School of Biological and Marine Sciences

MSc Hydrography

Hydrography is crucial to the sustainable management of marine environments. Yet there is an international shortage of hydrographic surveyors, data processors and analysts, during a period when technology is rapidly advancing. Seize this opportunity to gain a thorough knowledge of the science and technology of hydrography, experiencing the practical application of modern methods and equipment involved in exploring and managing the seabed whilst preparing for a career in this growth area.

Key features

  • Graduate from a course that spans a range of disciplines and is accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors (CICES).
  • Work towards developing your own professional hydrographic competencies through engaging with our International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) industry supported competency scheme.
  • Study with the ocean right on your doorstep in our waterfront city. Benefit from the practical research opportunities and links to international marine businesses this brings, as well as access to the University’s specialist Marine Institute and the active South West Hydrographic community who actively support the course including Valeport, Fugro and Sonardyne.
  • Study aboard the University’s fleet of hydrographic research vessels and develop hands-on experience in state-of-the-art and progressive survey techniques including a variety of methods of data collection.
  • Develop your expertise in a broad range of industry standard software including data processing, visualisation, analysis and developing programming skills in our specialist hydrographic processing suite.
  • Prepare yourself on a commercially focused programme that has been developed in response to industry requirements and an expressed commercial need. Progress to a career in hydrographic research and development, port, nearshore and offshore surveying or environmental support and management.
  • Learn to use equipment on aerial, surface and subsurface platforms including GNSS positioning, acoustic mapping and positioning (e.g. single beam, multibeam, sidescan sonar, USBL), oceanographic survey (e.g. ADCP), aerial survey (e.g. photogrammetry) and geophysical survey (e.g. subbottom assessment).
  • Take the opportunity to engage with recent technological developments in autonomous and remotely operated surveying techniques through specialist industry-led workshops and our own fleet of remotely operated and autonomous vehicles.
  • Engage in debates around the wider aspects of hydrography and the implications for data capture, data management, processing and information systems including participating within our affiliated societies e.g. the Hydrographic Society and the Society for Underwater Technology.
  • Benefit from support from our specialist technical and teaching staff, as well as access to a series of industrial speakers and demonstrations of the latest technologies.
  • Develop your research skills through engaging in an active research community with internationally recognized expertise from the coast to deep-water. Gain knowledge, practical and analytical skills needed to design, develop and implement a final research project at postgraduate level.
  • Enhance your career opportunities through engagement in our structured employability programme including industry-led career events, industry placements, student presentation evenings with commercial partners and attendance at international hydrographic conferences.
  • There is excellent recruitment from the programme to the marine sector with global opportunities and the potential to travel in conjunction with your employment.

Course details
  • Programme overview

  • Period 1 — an intensive 15 week programme of classroom learning and field activities prepare you for the technical aspects of surveying and the research required in master’s study. 70 per cent lectures/seminars and 30 per cent practical, either within the laboratory or afloat. Assessment is continual or by coursework.

    Period 2 — includes specialisms in advanced studies with a combination of the digital mapping and survey project management modules, designed to prepare students for practical roles and management decisions when completing hydrographic tasks on behalf of future employers. Modules are selected based on industrial expectations and potential career requirements. 80 per cent lectures/seminars, 20 per cent practical. Assessment is 50/50 coursework and formal examination for core modules, continuous for the one optional module.

    Period 3 — undertake a self-managed final dissertation, supervised by an assigned academic. May comprise a desk study, laboratory experimentation, field observations, data acquisitions and processing.

    Core modules

    • Research Skills and Methods (MAR513)

      This module aims to equip students with the practical skills and contextual framework for conducting high quality research. Emphasis is placed on workshop opportunities to acquire and practice research planning, analysis, communication, writing and oral presentation skills.

    • Hydrography (MAR520)

      Practical work afloat centred on a bathymetric survey and supported by lectures on key topics - electromagnetic waves & acoustic waves, measurement techniques, computational processes and reference frames, supported by practical work with survey software to develop an understanding of methods employed and practical limitations in all aspects of positioning for hydrographic surveying.

    • Acoustic and Oceanographic Surveying (MAR521)

      The module provides an introduction to physical oceanography and applied sediment dynamical processes (including dredging practices) relevant to estuaries and coastal waters. The module also provides the underpinning acoustic theory to enable students to appreciate sonar survey task. A range of relevant practical data collection techniques and exercises are included within the module.

    • Survey Project Management (MAR522)

      A central element of the module is the undertaking of survey planning through from survey tender, costing and project undertaking and reportage, to a review of the place of survey within wider project undertakings, ethics and the legislative framework surrounding activities.

