

To be effective as a hydrographer, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. These attributes will allow you to perform your job duties with competence, and help you maintain a positive attitude towards your work.


These skills and traits are sought out by organizations that employ hydrographers, and candidates often need to show evidence of them on their resume and during their interview in order to be hired for hydrographer jobs.


Personality Characteristics


• An interest in science and mathematics

• Enjoy the challenge of working outside and on the water

• An interest in collecting data through fieldwork

• An interest in analyzing collected data

• Willing to work at sea, and in isolated areas, for extended periods of time

• Willingness to split time between an office and an outdoor setting


Hard and Soft Skills


• Team working skills, and the ability to work closely with others in high-pressure situations

• The ability to adapt sensibly to changing circumstances

• The ability to maintain concentration and pay close attention to details

• Competence in seamanship

• Competent in the operations and theory of sophisticated instruments and equipment

• Knowledge of global positioning systems and geographic information systems

• Must be computer literate, and able to use specialized software 



Who Employs Hydrographers?

Hydrographers are typically employed on a full-time or contractual basis by the following types of organizations:


• Charting agencies of the federal government (or contracted by the federal government)

• Water, port and harbour authorities

• Water and energy utilities

• Environmental consulting firms

• Contracting companies to the water, mining and forestry sciences

• Colleges and universities

• Specialized equipment and software companies



Hydrographer Job Postings

Our job board below has "hydrographer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.




Hydrographer Salary

The salary level of hydrographers can vary depending on their level of education, their level of experience, the size and type of their employer, and many other factors.


Hydrographer Salary - Canada: According to the 2019 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the "geographers" occupational group earn an average of $87,546 per year. Meanwhile, in British Columbia, the annual provincial median salary of workers in the "geoscientists and oceanographers" group is $79,997. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (October 11, 2019).


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of American workers in the Geographers occupational group is $80,300 per year (May, 2018 figures). 



Similar Occupations

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "hydrographer", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.




Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist


Land Surveyor




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career in this field.


Occupations in Alberta:Geographer.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved December 21, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Geographers.” (September 19, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved December 21, 2019.

Explore Careers:Geoscientists and oceanographers.” (December 12, 2018.). WorkBC website. Retrieved December 21, 2019.

Job Profile:Hydrographic Surveyor.” AGCAS editors (March, 2019) Prospects website. Retrieved December 21, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Hydrographer

Scholarships in our system are organized by field of study. The fields that are relevant to this profession are listed below on our "Relevant Areas of Study" section below. Any scholarships found within those fields will be suitable, all of which can be found on our Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Areas of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a hydrographer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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