By Fred C. Hutchinson, BA, NSLS, CLS


An important part of surveying is the ability to determine the length of a boundary line. A review of deeds, plans and physical evidence is necessary to determine if any conflict or agreement exists.  Is an area stated? Are the distances in chains, feet or meters? Does the deed even make reference to a distance? These are serious concerns for the surveyor in the establishment of existing boundaries.

The deed may only describe a property as being one acre more or less. This would produce a plot of land 43,560 sq. ft. that might measure 208.71' x 208.71' or it could also measure 66' x 660' (1 chain x 10 chains).

The chain is an interesting unit in that it can be divided into an acre evenly. Ten acres would therefore be 10 chains by 10 chains. Ten chains also equals 220 yards or one furlong.  There are 8 furlongs or 80 chains to a mile (5280'). A chain is made up of 100 links that measure 7.92 inches long.  One perch, pole or  rod equals 16 feet or 25 links.

The foot was determined by the actual measurement of a man's foot or, as some reports suggest, it was the average of the left foot of the first 16 men out of church on a particular Sunday. The cubit, an ancient and obsolete unit, was derived from the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger and is considered to be 18 inches. The Bible cubit was 21.8 inches. This would mean that Noah's Ark was 545' (300 cu.) long, 90.8' (50 cu.) wide and 54.5' (30 cu.) high.

There have been many forms of measurements throughout history and most differed from country to country. Today's surveyor has the benefit of a standard unit of measure that is accepted worldwide but he or she still needs to have an understanding of the measurements described in an old deed.    


Fred Hutchinson has been the Executive Director of the Association of Nova Scotia Land Surveyors since 1999 and also is a Past President of the Association.  Mr. Hutchinson was licensed in 1971, employed by municipal government for nearly six years and spent over twenty-two years in private practice.