    • Digital Mapping (MAR523)

      To consider the information flow through a system for hydrographic survey system from data acquisition to the final product and the means of assurance of data quality throughout. To examine the influences of user interaction on the processing of data at the various stages.

    • MSc Dissertation (MAR524)

      The student will complete a research project that they have designed in the semester 1 research skills module. The project can be submitted in the format of a journal paper or dissertation. The write-up will communicate the project aims, methodology, data analysis, interpretation, synthesis and conclusions.

    Optional modules

    • Coastal Erosion and Protection (MAR517)

      This module applies knowledge of waves and coastal processes to understand and predict coastal erosion and accretion. The hard and soft engineering methods used for coastal protection are covered, with an emphasis on how improved understanding of the natural processes (waves, currents, sediment transport) can improve coastal management decisions).

    • Remote Sensing and GIS (MAR518)

      This module introduces the principles of geographical information systems and remote sensing of marine, polar and coastal environments. Field data will be acquired using GPS and radiometric instrumentation. Emphasis is placed on the critical evaluation of remote sensing data and analysis tools in varied scenarios and on developing practical computing skills.

    • Applied Marine Autonomy (MAR537)

      This module introduces students to marine autonomous platforms for marine environmental data collection. It focuses on the appropriate use of platforms, covering theory of operation and developing practical skills in autonomous marine data collection through workshops and fieldwork. The module also allows direct interaction with scientific researchers and industry practitioners through seminars.

Every postgraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the programme aims, the programme structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest programme structure and may be subject to change:

MSc Hydrography programme specification 2218

The modules shown for this course or programme are those being studied by current students, or expected new modules. Modules are subject to change depending on year of entry.
Entry requirements

You will need a 2:1 or above degree in survey, technology or science. Other qualifications with relevant experience will be considered on a case by case basis; please contact the admissions tutor to enquire about your suitability.

If you are interested in following the programme on a part-time basis you're encouraged to contact the programme leader.

If you have overseas qualifications you can check your comparability with Ecctis, who provide an advisory service.

If your first language is not English then evidence of English proficiency is required. The level of proficiency that is required can vary with the type of programme for which you are applying.

The minimum IELTS score for acceptable English proficiency for entry is normally 6.5 (with a minimum of 5.5 in each element).

We welcome applicants with international qualifications. To view other accepted qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

Fees, costs and funding

The UK is no longer part of the European Union. EU applicants should refer to our Brexit information to understand the implications.

New Student 2021-2022 2022-2023
Home £9,950 £10,200
International £16,200 £16,700
Part time (Home) £550 £550
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per 10 credits. Please note that fees are reviewed on an annual basis. Fees and the conditions that apply to them shown in the prospectus are correct at the time of going to print. Fees shown on the web are the most up to date but are still subject to change in exceptional circumstances. For more information about fees and funding please visit

Alumnus loyalty reward for postgraduate study

The University applies a discretionary alumnus reward where alumni meet certain criteria on particular postgraduate taught courses.

  • A 20 per cent discount on home tuition fees.
  • Or a £2,000 discount on international tuition fees.
  • A 10 per cent alumni discount is available on the following programmes: MSc Advanced Psychology, MSc Clinical Psychology, MSc/PgDip Psychology and MSc Occupational Therapy.

For further details, programme exclusions and contact information, please see our alumnus discount policy.

Postgraduate scholarships for international students

We offer several scholarships for international students who wish to study postgraduate taught (PGT) degree programmes.

Find out about the postgraduate scholarships available to you as an international student

How to apply

When to apply

Most of our taught programmes begin in September. Applications can usually be made throughout the year, and are considered until programmes are full. 

Before you apply

Familiarise yourself with the information required to complete your application form. You will usually be required to supply:
  • evidence of qualifications (degree certificates or transcripts), with translations if not in English, to show that you meet, or expect to meet the entry requirements
  • evidence of English language proficiency, if English is not your first language
  • a personal statement of approximately 250-400 words about the reasons for your interest in the course and outlining the nature of previous and current related experience. You can write this into the online application form, or include it as a separate document
  • your curriculum vitae or résumé, including details of relevant professional/voluntary experience, professional registration/s and visa status for overseas workers
  • proof of sponsorship, if applicable.
If you require further information take a look at our application guidance.

Disability services

If you have a disability and would like further information about the support provided by University of Plymouth, please visit our Disability Services website. 

International students

Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email

Submitting an application

Once you are happy that you have all of the information required you can apply using our online postgraduate application form (the blue 'Apply now' icon on this page).

What happens after I apply?

