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What is Surveyor's Tape?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Surveyor's tape is a product designed for use by surveyors in the field. Despite the name, surveyor's tape is not a tape in the sense of an adhesive, but rather in the sense of a long, thin strip of material which can be cut to length. While surveyor's type is a rather niche specialty item, it can come in very useful for non-surveyors. Many hardware stores stock surveyor's tape, which can also be ordered through catalogs which cater to surveyors.

Surveying is an ancient science which involves measuring distances, boundaries, and the relationship between locations. It is used to collect data on spatial relationships, ranging from the pitch of a proposed road site to the depth of the ocean. Surveying is often employed to determine accurate property lines, prepare a site for construction, or to measure areas under scrutiny, such as forests which are about to be logged. Surveyors use a variety of equipment to measure and mark down distances and other information about the area they are working in.

On site, surveyors often require markings so that they can keep track of various pieces of information. This is when surveyor's tape comes in handy. The brightly colored tape is typically made from plastic so that it will be highly durable and waterproof as well as visible. It comes in an assortment of colors and patterns which may include stripes or diamonds, so that surveyors can use different types of tape to mark different objects of interest.

Usually, a surveying company has a standard code which all of its members use. For example, surveyors marking up a forest for logging will use one color on trees which should be taken, and another on trees which should be left in place. In this instance, the surveyors may work exclusively on timber projects, and they are trained as foresters so that they can make decisions about where and when to log.

Since surveyor's tape is brightly colored and durable, it can be used for a wide assortment of applications outside of conventional surveying. Gardeners, for example, may use surveyor's tape to mark bulbs which need to be dug up at the end of the season. The tape can also be used to mark hiking or walking trails, ensuring that people do not get lost.

If you are out in the woods or on a job site and you see surveyor's tape, it should be left where it is. Moving the tape could have unfortunate consequences, as surveyor's tape is a kind of messaging shorthand. Since different people use different tape codes, you may inadvertently garble important information.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Windchime — On Apr 30, 2011

Some types of surveyor's tape are biodegradable. I hope that people try to use this, especially if nobody will return to collect the markers.

By Penzance356 — On Apr 28, 2011

When I did first aid training we were told to use surveyors tape for a triage system. I think red was for people in most need of attention, and maybe orange for the next group.

By Potterspop — On Apr 27, 2011

In my family this is known as flagging tape, and it is incredibly useful. I never knew what the original use for it was, but now all those markings I see on trails when I'm out hiking make perfect sense.

By anon113548 — On Sep 24, 2010

Many hardware stores stock surveyor's tape.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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