The Anatomy of a Utility Locator

So what makes a good utility locator? Locating underground utilities is becoming more demanding each and every day. The challenges of accurately locating current as well as abandoned utilities are ever on the rise, as the ground we walk on becomes more congested with utility lines.

The skills for locating can be learnt with proper training; however a good locator must also have certain traits. These are not so easily taught. Skills can be taught – traits need to be developed. However traits should never be ignored during the training process. Professional training organisations like Locating Unlimited ( will spend just as much time discussing the traits of a good utility locator as it will teaching the skills needed.

In this article I won’t discuss how to hook up or what frequencies to use, because in reality there are no hard and fast rules around this, you use the method and frequency that provides the best current on the line. I will not speak about ground conditions or bleed off, or the shape of the magnetic field, or signal interference, or testing if the magnetic field is round, or methods of making a magnetic field round.

Why because all of these things can and should be taught through proper training.

However, next time you are reading a job description for a Utility Locator Technician see if it lists any of the following traits:

  • Confident Self-starter – much of the time you will be working solo, in diverse locations you need to be willing and able to take initiative and assume responsibility.
  • Technical – because of the ever changing and progressive nature of our industry, location equipment is becoming more advanced which means that you will use a wide variety of sophisticated electronic equipment when locating utilities – this also includes all of the communication equipment that is available to us.
  • Personable – you are the “on-site” face or representative of the company, you will come in contact with a wide variety of personalities on your locates and you will need the skills to be able to deal with each of them.
  • Attention to Detail – you will come across reports, utility plans, and documentation that you will need to understand. You will also want to be thorough in your visual inspections prior to locating and marking and documentation.
  • Spatial Awareness – Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of oneself in space. It is an organised knowledge of objects in relation to oneself in that given space. Spatial awareness also involves understanding the relationship of these objects when there is a change of position.
  • Teachable – Staying humble and showing a willingness to learn is one of the keys. Since standards, policies, laws, processes, and technologies are constantly changing when it comes to locating buried utilities, you will need to recognise that there is always something to learn.
  • Problem-solver – there are times where you will run into issues and situations that will demand immediate decisions and judgement calls. The task to identify problems quickly and find the best solution to a problem is a key attribute when it comes to locating underground utilities.
  • Entrepreneurial – not afraid to get your hands dirty to see a project through from A to Z. Since this job isn’t your typical 8-5 factory job – or a desk job. You will assume a lot of responsibility and every day is a new set of challenges that is different, but never boring. You will need to take ownership of your duties – and in doing so you can take pride in your work. This isn’t for the timid – you will be called upon to be outdoors much of the time and sometimes you will need to venture into extreme temperature and sometimes dangerous territory and environments. It truly is man vs. nature and also man vs. underground utility.
  • Realistic – You need to realistic in assessing you own abilities – you are not superman, you do not have x-ray vision. The job that you are doing is difficult and stressful, but you must know your limitations, do not be afraid of saying that you are unsure and that something needs further investigation.

 For expert Utility Locator training in the Asia/Pacific region contact Jeff at Locating Unlimited (