Hydrographers specialize in studying and mapping marine and freshwater bodies, focusing on their physical characteristics, including depth, shape, and floor topology. This role is crucial for navigation safety, environmental protection, and resource management. Their work supports maritime navigation and coastal engineering and contributes to understanding and preserving aquatic ecosystems.

At a Glance

Imagine you are the project lead, a marine surveyor at a marine engineering firm, tasked with designing and rehabilitating a waterfront facility. This facility isn't just another construction; it's a beacon of innovation, blending coastal, structural, and geotechnical engineering to create a structure that is a testament to sustainable development and resilience against the changing climate.

Your team, a diverse group of experts in marine structural design, geotechnical engineering, and environmental science, faces a significant challenge. The selected site, while ideal in terms of location and accessibility, presents complex geological and environmental constraints. The seabed is uneven, with areas of soft sediment that could undermine the stability of the proposed structures.

As the lead, you navigate this challenge by spearheading a comprehensive site characterization. Using advanced hydrographic survey techniques, your team maps the seabed's contours and identifies areas requiring stabilization. Collaborating closely, the team integrates this data into the design process, ensuring the facility's foundation is robust and environmentally compliant.

The solution involves innovative berthing and mooring analyses complemented by hand and computer-based techniques. Your expertise in hydrography guides the development of contract drawings and specifications, ensuring every aspect of the design respects the aquatic environment and adheres to regulatory standards.

As construction begins, your role shifts to providing ongoing support, ensuring the project's vision is realized without compromise. The successful integration of diverse engineering principles addresses the initial challenges and sets a new standard for waterfront development, highlighting the critical role of hydrographers in shaping sustainable marine infrastructure.

Job Duties

Job duties vary from one position to the next, but in general, hydrographers are involved in the following activities:

  • Conduct surveys in marine and freshwater areas to collect depth, contours, and physical features data.
  • Use sonar, GPS, and other advanced technologies for accurate hydrographic data collection and analysis.
  • Produce and update nautical charts and maps, ensuring compliance with national and international standards.
  • Monitor changes or anomalies affecting navigation and ecology in aquatic environments and inform relevant stakeholders.
  • Maintain and calibrate hydrographic survey equipment to ensure operational accuracy and reliability during data collection.
  • Draft reports with survey results, graphical data, analysis outcomes, and maritime safety and environmental management recommendations.
  • Lead hydrographic survey projects, executing planning and coordinating team activities.
  • Partner with maritime authorities and environmental agencies, offering hydrographic expertise for informed decision-making.
  • Conduct quality assurance checks on hydrographic data and charts to uphold required standards and accuracy levels.
  • Engage in research activities to develop innovative survey methods, improve data analysis techniques, and contribute to the advancement of hydrographic science.

Work Environment

Hydrographers operate within the office, field, and laboratory. In each of these settings, individuals in this occupation carry out various duties.

The office:

  • Process and analyze hydrographic data using specialized software to assess water bodies' depth, contours, and physical features.
  • Use geographic information systems to create, update, and manage nautical charts and maps, ensuring accuracy and compliance with national and international standards.
  • Compile survey reports, including analysis results, graphical representations, and recommendations for navigation safety and environmental management.
  • Develop project plans, including timelines, resource allocation, and team member and stakeholder coordination.
  • Perform quality checks on hydrographic data, charts, and maps to ensure accuracy and reliability.
  • Engage in research to keep current with hydrographic survey techniques and technologies and develop new data collection and analysis methods.

The field:

  • Perform on-site hydrographic surveys using sonar, GPS, and other surveying instruments for data collection.
  • Set up and calibrated field equipment to ensure accurate data collection, adjusting settings for specific survey requirements.
  • Monitor and assess marine and freshwater environments for navigation, safety, and ecology changes.
  • Collect water, sediment, and biological samples for analysis to assess environmental conditions and pollution levels.
  • Interact with local authorities, community members, and other stakeholders during fieldwork to collect additional information and foster collaboration.
  • Ensure compliance with safety protocols and guidelines during field operations to protect team members and equipment.

