Marine engineers and naval architects design, build, and maintain ships from aircraft carriers to submarines, from sailboats to tankers. Marine engineers work on the mechanical systems, such as propulsion and steering. Naval architects work on the basic design, including the form and stability of hulls.
Marine engineers typically do the following:
- Prepare system layouts and detailed drawings and schematics
- Inspect marine equipment and machinery, and draw up work requests and job specifications
- Conduct environmental, operational, or performance tests on marine machinery and equipment
- Design and oversee testing, installation, and repair of marine equipment
- Investigate and observe tests on machinery and equipment for compliance with standards
- Coordinate activities with regulatory bodies to ensure that repairs and alterations are done safely and at minimal cost
- Prepare technical reports for use by engineers, managers, or sales personnel
- Prepare cost estimates, contract specifications, and design and construction schedules
- Maintain contact with contractors to be sure the work is being done correctly, on schedule, and within budget
Naval architects typically do the following:
- Study design proposals and specifications to establish basic characteristics of a ship, such as size, weight, and speed
- Develop sectional and waterline curves of the hull to establish the center of gravity, ideal hull form, and data on buoyancy and stability
- Design entire ship hulls and superstructures, following safety standards
- Design the layout of ships’ interiors, including passenger compartments, cargo space, ladder wells, and elevators
- Confer with marine engineers to design the layout of boiler room equipment, heating and ventilation systems, refrigeration equipment, and propulsion machinery
- Lead teams from a variety of specialties to oversee building and testing prototypes
- Evaluate how ships perform during trials, both at dock and at sea, and change designs as needed to make sure national and international standards are met
Marine engineers and naval architects apply knowledge from a range of engineering fields to the entire water vehicles design and production processes. Marine engineers also design and maintain offshore oil rigs and may work on alternative energy projects, such as wind turbines located offshore or tidal power.
Marine engineers and naval architects working for ship and boat building firms design large ships such as passenger ships and cargo ships, as well as small craft such as inflatable boats and rowboats. Those who work in the federal government may design or test the designs of ships or systems for the Navy or Coast Guard.
Ship engineers, who are sometimes called marine engineers, operate or supervise the operation of the machinery on a ship. Their work differs from that of the marine engineers discussed in this profile. For more information on ship engineers, see the profile on water transportation occupations.
Marine engineers and naval architects held about 7,300 jobs in 2012. They typically work in offices, where they have access to computer software and other tools necessary for analyzing projects and designing solutions. Sometimes, they must go to sea on ships for testing or maintenance.
Those working on power generation projects, such as offshore wind turbines or tidal power, work along the coast—both offshore and on land. They also sometimes work on oil rigs where they oversee repair or maintenance of systems that they may have designed.
The industries that employed the most marine engineers and naval architects in 2012 were as follows:
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||40%|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||14|
|Ship and boat building||14|
|Other professional, scientific, and technical services||6|
|Deep sea, coastal, and great lakes water transportation||5|
Naval architects often lead teams of diverse professionals to create feasible designs, and they must effectively use the skills that each person brings to the design process.
Marine engineers who work at sea will work a schedule tied to the operations of their particular ship. Those who work on shore will have somewhat more regular work schedules. Naval architects, as they are primarily designers, are much more likely to work a regular schedule in an office environment or at a shipyard.
Marine engineers and naval architects must have a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, naval architecture, marine systems engineering, or marine engineering technology. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative education programs, which provide college credit for structured job experience, are valuable.
Entry-level jobs in marine engineering and naval architecture require a bachelor's degree in marine engineering, naval architecture, marine systems engineering, or marine engineering technology. Programs typically include courses in calculus, physics, and computer-aided design. Courses specific to marine engineering and naval architecture include fluid mechanics, ship hull strength, and mechanics of materials. Some marine engineers have bachelor’s degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering. Programs in marine engineering, naval architecture, marine systems engineering, and marine engineering technology are accredited by ABET.
Students interested in preparing for this occupation benefit from taking high school courses in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as chemistry and physics. For aspiring naval architects, drafting courses are helpful.
Communication skills. Marine engineers and naval architects must be able to give clear instructions and explain complex concepts when leading teams of professionals on projects.
Ingenuity. Marine engineers and naval architects must employ operations analysis to create a design that will most likely perform the ship’s functions, and then employ skills of critical thinking to anticipate and correct any deficiencies before the ship is built or set to sea.
Interpersonal skills. Marine engineers and naval architects meet with clients to analyze their needs for ship systems. Engineers must be able to discuss progress with clients to keep redesign options open before the project is too far along.
Math skills. Marine engineers and naval architects use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. Marine engineers must design several systems for ships that work well together. Naval architects and marine engineers are expected to solve problems for their clients. They must draw on their knowledge and experience to make effective decisions.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Along with earning a bachelor’s degree, marine engineers and naval architects usually take an exam for a mariner’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard. The first stage of the license is known as the 3rd Assistant License. With experience and further testing, a marine engineer may get a 2nd and then a 1st Assistant License. The highest level of licensure is known as Chief Assistant. Higher grades of licensing are usually accompanied by higher pay and more responsibilities.
Beginning marine engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In larger companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects where they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, marine engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may even become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions or sales work. In sales, an engineering background enables them to discuss technical aspects of certain kinds of engineering projects. Such knowledge is also useful in assisting clients in project planning, installation, and use.
The median annual wage for marine engineers and naval architects was $88,100 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,260, and the top 10 percent earned more than $150,560.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for marine engineers and naval architects in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$97,550|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||92,010|
|Deep sea, coastal, and great lakes water transportation||89,220|
|Ship and boat building||82,510|
|Other professional, scientific, and technical services||71,220|
Marine engineers who work at sea will work a schedule tied to the operations of their particular ship. Naval architects, as they are primarily designers, are much more likely to work a regular schedule in an office environment or at a shipyard.
Compared with workers in all occupations, marine engineers and naval architects had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.
Employment of marine engineers and naval architects is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The need to design ships and systems to transport energy products, such as liquefied natural gas, across the globe will help to spur employment growth for this occupation. Employment of marine engineers and naval architects also will be supported by the need to modify existing ships and their systems because of new emissions and pollution regulations on cargo shipping.
Marine engineers who design and maintain offshore oil rigs are expected to be in demand as more companies seek and drill for oil and gas deposits in the ocean floor.
In addition, the increase in international overseas transportation of liquefied natural gas is expected to lead to demand for marine engineers to work on ship crews, though sometimes on ships sailing under foreign flags.
For the immediate future, demand for naval architects will come from the need to update fleets to meet new federal requirements for double-hulled ships for transporting oil and gas.
Demand for marine engineers and naval architects will also come from the desire to have cargo ships that pollute less. The technology to do this is becoming more cost-effective and the United States and other countries are focusing more on reducing pollution. This will also include the adoption of new and alternative energy sources, such as offshore wind turbines and tidal power generators.
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