Locating – SIR Marks-a-lot

The Friday before I wrote this, I dispensed 14 cans of red paint. In the field, not accidentally in the bed of my truck (that’s a different column). I wonder sometimes how many cans and cases I’ve been through over the course of a quarter century in the field.

For sure, the bulk of it would be red. Then orange, then an equal mix of blue and purple, then yellow, then green bringing up the rear somewhere off in the far distance. From the very beginning I’ve prided myself on the neatness and professionalism of my marks. It’s still, for me, the default measure of a technician’s prowess in the absence of any other information.

“Anyone can rent a table saw or a locator, but a professional tradesperson will use the equipment efficiently and neatly.”

Some technicians leave a site looking like a work of art, suitable for the cover of their One Call center’s next excavator manual, while others leave a confusing matrix of dots, lines, double marks, dead ends, parallel diagonals, and confusing erasures – marks scrubbed furiously with the toe of a boot, but otherwise fully visible and leading to dubious ends

Of course, for all my superficial judgments, accuracy doesn’t require neatness and neat marks can be wrong. But neatness along with efficiency is one of the hallmarks of a professional tradesperson. Anyone can rent a table saw or a locator, but a professional tradesperson will use the equipment efficiently and neatly.

All that said, here are a few pointers for any novice markers out there:

  1. Hold the receiver in your non-dominant hand and the paint stick in your dominant one. Your clumsy non-dominant thumb can work the two or three large buttons needed to work the receiver, but you’ll need your dominant hand to make anything near legible markings in spray paint.
  2. Dot on your way out, mark on your way back. Not only will this help you negotiate turns like a pro, but it’s so much easier to erase dots than full-fledged lines.
  3. When marking multiple facilities, make your marks parallel to one another. It looks way better. If another tech beat you to the site, make your marks parallel theirs.
  4. Don’t excessively mark driveways, sidewalks, light pole bases, and sides of buildings. You are a tradesperson, not a tagger.
  5. When walking across hardscapes or indoors, place your spray can nozzle-side-up in your paint stick to ensure you never have an accident on the carpet.
  6. Develop a walking/marking rhythm to help keep your marks evenly spaced. Mine is “step, step, mark; step, step, mark.” You won’t have to look back, and your marks will always be evenly spaced.
  7. Clear your nozzle when you have finished marking by holding the can nozzle up and dispensing until you don’t see pigment.
  8. When painting the letter “s,” make the top half of the letter (S), and the bottom half of a five (5). That’s how sign painters do them, and they look professional and neat every time.
  9. Never replace the cap on a can of one color with the cap from a can of another color unless you like marking over the wrong color over and over as you watch the first color bleed through.
  10. Carry flat black.

I hope someone reading this who is just starting out finds the advice helpful, or someone who doesn’t need the advice, managed a smile. I should have been keeping a catalog of some of the markings I’ve seen. Just a couple weeks ago I saw the lighting feed for a city bus stop marked in one continuous line from the shelter to a power pole about 60 feet away. So, there’s at least one tech to still reach.

Christopher Koch is a training consultant and President of ZoneOne Locating. He is past president of Nulca and worked on both the 2009 and 2015 revisions to the Nulca Professional Competency Standard. He can be reached by email at Christopherkoch@ live.com or on Twitter @kochauthor.


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin