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How to maintain your survey equipment


Your livelihood and reputation are based on providing precise and accurate data and as such, the integrity of your survey equipment has an enormous impact on your career. Regular exposure to harsh job site conditions can take its toll on your instruments, so it’s critical to maintain them regularly to ensure accurate calibration, proper function, and to prevent future repairs or replacements. Following these simple steps to care for and maintain your tools will provide years of quality usage and save money in the long run.

Service Annually

Just like your car, your total station needs a professional tune-up at least once a year. Though some surveying tools are quite rugged, total stations are highly precise instruments that are delicate by nature. The service center can catch any calibrations that are drifting away from their specs before they become a problem for you. Beyond simply tightening a loose screw, any repairs or significant adjustments to your equipment should be done by professionals.

Service Annually

Calibrate Regularly

At least every 2 weeks, calibrate your instruments against control points while you are in the field. Experts recommend that you run the software included in your total station to do a basic calibration at every site setup. At the same time, visually inspect your instruments for any cracks or dents; check that the screws and clamps are moving smoothly and there’s no grinding sound when operating. Take a look at your lenses and make sure they are clean, dust-free, and free of scratches.

Calibrate Regularly

Casing and Uncasing

How you handle your surveying instruments will affect their functionality and accuracy, so it’s important to take care when casing and uncasing them. If you’re keeping your equipment onsite overnight, be sure to leave your instruments in their cases inside a vehicle so that they are not disrupted by the cold temperatures. Likewise, remove them from their cases or any areas where high temperatures could negatively affect them. Take careful note of how the instruments are placed within their cases; they must be returned later in the same positions. When you remove an instrument, be sure to grip it with both hands, avoiding the vertical circle standard or anywhere where pressure can damage the tubular or circular level vials.

Casing and Uncasing


  • Make sure your survey equipment is protected and stored in carrying cases, both in the field and during transport.
  • Secure the cases inside the vehicle so they don’t slide around.
  • Put all cables, batteries, chargers, and receivers in appropriate cases — don’t try to squeeze them in the equipment cases, as that may lead to instrument damage.
  • Use cushioned compartments inside the vehicle to store instruments securely.
  • Never carry a tripod-mounted theodolite or electronic distance measuring equipment (EDM) on your shoulder when you’re on a job site. The instruments should be taken off the tripod first and stored away in their cases when they need to be moved.



Clean your tools after every use with soap and water or alcohol wipes, if you have them. Total stations need a little more TLC: make sure the lens cap is always on when it’s not in use, and clean the lens regularly using only a lens-specific cleaning cloth. Other types of cloths or wipes can scratch the delicate lenses.


Troubleshooting in the field

Developing a regular practice of testing procedures can avoid gross errors in the field. These should include checking the level, optimal plummet, and tripod, as well as calibrating your total station and GPS receivers against a control point. Adjustments should be made only when necessary; it’s better to have them serviced professionally than risk damaging the instruments.

Troubleshooting in the field

Precautions Against Job Conditions

Though survey tools are designed to withstand a variety of weather and job site conditions, there are a few common-sense precautions you can take to protect them. If you are experiencing heavy rain, a rain shield is necessary to protect the instrument from water getting into the mechanical joints. Excessive cold or heat can interfere with calibration, so it’s important to store your instruments overnight (or when not in use ) where the temperature will not plummet or soar to dangerous levels. Whenever instruments are not currently in use, store them in their cases to protect them against dust and dirt.

Precautions Against Job Conditions

Specific Instrument Care

Specific Instrument Care

One important tip to care for and maintain your instruments is to stay current on all software upgrades. As with other technology that utilizes software, survey tool upgrades are pushed out several times a year to fix bugs and improve overall performance. Staying current on the latest version will help ensure everything is working properly and running smoothly.

It’s also important to care for each instrument according to its specific needs and requirements:


Care should be taken to lift the equipment out of the case with both hands on the micrometer knob standard and base (on older models) or by the carrying handle with one hand and the other hand supporting the base. If it’s necessary to move the equipment by hand on a job site, keep it vertical and well-supported; however, in most cases, it should be re-cased before moving to a different location.


