The most frequent missteps in locating and how to correct them


More utilities are going in the ground every day — and that means the risk of a utility strike happening is going up. Many contractors refuse to take chances by relying on One Call and 811 records alone, and are opting instead for employing trained locators on their crews.


To help fulfill the industry’s need for qualified locators, Cody Mecham, regional sales manager at McLaughlin, is an instructor for the Vermeer HDD Circuit Training program. In this two-week intensive program, he spends one full day going over the ins and outs of utility locating with participants. Below are some common mistakes he sees among rookie and seasoned locators alike, as well as some solutions and tips for a more accurate locate every time.


Mistake #1: Coming out swinging


Mecham says the biggest mistake he sees in utility locating is when the user swings the receiver excessively to the left and right. He says the swinging motion is so instinctive he even catches himself doing it from time to time. It’s also the quickest way to a false locate, according to Mecham.


The Fix — Keep the locator level and parallel to the ground at all times. McLaughlin locators have a level indicator feature that gives users a visual reminder to keep the locator level and to refrain from swinging it unnecessarily. Besides that, Mecham recommends checking in with yourself frequently to ensure you’re doing a nice, level sweep.


Mistake #2: Not being “well-rounded”


Trusting your gut during the locating process is something that comes with experience. Relying too heavily on a reading from the receiver doesn’t always lend itself to an accurate locate. If a user doesn’t trust his or her gut and take the time to create a round signal, they might end up with an occurrence called bleed off. Bleed off happens when more than one utility is energized in the locating process. During a locate, you’re essentially using a flow of current to create a magnetic field around a utility. When utility lines are close together, it’s easy to energize multiple lines at once. Bleed off reduces the quality of the readings on both the intended utility and the nearby utility the user wasn’t trying to locate.


The Fix: There’s nothing wrong with confirming a gut feeling to ensure a round signal and eliminate bleed off. Mecham recommends the process of triangulation, where users do a level sweep of the suspected top of the cable or utility while utilizing the Peak Mode on McLaughlin locators, which will show you a percentage. When the highest percentage is shown, you should stop and paint that area. Then walk to the left until the percentage reaches 0% and paint a line. Do the same thing on the right. The distance from your center point (high percentage) to your left and right marks should be equal —this indicates a round signal on the intended utility.


Mistake #3: Fixating on one frequency


In any trade, it’s easy to learn a process one way and stick to that method because it works — and why complicate things? If you’re a locator, you likely have one or two frequencies that have become your bread and butter over the years. But what happens when you’re on a jobsite and you can’t get an accurate reading using those tried-and-true frequencies?


The Fix: Mecham urges new and experienced locators alike to take advantage of every tool in their tool belt. This means venturing outside the frequencies they’re most comfortable with in order to produce the most accurate locate reading. Sometimes a frequency you swear never works for you will be the exact one to get you the most precise locate.


This blog barely scratches the surface of everything it takes to navigate the complicated locating process. Check back soon for Mecham’s four steps for troubleshooting a challenging locate. Have more questions about the locating process or McLaughlin utility locators? Give us a call at (864) 277-5870 and we will be happy to help!

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