Marine engineers and naval architects design, build, and maintain ships, from aircraft carriers to submarines and from sailboats to tankers. Marine engineers are also known as marine design engineers or marine mechanical engineers and are responsible for the internal systems of a ship, such as the propulsion, electrical, refrigeration, and steering systems. Naval architects are responsible for the ship design, including the form, structure, and stability of hulls.

Duties

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 the testing, installation, and repair of marine equipment
  • Investigate and test machinery and equipment to ensure 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 make sure that 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 its size, weight, and speed
  • Develop sectional and waterline curves of the ship’s hull to establish the center of gravity, the ideal hull form, and data on buoyancy and stability
  • Design entire ship hulls and superstructures, following safety and regulatory standards
  • Design the complete layout of ships’ interiors, including spaces for machinery and auxiliary equipment, 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, electrical distribution systems, safety systems, steering systems, and propulsion machinery
  • Lead teams from a variety of specialties to oversee building and testing prototypes
  • Evaluate how ships perform during trials, both in the dock and at sea, and change designs as needed to make sure that 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 and tidal power.

Marine engineers and naval architects who work 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 Army, Navy, or Coast Guard.

Marine engineers should not be confused with ship engineers, who operate or supervise the operation of the machinery on a ship. For more information on ship engineers, see the profile on water transportation workers.

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Work Environment

Marine engineers and naval architects held about 11,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of marine engineers and naval architects were as follows:

Engineering services 25%
Federal government, excluding postal service 9
Other professional, scientific, and technical services                                         7
Transportation and warehousing 4

Marine engineers and naval architects 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 to test or maintain the ships that they have designed or built.

Marine engineers and naval architects who work on power generation projects, such as offshore wind turbines and tidal power, work along the coast—both offshore and on land. They also sometimes work on oil rigs, where they oversee the repair or maintenance of systems that they may have designed.

Naval architects often lead teams to create feasible designs, and they must effectively use the skills that each person brings to the design process.

Work Schedules

Most marine engineers and naval architects work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week. Marine engineers who work at sea will work a schedule tied to the operations of their particular ship. Those who work onshore will have somewhat more regular work schedules. Naval architects, and marine engineers who are engaged primarily in design, are much more likely to work a regular schedule in an office or at a shipyard.

Education and Training

Marine engineers and naval architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and naval architecture, respectively, or a related degree, such as a degree in mechanical or electrical engineering. Some marine engineering and naval architecture programs are offered at state maritime academies.

Education

Programs in marine engineering and naval architecture typically include courses in calculus, physics, computer-aided design, fluid mechanics, ship hull strength, and mechanics of materials. Most programs also include time at sea, where students gain hands-on experience on a vessel.

Some marine engineering and naval architecture programs are offered at state maritime academies. Students studying at the maritime academies spend time at sea, usually during the summer, to gain onboard operating experience. For more information about state maritime academies, visit the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Programs in engineering and naval architecture 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Along with earning a bachelor’s degree, students at states’ maritime academies take exams for licensure from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Another type of engineering license is the Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence and can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after earning a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).

Other experience

Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative education programs and internships, which provide college credit or structured job experience, can be helpful in getting a job in this occupation.

Advancement

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, on which 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. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales managers.

Personality and Interests

Marine engineers and naval architects typically have an interest in the Building and Thinking interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking interest which might fit with a career as a marine engineer and naval architect, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Marine engineers and naval architects should also possess the following specific qualities:

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for marine engineers and naval architects was $92,400 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $65,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $147,710.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for marine engineers and naval architects in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Transportation and warehousing $101,270
Federal government, excluding postal service 100,390
Other professional, scientific, and technical services                                 90,670
Engineering services 88,590

Most marine engineers and naval architects work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week. Marine engineers who work at sea will work a schedule tied to the operations of their particular ship. Those who work onshore will have somewhat more regular work schedules. Naval architects, and marine engineers who are engaged primarily in design, are much more likely to work a regular schedule in an office or at a shipyard.

Job Outlook

Employment of marine engineers and naval architects is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

The need to design environmentally friendly ships and systems to transport energy products, such as liquefied natural gas, across the globe will help to spur employment growth for this occupation, although sometimes on ships sailing under foreign flags. 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.

Moreover, new developments in the technology of offshore wind turbines have made the economics of such energy more feasible. With expertise in engineering projects for marine environment, this occupation will be needed to help plan and implement these energy projects.

For More Information

For more information about marine engineers and naval architects, visit

Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association

American Society of Naval Engineers

For more information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation

Technology Student Association

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

 

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