The laboratory:

  • Analyze field surveys' water, sediment, and biological samples to determine chemical composition, sediment size, and contamination levels.
  • Process raw data from field surveys using laboratory software to refine and interpret the results.
  • Calibrate laboratory instruments used for sample analysis to ensure accurate measurements.
  • Ensure and manage maintenance and troubleshooting of laboratory equipment to maintain prime conditions for analysis.
  • Develop and refine laboratory analytical methods to improve efficient and accurate analysis of hydrographic samples.
  • Maintain records of laboratory analyses, including methodologies, results, and conclusions for reference and reporting purposes.

Where to Work

Hydrographers are employed across a diverse range of settings and industries, where their expertise in mapping and analyzing aquatic environments are essential, such as:

  • National hydrographic offices.
  • Maritime and port authorities.
  • Environmental consulting firms.
  • Offshore oil and gas companies.
  • Coastal engineering companies.
  • Naval and coastguard services.
  • Oceanographic research institutions.
  • Geographic information system companies.
  • Marine conservation organizations.
  • Government environmental agencies.

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Board.

Education and Skills


If you are considering a career as a hydrographer, you should have a keen interest in:

  • Marine environments
  • Geographic information system
  • Advanced technology and instrumentation
  • Environmental conservation
  • Oceanography

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a hydrographer, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Oceanography
  • Hydrographic Science
  • Marine Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Geographic information system with a focus on hydrospatial data

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a hydrographer is an undergraduate degree. Pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in fields related to hydrography enhances your expertise, career prospects, and ability to contribute to the field. These advanced degrees offer specialized knowledge and skills highly valued in the professional and academic worlds.

Professional certification for a hydrographer establishes a recognized standard of competence and ethical practice in the hydrography community. It enhances credibility and career advancement opportunities and demonstrates a commitment to maintaining the field's highest professional and technical standards.

  • ACLS International Hydrographer Certification: The Association of Canada Lands Surveyors (ACLS) introduced a certification for hydrographers and offshore surveyors, recognized by the International Federation of Surveyors/International Hydrographic Organization/International Cartographic Association International Board of Standards and Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors and Nautical Cartographers.

Our Environmental Professional (EP) designation can also help you progress in your chosen environmental career.


Technical Skills

  • Hydrographic surveying
  • Geographic information system
  • Sonar technology
  • Global positioning system navigation
  • Data analysis and interpretation
  • Cartography and map-making
  • Underwater acoustics
  • Marine geology and sedimentology
  • Oceanography
  • Remote sensing and aerial survey techniques

Personal and Professional Skills

  • Analytical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication skills
  • Adaptability
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Interpersonal skills

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry, or take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Your Impact

Hydrographers are professionals who study and map aquatic environments, including oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes. They use advanced technologies such as sonar, GPS, and GIS to collect and analyze data on water depths, contours, and physical features. This occupation contributes to the conservation and sustainable management of aquatic resources. Hydrographers reduce the risk of accidents and potential harm to marine ecosystems from oil spills or groundings by producing accurate nautical charts and maps to support safe maritime navigation.

Hydrography involves monitoring changes in water bodies that could affect marine habitats and biodiversity. The data collected by hydrographers inform environmental protection efforts, coastal management, and climate change studies, highlighting the role's sustainability aspect. Economically, hydrography supports the maritime industry, fishing, and tourism by ensuring safe and efficient navigation. Socially, it contributes to disaster preparedness and response, particularly in predicting and mitigating the effects of natural disasters like tsunamis and floods.

Hydrographers’ work is crucial for balancing human needs with preserving aquatic environments, making it an essential profession in pursuing sustainability.

Occupational Classification

Hydrographers are classified into the following occupational grouping:

NOC Code: 21102 – Geoscientists and oceanographers

The National Occupational Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers, and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data and describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

See ECO’s Blue National Occupational Standard for a career competency profile for a hydrographer that outlines the specific skills, knowledge, and behaviours required for individuals to perform effectively in this particular role. This profile is a benchmark for training and development, ensuring consistency and quality across professions within the blue economy.

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