I have many property descriptions I need to add into my GIS that are described using bearings (such as South 01 degrees 41'46" West for 25 feet, then continuing in a different bearing to create a closed area of land). I understand that there may be errors due to projecting these since they are based on a ground-based local plane, but I am simply trying to get the drawing aspect down right now. Unfortunately, the majority of these descriptions are not in a spreadsheet or any type of digital format (such as the guy here was using COGOing Legal Descriptions), they are either on paper or old scanned documents dating as far back as the 1980s.

I tried using the Traverse tool in the COGO toolbar, but when I enter Direction and Distance (using the example above, typing in the format S 01-41-46 W, 25 ft) the "Add" button is greyed out and I am not able to add the line. I am using an empty line feature class and a starting point from a corner of a section/township/range. The ESRI help section on creating traverses seems quite straightforward, I feel like I'm missing something.

Is the traverse tool the right one to be using?

4 Answers 4


Likely, you'll need to change the angular units setting for editing, as found here. enter image description here

Now, you can use the traverse window as such:

enter image description here

If you look here, you'll see there is shorthand for entering bearing and distances, so S01.4146W becomes 01.4146-3 where the -# corresponds to the quadrant, with the quadrants being defined as (1=NE 2=SE 3=SW 4=NW)

  • 1
    I believe you're correct in that the current unit settings are probably not in the same format, thus it isn't recognizing the input as valid and enabling the Add button. However the notation format pac_co suggests is much easier to work with for metes and bounds descriptions because the calls in the description are given in that syntax, and much clearer to read when checking work.
    – Chris W
    Jul 7, 2015 at 17:59
  • @ChrisW, quite true! I'm coming from a surveying background and entering DMS values into a calculator, so I'm fond of the DDD.MMSSSSSS format. It's also less typing, albeit not as readable as you point out.
    – Paul
    Jul 7, 2015 at 18:02
  • This solved it! I changed the 'Direction Type' to quadrant bearing and the traverse tool allowed me to add points. Thanks for the help.
    – Andre
    Jul 7, 2015 at 18:09
  • You're definitely right it's less typing and probably easier/faster to use once you're familiar with it. And ah! a surveyor. I'd be very interested to see your take on some of the basis of bearing and ground to grid correction related questions around here. I come from a Landscape Architect background and worked closely with civils and surveyors, so I feel like I know just enough to be dangerous on the subject of surveying and descriptions and there's so much more I don't quite get or may misunderstand.
    – Chris W
    Jul 7, 2015 at 18:34
  • @ChrisW, my degree is a B.S. in geomatics so my education is strongly surveying oriented, which is about the extent of my knowledge/experience on the subject. (Just labs and lectures.) "Surveying background" was a bit generous on my part, I suppose. The subject matter is fascinating--the practice not so much. ;)
    – Paul
    Jul 7, 2015 at 19:02

I'm pretty sure Paul has the correct solution for why you can't add the information you're entering - the units / angle format. Do note that you need to be in a projected coordinate system to input these types of descriptions, one that uses the units you have (ie feet or meters - in the US, a State Plane zone for your area is the safest bet). However I do want to add some additional information based on yes the Traverse tool is the one to use, but also there is a better way to use it in my opinion.

You should check out creating a traverse file. This is a simple text document that stores all the calls and can be loaded directly into the Traverse tool. There are three primary advantages of using this method, particularly with longer descriptions. First, you have an easily loadable/reproducible record of the description. Second, you've got to type it all in at least once anyway, so there's no sense in having to start completely over if you make a mistake (though there are some tricks for that) and it's generally faster to transcribe to the traverse format than enter one call at time. And third, it allows you to both proof/check the calls you enter and make quick adjustments if you miss a call or find a scrivener's error. Here's my template/example that I just copy and start modifying for each description:

DD N89-36-30E 1069.4
NC A 137.1 R 112.2 C N34-36-30E L

All files will start with the first two lines. Most descriptions can be plotted with straight lines, which is what the third DD (direction distance) line is. A few require using some curves, which is the fourth NC (non-tangent curve, also works for tangent) line (and fixing left vs right curves is a big plus for the traverse file method). The help file gives very detailed info on variables and what they mean.

While the format usually wants a start and end point line (see help example) I typically leave these off and just use the button in the tool to click a start point (which I locate with commencement calls or a reference PLSS grid). Note you don't include the commencement calls in the traverse file, or you keep them in a separate file. You just want the closed shape calls so you can do closure analysis (see below). When you've typed out the file and saved it, you click the add start point button at the bottom and pick your start, then right-click the description window and choose Load Traverse, selecting your text file. All the calls come in at once as you entered them.

You can click the Closed Loop button to indicate the start and end points are supposed to be the same, and then the Closure button to see what, if any misclosure you have (how far away the end point is from the start point). You can also use the Adjust Button to automatically correct the misclosure - if you don't there will be an extra little (or big if a serious misclosure) line in your final polygon that goes from end to start.

  • Thanks Chris. This is great info. I will take it into consideration. It seems like a good way to be entering these coordinates.
    – Andre
    Jul 8, 2015 at 16:40

For the particular call you've provided, try this this format: in the Traverse window, select the Direction-Distance from the drop down menu, then enter Direction: S01-41-46W Distance: 25 Hopefully the Add button won't be grayed out.


You need to put dashes between your degrees S 01-41-46 W

  • Welcome to GIS SE! As a new user please take the tour. Please edit your answer to give more details as to why this is the answer. You will note that the Question already has the degrees written with dashes, so please explain how your answer makes a difference.
    – Midavalo
    May 8, 2020 at 15:49

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