The care and maintenance of EDM devices are very simple: keep them clean and keep them dry. Although they are water-resistant, remove them from their cases and allow them to dry out thoroughly after they have been exposed to moisture and rain. Like other instruments, they should not be stored in excessive heat — doing so can cause the components to deteriorate and the readings to become erratic and inaccurate. Don’t store them in the vehicle on hot days, and give them a few minutes inside their cases to acclimate to drastic changes in temperature when taking them out of an air-conditioned vehicle into the hot sun. Never point them directly at the sun — the sun’s rays can cause irreparable harm to the interior parts.


  • Avoid storing them in damp conditions.
  • Be careful not to overwind them; it can cause stretching and stress points.
  • Keep them clean with soap and water after normal use and dry them thoroughly before storing them.
  • You can clean rust with fine steel wool and a cleaning solvent; however, it’s better to avoid rust altogether by oiling them lightly after cleaning and allowing them to dry before putting them away.


Avoid over-tightening the tripod fastener screw, as it can damage the leveling plate. Extra care is needed when transporting the tribrachs. Because they are a necessary part of your precision equipment, each piece should be secured separately in containers or compartments to protect the optical plummet eyepiece, base surface, and bullseye level


Your tripod is essential for accurate, precise measurements of angles, and as such, it needs to be stable and level without loose joints. Tighten the leg screws just enough for each leg to bear its own weight, but never tighten so much as to risk stripping the screws or damaging the surrounding wood. You can protect the wood from the elements by keeping it varnished or painted at all times. Keep the top cap on when not in use, and make sure the tripod shoes are free of dirt or other debris before storing.


Regularly check the bullseye bubble to make sure it is centered, both transversely and along line-of-sight. Protect the compensator from hangup by taking care not to bounce or spin the pendulum levels, seeing that the level is free of dust, and checking that the bullseye is where it needs to be. If the compensator seems to be hanging up, don’t try to fix it yourself in the field — send it in to be professionally repaired.


Keep them clean and dry, removing any dust, dirt, or debris after use and making sure they are completely dry before putting them away. Be careful to only touch the graduated faces when necessary and keep them from coming into contact with any other tools or objects that may damage them. Regularly inspect the screws and hardware and check the accuracy of the rod by fully extending it and checking its scale with your tape. It is recommended that you check the accuracy when you begin control level surveys.

Shop Survey Equipment

Frequently Asked Questions

What Factors Influence the Accuracy of an Instrument?

how to maintain your survey equipment

Three major factors affect accuracy: the quality of the equipment, your ability to calibrate it correctly, and your skill in using the equipment. Proper care and maintenance of your survey equipment help maintain accurate calibration and the overall integrity of the equipment itself.

How Does Weather Affect Survey Equipment?

Though surveyors can work in all kinds of weather conditions, certain instances can negatively affect the instruments or the accuracy of their readings. Extreme cold or heat can affect the measurements and “heat shimmer” can wreak havoc with the precision of electronic devices.

How Often Should a Total Station Be Calibrated?

Apart from a yearly maintenance checkup, total stations need to be re-calibrated every two weeks and checked against control points. It is also suggested that you calibrate before every high-precision survey, after your total station has been stored for an extended period of time, and after lengthy transportation over rough roads.

What Should I Use to Lubricate My Equipment?

It’s important to use the right lubricant for the temperature and climate of your job site. You can use graphite to lubricate the moving parts of a transit if you are working in sub-zero temperatures. In warmer climates, it’s recommended that you use a light film of watch oil to lubricate them.

What Are the Advantages of Using an EDM?

  • The ability to measure across high traffic areas without endangering the crew
  • The ability to measure inaccessible areas like river gorges or canyons
  • The reduction of time and crew members needed for the job
  • Increased precision and accuracy of measurements

An EDM is an invaluable tool for surveyors, so its care and maintenance are necessary to ensure the accuracy and quality of the job.

As a surveyor, your instruments are as vital to your job as your own skill and expertise. Knowing how to care for and maintain them properly will ensure your tools will deliver the accuracy you need to provide quality service. For outstanding equipment, customer service, and educational resources, visit Engineer Supply for smart products and even smarter shopping.

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