The practice of hydrographic surveying in New Zealand & Australia pre-dates that of land surveying by a considerable margin if we consider that esteemed hydrographers such as Tasman, Dampier & Cook had charted significant areas of the coastline of both countries prior to European migration and settlement.
However, largely due to circumstance, the two surveying disciplines have evolved in very different ways. Until the end of World War 2 hydrographic surveying was concerned exclusively with charting surveys for navigational purposes; a task usually undertaken by the navy of a sovereign state and until the 1960’s most hydrographic surveyors were primarily ex-naval surveyors or qualified mariners and navigators who had learned their surveying on the job. Because their work was quite different to that of their land surveying colleagues, hydrographic surveyors in Australia and New Zealand were for many years excluded from the development and regulation of the surveying profession.
Meanwhile, seismic energy began to be used commercially for underground exploration on land by geophysicists in the 1920’s. By the 1940’s it had started to be used for conducting seismic surveys underneath the seabed (in coastal water), with equipment statically positioned. This then developed into seismic surveying being conducted by equipment towed behind a moving vessel, which introduced the need to have positioning and navigation along similar lines as traditional hydrographic surveying.
It was the exploration for offshore oil and gas from the 1960’s onwards, and the rapid development of ports and harbours that created an unprecedented demand for hydrographic surveying skills with a concurrent requirement for larger-scale, higher precision work.
By the 1970’s an international consensus was forming around the need for some form of regulation and recognition of the hydrographic surveying profession, with the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) and the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) releasing their first set of “Standards of Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors” in 1975.
The latest version of the document is available on the IHO website
In Australia, efforts to provide a regulatory framework were pursued without success during the 1980s. A partial resolution was found through the coincidence of two events in the early 1990s. The Australian Hydrographic Society, at its Symposium held in Sydney in 1991, agreed to find a means of industry regulation and accreditation for hydrographic surveyors. In 1992 the Institution of Surveyors, Australia (ISA) expressed a wish to widen its membership to include all aspects of surveying and agreed to the establishment of commissions for different specialities, modelled on the FIG commissions.
The ISA Hydrographic Commission was formed in 1993 and charged with the task of establishing a means of hydrographic surveyor accreditation. What is now The Australasian Hydrographic Surveyors Certification Panel (AHSCP) was formed as a result and began the task of accrediting (now certifying) hydrographic surveyors in 1994 in accordance with the latest edition of the FIG/IHO ‘Standards of Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors.
In 2023, following the merger of SSSI with SIBA, the Geospatial Council of Australia has evolved the Commission into an Area of Practice.