You will normally receive a decision on your application within four weeks of us receiving your application. You may be asked to provide additional information; two academic/professional references, confirming your suitability for the course; or to take part in an interview (which in the case of overseas students may be by telephone or video conference) and you will be sent a decision by letter or email.

We aim to make the application procedure as simple and efficient as possible. Our Admissions and Course Enquiries team is on hand to offer help and can put you in touch with the appropriate faculty if you wish to discuss any programme in detail.

If you would like any further information please contact the Admissions and Course Enquiries team:

Telephone: +44 (0)1752 585858

Admissions policy

More information and advice for applicants can be referenced by downloading our Student Admissions Policy Prospective students are advised to read the policy before making an application to the University.

This course and qualification is accredited by...

Professional competency

Our industry partners

Specialist equipment and facilities

Based on the waterfront, Plymouth is the perfect location for your marine studies. Gain access to the latest equipment, facilities and hands-on training from our expert staff.

With a dedicated fleet of survey vessels, state of the art hydrographic equipment including use of marine robotic and autonomous vehicles, a purpose build hydrographic computer processing suite and specialist resources including the Marine Institute, you’ll learn state-of-the-art methods and soak up the latest thinking.

The Falcon Spirit Research Vessel

Our dedicated research vessel, Falcon Spirit, is used for demonstrations and one-week practicals within Plymouth Sound. Her name honours Robert Falcon Scott, a Plymothian naval officer and polar explorer who attempted to be the first person to reach the South Pole.

Built by Alnmaritec of Northumberland the RV Falcon Spirit is an aluminium catamaran. This 13.65m survey vessel is coded by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for 14 people to work up to 60 miles from safe haven. With a beam of six metres, it offers a large and stable 25m of floodlit configurable aft deck space.

Internally the vessel has dry laboratory space for a minimum of six workstations, plus a separate wet laboratory facility. With a pair of 500 horsepower diesel engines, the vessel is capable of a 300 mile range at a 15 knot service speed, with considerable power in reserve.

The vessel comes with the capability to troll at very slow speeds and has a one metre by one metre moon pool, two independent one tonne hydraulic capstans, and a 500kg pot hauler in way of a double door in the starboard bulwark.

Power is via an independent generator producing 12.3 kVa of clean power to a multitude of 240V sockets.

The RV Falcon Spirit offers you a flexible, high specification platform for marine research. Technician support includes the skipper for Falcon Spirit, computer, electronic and survey technicians.

Technology and equipment

You will have access to our large marine science equipment pool, including a broad range of terrestrial and marine survey instrumentation from traditional to state-of-the-art.

Our hydrographic equipment suite includes a high-end industry-grade multi-beam echo sounder with state-of-the-art positioning and motion systems. It is used for teaching, research and industry collaborations. The system enables students and researchers to perform detailed mapping of the subsurface environment and visualise in 3D seabed bathymetry, habitat type and important features such as shipwrecks.

Other acoustic mapping and positioning systems available include sidescan sonar, ultra short baseline positioning and Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers as well as equipment for sub-surface assessment.

We also have a number of unmanned aerial (drones), surface (unmanned surface vessels) and submarine survey platforms (remotely operated vehicles), with are increasingly used for teaching and research.

You will also have access to a wide range of industry standard acquisition and processing software available in the state-of-the-art Hydrographic processing suite.

The Marine Institute

An unmatched wave-testing tank. Modern equipment for use at sea and on-land. A gathering place for international marine businesses. The Marine Institute is all about sharing expertise in marine and maritime research and developing sustainable practical and policy solutions.

Bringing together more than 3,000 staff, students and researchers from across the University, the Marine Institute is brimming with expertise and ideas.

From ocean exploration to coastal engineering and sustainable environmental management, every marine related course is represented at the Institute. Staff and students from the Faculties of Science and Engineering, Arts and Humanities, Business and Health and Human Sciences share space, equipment and data.

With the latest international research at your fingertips, you’ll be able to set your study in the wider context of the marine environment. Share ideas with the scientists, policy makers, artists, technicians and business managers of today — and tomorrow.

The Marine Station

The Marine Station is a landmark £4.65 million development opened in 2014 which serves as the base for our marine expeditionary work. It's an exceptional teaching and research facility that’s located on the shores of Plymouth Sound – part of our ‘Waterfront Campus’, with classrooms extending out into the natural environment.

The Marine Station includes:

  • lecture facilities overlooking the sea
  • a wet lab for sample examination and analysis
  • a seawater aquarium
  • field equipment storage and changing facilities
  • a base for research vessels.

Unique to higher education in the UK, the Marine Station is also a centre of excellence for diving that enables you to get professional diving qualifications and develop valuable industry-relevant skills. Such skills have enabled our graduates to work as divers for television documentaries and surveyors for the British Antarctic Survey.

