The BSA Surveying Merit Badge

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There is not a soul reading this that hasn’t made some effort to help resolve some of the suffering caused by the recent nasty hurricanes. Years ago in philosophy class, our professor contended nothing we ever do is purely for others (altruism) but is for the most part a benefit to our own souls (egoism). Well, when you loved scouting as a kid and love surveying as an adult, there’s a way to get your own personal feelings pumped and at the same time promote our profession and give some kids something that they will enjoy, respect and remember. Let me tell you about a special Saturday last Spring.

The Boy Scouts of America Surveying Merit Badge was one of the original 57 merit badges when the organization was founded back in 1910. With technology, the requirements have naturally changed over the years. In 2004, the current requirements were revised to include:
1. Show that you know first aid for the types of injuries that could occur while surveying, including cuts, scratches, snakebite, insect stings, tick bites, heat and cold reactions, and dehydration. Explain to your counselor why a surveyor should be able to identify the poisonous plants and poisonous animals that are found in your area.
2. Find and mark the corners of a five-sided lot that has been laid out by our counselor to fit the land available. Set an instrument over each of the corners and record the angle turned between each line and the distance measured between each corner. With the assistance of the counselor, compute the error of closure from the recorded notes. The error of closure must not be more than 5 feet. From the corners, take compass readings or turn angles to trees, shrubs, and rocks, and measure to them. All measurements should be made using instruments, methods, and accuracies consistent with current technology.
3. From the field notes gathered for requirement 2, draw to scale a map of your survey. Submit a neatly drawn copy.
4. Write a metes and bounds description for the five-sided lot in requirement 2.
5. Use one of the corner markers from requirement 2 as a bench mark with an assumed elevation of 100 feet. Using a level and rod, determine the elevation of the other four corner markers.
6. Get a copy of the deed to your property, or a piece of property assigned by your counselor, from the local courthouse or title agency.
7. Tell what GPS is; discuss with your counselor the importance of GPS and how it is changing the field of surveying.
8. Discuss the importance of surveying with a licensed surveyor. Also discuss the various types of surveying and mapping, and applications of surveying technology to other fields. Discuss career opportunities in surveying and related fields. Discuss the qualifications and preparation for such a career.

It matters little how these things come about but one Saturday morning you look around and your dear buddy, Mr. Robert Cagle is there and so are three doe-eyed boys chomping at the bit to learn the surveying profession in one day. We’ll learn how to fly an airplane tomorrow. Well, those kids (or young men) are sponges. They have enormous amounts of energy and enthusiasm and around them, one forgets teaching. Just talk about what you love to do in an informal way and the next thing you see are three young fellows that could probably outperform your 4th year overpaid party chief. What’s neat is that with the Scouts, you never even showed them a data collector.

How do you teach surveying in one day? You don’t. You merely fulfill the requirements in the Merit Badge Handbook. It’s kind of like a property description… you don’t get no more, you don’t get no less. The requirements concerning discussions about first aid, history, GPS, career opportunities and such can be done in an initial orientation and all throughout the day. Those fellows don’t seem to lose interest or get bored. They will pound you with questions all day long.

All day long — if you decide to put together a merit badge workshop, plan on all day long. Never, ever try to put more than five guys through in a single day. Make sure each one, no matter how reluctant he might be, completely fulfills the requirements. Each participant must set up the instrument (patience), must take the backsight, take the foresight and sideshots, and must keep accurate notes. Guys learn hundredths and tenths in no time. I merely show them dollars and cents on my stick rule. What is this? Fool. Anyone can see that’s $2.36. Add that to $1.42 and you have 3.78 feet. Early on I don’t try to explain degrees, minutes and seconds. After we’ve done the field work and they’ve all read and recorded angles, then it’s much easier to explain. When you set up your traverse, throw in a dummy corner that you know they’ll find but explain why the one that’s not as obvious is the correct one. Be patient, keep a clean set of notes as an example for their note-keeping.

Now it’s time for the office. At this point, a little boredom might be setting in. It is a minor challenge sitting down after coming indoors and carefully plotting your notes with a scale, protractor and triangle. We don’t do a mathematical closure — it’s graphic; so if one is not careful in plotting, one doesn’t get closure, so you start all over again. Careful, boys.

The research portion of the requirements is new. There have been many different ways suggested to fulfil this. It can easily be done if the Internet is available. It wasn’t in our workshop. I included a page in my handout that explained in great detail how to acquire a deed. I truthfully have no idea whether the scout, his mother or father or hired help got the deed; but within two weeks I got their deeds in the mail and was very proud to contact the Council to inform them that the three young men deserved the surveying merit badge.

All of the fine folks that set up their booths at our annual meeting played a big role in this. Those scouts loved their florescent SECO bags full of goodies. I believe after I cornered Eddie over there at Hayes, he had to make another order on scales and field books. All of the exhibitors are great when you mention the Boy Scouts.

Any of you fellows that love a good hard day’s work and going to bed personally fulfilled knowing that you helped your profession by helping some of our future citizens and leaders, please get involved with the Merit Badge Program. You’ll have a ball and I promise you’ll have a grin on your face.

Bart Crattie is President of Niles Surveying Co., Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is licensed in Tennessee and Georgia.

A 1.078Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

C. Barton Crattie, LS, CFM

Mr. Crattie graduated High School in Paris, Tennessee in 1972. He entered Murray State University that same year majoring in the Fine Arts. In 1977, he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in three dimensional design as well as a certification to teach art K-12. After a stint designing and building woodstoves, he entered the surveying profession (1979) working with the Kentucky Department of Transportation. After moving to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he continued working in the surveying industry going through the steps of rodman through office manager spending 10 years working on the preliminary work for malls and strip centers throughout the southeast. During this period, he returned to school, eventually receiving a 2 year certificate in Land Surveying from Chattanooga State Technical Community College. In 1994 and 1995, he received his registration in Land Surveying in the states of Tennessee and Georgia (respectively). While working with Niles Surveying Co., Inc. he and Jeff Willerton purchased the company and continue managing its growth in land surveying, civil engineering and various forms of consultation. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Tennessee Association of Professional Surveyors as Director at Large for Out of State Members and serves on the Board of Directors for the Surveyors Historical Society. Mr. Crattie has had articles printed in many national publications and presents seminars in preparing descriptions and FEMA flood related issues. Contact Bart Article List Below