International recognition as a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor

International recognition as a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor

Calling all Cat A & Cat B hydrographic surveyors (and others): get certified!

If you are a graduate from an IBSC-recognized Category S-5A (Cat A) or S-5B (Cat B) academic programme with relevant hydrographic experience, you can apply to become a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor. Graduates of other geospatial degree programmes with relevant hydrographic experience may also apply. This short article is intended to debunk some myths, one of which is that successful graduates with a Cat A or Cat B certificate from an IBSC-recognized academic programme are automatically Certified Hydrographic Surveyors. While this is not true, they have met the Cat A or Cat B academic requirements and are on a path to certification, but cannot call themselves a Cat A or Cat B ‘certified’ hydrographer until they have been certified under an IBSC-recognized individual certification scheme.

Getting closer to certification

As you may know, successfully obtaining a BSc in Engineering or a Bachelor’s in Finance does not make you a Professional Engineer (PEng) or a Certified Professional Accountant (CPA), although it does provide you with the required knowledge to become one. Similarly, in hydrography you need to take an extra step to become a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor in the vast hydrospatial domain. While lack of certification does not mean you are not sufficiently competent, without it you do not have independent recognition from an individual certification scheme.

If you meet the criteria, you can apply by submitting the required documents. The certifying body then checks your education, skills, experience and references against defined criteria. This ensures that all who are certified have been benchmarked against a consistent set of standards – increasing public confidence in the occupation. The successful completion of a Cat A or Cat B IBSC-recognized training programme in one of the many institutions and organizations in the world is a great accomplishment that you must be proud of and brings you one step closer to becoming a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor, but you are not there yet!

Students on the Cat S-5B programme obtaining the knowledge required on the pathway to individual hydrographic certification. (Image courtesy: IIC Academy)

There is a fundamental difference between graduating from an educational institution that is recognized by an international review board as upholding standards of competency and obtaining individual certification in a specialized domain. To be allowed to use a certified title, you are required to submit proof of knowledge, experience and ongoing continuous professional development and take a solemn oath to uphold the code of ethics of an association. Furthermore, to be held accountable and subject to disciplinary action, a professional must be a member of the regulating association.

The IHO/FIG/ICA International Board on Standards of Competence (IBSC) for Hydrographic Surveyors and Nautical Cartographers is the overarching authority for recognition of hydrographic and nautical cartographic training programmes, as well as professional certification or individual recognition schemes for hydrographic surveyors. As a collaborative board between the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) and the International Cartographic Association (ICA), the IBSC leads the development and maintenance of international training standards for hydrography and nautical cartography.  

Hydrographers deploying a combined sidescan sonar and sub-bottom profiler with an ultra-short baseline (USBL) transponder for tow fish positioning on a 700-metre-deep cable route survey in SE Alaska, USA. (Image courtesy: David Evans and Associates, Inc.)

Which organizations may certify hydrographic surveyors?

Only four organizations are currently permitted by the IBSC to certify individuals to become Certified Hydrographic Surveyors, although others may apply for such recognition:

Geospatial Council of Australia (GCA) Australasian Hydrographic Surveyors Certification Panel (AHSCP) Certification Scheme, recognized since 2012 and renewed in 2019.

Association of Canada Lands Surveyors (ACLS) International Hydrographer Certification Scheme (IHCS) for Certifying and Recognizing the International Competency of Individuals as Hydrographic Surveyors, recognized since 2016 and renewed in 2022.

The International Federation of Hydrographic Societies (IFHS) Hydrographic Professional Accreditation Scheme (HPAS), recognized since 2022.

National Society of Professional Surveyors in association with The Hydrographic Society of America (NSPS-THSOA) U.S. Hydrographer Certification programme, recognized since 2022.

In essence, those seeking certification in hydrographic surveying should aim for accreditation from an IBSC-recognized organization. It is recommended that candidates apply to the certification body nearest to their intended work location to streamline the process. However, applicants may apply to any recognized certification organization. Upon successful completion, they obtain globally recognized certification. Mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) are either established or in progress to facilitate the acknowledgment of Certified Hydrographic Surveyors and labour mobility worldwide. While there may be slight variations in the certification levels offered by different organizations, they typically align with Levels 0, 1 and 2 and the certified hydrographic surveyors in training (students) level.

Cat S-5B students learning to operate a hydrographic autonomous surface vehicle on their pathway to individual hydrographic certification. (Image courtesy: IIC Academy)

Why should I become a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor?

Becoming a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor is the natural progression from successful completion of a Cat A or Cat B hydrographic surveying training programme or an alternative pathway. Certification recognizes your education and training, as well as your level of knowledge and your practical competencies, and ensures that you are enrolled in a process of continuing professional development (CPD). It elevates you to a higher level within the industry and provides an internationally recognized benchmark for your experience and skills.  

Assessment and recognition by a credible panel of peers ensures that standards are upheld and expertise is duly recognized within the field. It instils confidence both in the individual and those who rely on accurate hydrographic data. Such recognition also fosters a sense of accountability and trust, which are essential elements in maintaining the integrity of hydrographic surveying practices.

Governments, port authorities and private entities increasingly require that Certified Hydrographic Surveyors are used to procure hydrographic services. Getting certified sooner rather than later will therefore help you to prove that you have the required academic credentials and work experience to support your labour mobility through MRAs. It will also reassure clients, such as national hydrographic offices, that you work in accordance with the strictest competency standards and current best practices. Furthermore, it will protect the safety and welfare of the public and ensure that your work is environmentally responsible and technically correct, all of which are essential for safety and efficiency of navigation and protection of lives and the environment.

Hydrographer monitoring and processing sidescan sonar imagery and multibeam bathymetry to open critical shipping lanes to Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA, following Hurricane Laura. (Image courtesy: David Evans and Associates, Inc.)

Certification will therefore undoubtedly improve your global recognition value and marketability to obtain work as a competent hydrographic surveyor in the vast and emerging hydrospatial domain.

We therefore recommend that you carefully follow the instructions of your selected individual certification/recognition scheme, as it will take time to build your body of evidence to support your application and ensure a solid and complete file for submission. Hold off on applying if you do not have sufficient knowledge and experience, but do not hesitate if you do, and apply as soon as possible! The certifying organizations are there to encourage the recognition of your competencies as a pathway towards professional certification and are there to help. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with your chosen hydrographic surveyor individual certification/recognition scheme – they are always happy to answer your questions so that you can get certified.

Presentation of AHSCP Certificate – Level 2 at GCA Hydrographic Seminar, Fremantle, Australia, 2023. (Image courtesy: AHSCP and GCA)
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