How to Convert Survey Bearings to GPS

By James T Wood

Updated August 30, 2017

Surveyors use sightings and relative points of reference, while GPS uses absolute coordinates.
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Survey bearings give the direction and distance of lines from a given landmark, whereas GPS uses specific coordinates to pinpoint a spot on the globe. To convert from survey bearings to GPS coordinates, you can either use Google Maps to look up the coordinates of the bearings or use a physical map. With a physical map, first determine the landmark of origin, and then plot the bearings on a physical map to find the specific location. You can then convert that location into coordinates that can be understood by your GPS.

Using Google Maps

Access Google Maps on your computer or smartphone.

Use the Search box to search for something in the general area of the survey bearings, or use the Zoom and pan features to locate the general area.

Using the street map, satellite map and Street View features, find the point on the map referred to by the survey bearings, aiming to be as accurate as possible.

Click or tap on that point. A pop-up box, including the point's latitude and longitude, will appear.

Enter those coordinates into your GPS device, website or app as needed.

Using a Physical Map

Find the starting point of the survey bearings on your map. The survey bearings start from a fixed point, and then determine a bearing and direction from that point.

Convert the survey bearings into absolute degrees. Survey bearings are expressed as a cardinal direction and the number of degrees off of that cardinal direction toward another cardinal direction. For example, "N 20°E" refer to facing North and then rotating 20 degrees to the East. Absolute degrees express North as zero degrees -- also 360 degrees -- West as 90, South as 180 and East as 270; in the above example, the absolute degrees are 360 minus 20, or 340 degrees.

Orient your map so that the North arrow is pointing to zero degrees North, using your compass to align it. Without moving the map, rotate your compass to your first survey bearing -- converted into absolute degrees -- and align your ruler to that bearing.

Find the scale of the map and draw a line that equals the length of the survey bearing. United States survey bearings use yards as the unit of distance.

Repeat the process of converting, aligning and drawing the survey bearing lines until you get to the end of the survey bearings. This gives you the outlines of the surveyed area on the map.

Use the coordinates of the map to find the latitude and longitude, which you can then enter into your GPS device.


If you have a map that you can't rotate, use a protractor to find the angles of the survey bearings.