The ability of volunteers to undertake different tasks and accurately collect data is critical for the success of many conservation projects. In this study, a simulated herpetofauna visual encounter survey was used to compare the detection and distance estimation accuracy of volunteers and more experienced observers. Experience had a positive effect on individual detection accuracy. However, lower detection performance of less experienced volunteers was not found in the group data, with larger groups being more successful overall, suggesting that working in groups facilitates detection accuracy of those with less experience. This study supports the idea that by optimizing survey protocols according to the available resources (time and volunteer numbers), the sampling efficiency of monitoring programs can be improved and that non-expert volunteers can provide valuable contributions to visual encounter-based biodiversity surveys. Recommendations are made for the improvement of survey methodology involving non-expert volunteers.