Find out more about the marine station here.

<p>Falcon Spirit</p>
<p>Marine station</p>
Diving in Plymouth Sound

Employment opportunities

There’s an international shortage of skilled hydrographic surveyors, meaning great opportunities and strong industrial and employment links for successful graduates.

Our graduates are employed worldwide in careers including hydrographic surveyors, geophysicists, research and development specialists and operational managers.


Surveying is a core activity in the sustainable management of our coastal and marine environment and resources. Most commercial work is in ocean exploration for the renewable energy sector, maintenance and development of coastal and marine environmental management, maintenance and development of ports, safe navigation, and exploration for energy and minerals.

Employment and internship opportunities (since 2016)

International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) scheme

During the course of your studies you will have the opportunity to participate in an IMCA based competency scheme used by many offshore industry professionals and companies. IMCA provide an internationally accepted competency and assessment framework for personnel to demonstrate they are proficient to their current and future employers. Our IMCA scheme has been designed to formalise many of the unique practical survey skills you will develop throughout the MSc Hydrography programme.  Participation in the scheme will allow you to enhance both your employability and future promotional prospects as a hydrographic professional.

Statements of support for the IMCA competency programme:

Peter Thompson – Director, Precise Consultants

 Precise Consultants plays a central role in the recruitment activities in the offshore industry, specifically within the Hydrographic Survey sector. We have seen an increase in the demand for a standardised competency framework across the industry, provided it is in line with the standard IMCA guidelines. As the various competency schemes put in place by survey companies (MMT, NSEA, etc) and contractors (Allseas, SS7, etc) are all based on the published IMCA competency guidelines, they are increasingly being used to document the careers of survey personnel. Having students coming from university not only familiar with the IMCA competency guidelines but already enrolled in a scheme benefits them as they start their careers but will also help them in gaining employment. Employers will look at a competency portfolio and provided it has been created in line with the IMCA guidelines they will take the assessments and verifications as proof of competence of the specific tasks that will be asked of them offshore, the value of such a document/portfolio for a student graduating cannot be overstated.

Mike Liddell – Global Director Positioning & Construction Support, Fugro

Fugro is the worlds's leading independent provider of geo-intelligence and asset integrity solutions for large constructions, infrastructure and natural resources.

At the very core of our business are Fugro's most valuable assets: highly skilled and motivated staff. We believe that both staff development and ensuring the high competency levels are key to maintaining Fugro's position as the market leader, and as such invest heavily in staff development and competency programmes.
The international Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), of which Fugro is an International Contractor member and is a strong supporter, have developed a competency assessment portfolio for the industry. Fugro are delighted that Plymouth University has adopted and intergrated this framework alongside the marine MSc and BSc programmes, and Fugro fully supports this implementation.

Research and Consultancy

Hydrography is a rapidly evolving field, with recent technological advances in marine robotics, autonomous vehicles and smart sensors. This rapid development in technology means that we are now able to collect increasingly higher-resolution data, multidisciplinary and multi-year datasets and map previously inaccessible regions, helping us to answer big global challenges.

You can apply to go on to study a PhD degree at Plymouth or elsewhere.

Current research areas at the University of Plymouth include:

Coastal survey and geomorphology, Dr Tim Scott

Autonomous systems, Mr Aaron Barrett and Dr Alex Nimmo Smith

Deep Sea and Antarctic geomorphology, Dr Jenny Gales

Remote Sensing, Dr Jill Schwarz

Sediment Dynamics, Professor Andy Manning and Dr Sarah Bass

Physical Oceanography, Dr Phil Hosegood

Optical oceanography, Dr Alex Nimmo Smith

Habitat Mapping, Professor Kerry Howell

Coastal morphodynamics, vulnerability and hazards, Professor Gerd Masselink and Dr Mark Davidson

News about current research and opportunities can be found in our biannual Marine Science newsletter.

Our graduates

Colin Entwistle - BA (Hons) Business Studies and MSc Hydrography graduate

I have so many memories from studying at Plymouth... I’ve been here over ten years now, so it’s too hard to mention just one

Read more about Colin's experiences on the course

Alan Robertson – MSc Hydrography graduate

My current line of work is a direct result of studying at Plymouth University. The hydrography masters course is held in high regard within the Industry and the modular structure meant that a vast array of subjects where covered.

Find out more about Alan

Annual Student Presentations Evening

Sponsored by the Hydrographic Society, our students have the opportunity to present in front of prospective employers and students.

Watch this short video and find out how the students got involved and how it was of benefit to them

Meet your Lecturers

Follow us on Twitter