Cave Surveying Information

Caves are surveyed for many reasons from navigation to scientific purposes. It has been apart of the cavers "culture" for over a hundred years, to survey (map) all unknown passages or caves we explore. Cavers also map known caves without surveys or on the occasion remap caves to improve the survey etc. With all things there are standards involved and the caving community largely follows either the BCRA or the UIS survey standards. The Community does typically aim to meet the requirements within the standards to produce a Grade 5 survey. I am promoting the UIS standard as it is the International standard set out by numerous cavers from various countries around the world.

The Process:

In order to survey a cave you must first find them. This involves surface field work that can involve examining satellite imagery, topographical or geological maps, then systematic examination of the terrain... or, going for a hike and asking locals.

To survey a cave the team members will need a method to record the data (Book) and instruments to measure the cave (Distance, Bearing [Azimuth], and Inclination).

For the book you can use traditional pencil and paper (waterproof), or modern techniques involving electronic PDA or tablet devices and an "in-cave" survey program (ie. Auriga). Traditional methods for measuring distance involved using a measuring tape, which is still in use, but is now being replaced by the laser measurer. Compasses and inclinometers used are accurate surveying instruments capable of readings to the half degree. These also are beginning to be replaced by electronic devices that sometimes does all three measurements in one shot (very convenient). 

After you exit the cave with the data from your survey trip(s) you will need to process the data by using a "cave" survey computer program. This could be any of a number of programs, but try to choose a well supported program which is versatile with the electronic "in-cave" programs available (ie. Compass offers bilateral data exchange with Auriga). If an "in-cave" survey program was used to collect the data, it could be then transferred directly into the computer drawing program (ie. Illustrator, or Inkscape). After some artistry a final map is produced then published.


In-Cave Survey Programs - If you are interested in electronic survey programs for the "in-cave" data collection and drawing please check out Auriga.

Also see for information on Pocket Topo (not as "powerful" as Auriga) and the DistoX (the wonder survey tool!).

Drawing Programs - Adobe has released a "free" copy of Illustrator CS2:

Also available is a freeware program Inkscape:

Video Tutorials for Auriga and Illustrator:

For Downloading:

Blank Illustrator file, with some cave symbols CS2 (thanks Christian Chenier).

Illustrator Keyboard Shortcuts.

Surface Recce Guidelines and Checklist.

Cave Inventory Forms with a Crib sheet (with permission from BCSF)

Cave Survey Guidelines and Standards

Get out there and get caving!