Marine engineers and naval architects design, build, and maintain ships, from aircraft carriers to submarines and from sailboats to tankers.
What they do
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.
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.
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.
How to become a Marine Engineer and/or Naval Architect
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.
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.
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.
Employment of marine engineers and naval architects is projected to grow 1 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.
Many jobs for these workers are in the ship and boat building industry, which supplies new ship orders for the military. Therefore, federal budgetary constraints may limit employment growth.
Technological developments have made offshore wind energy projects more feasible. As a result, more marine engineers and naval architects are expected to be needed to help plan and implement these projects.
Similar Job Titles
Marine Engineer: Consulting Marine Engineer, Hull Outfit Supervisor, Marine Consultant, Marine Design Engineer, Marine Engineer, Marine Engineering Consultant, Marine Surveyor, Project Engineer, Propulsion Machinery Service Engineer, Ships Equipment Engineer
Naval Architect: Boat Builder, Designer, Engineering Specialist, Initial Design and Naval Architecture Supervisor, Marine Architect, Marine Structural Designer, Naval Architect, Naval Architect Specialist, Piping Designer, Structural Engineer
Civil Engineer, Environmental Engineer, Fire-Prevention and Protection Engineer, Energy Engineer, Manufacturing Engineer
Logistics Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Fire-Prevention and Protection Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Energy Engineer
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Society of Naval Engineers
- Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology
- Marine Technology Society
- Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers
- Society of Women Engineers
- The American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- United States Naval Institute
- Vibration Institute
Magazines and Publications
Planning precisely how to keep an enormous ocean-going vessel stable and safe in high seas while carrying giant loads of cargo… is just one of the many tasks of marine engineers and naval architects. They usually specialize in designing and building a particular type of ship… from giant aircraft carriers to submarines… and from 15-foot sailboats to ocean tankers. Marine engineers are responsible for the internal systems of a ship, such as propulsion, electrical, refrigeration, and steering… While naval architects design the ship itself… including the form, structure, and stability of hulls. These architects also lead the teams that create new ship designs. Marine engineers and naval architects typically work in offices where they have access to computer software and other tools to analyze projects and design solutions. Sometimes they go to sea on ships to test their designs or to maintain ships they’ve built. Marine engineers and naval architects work full time, though overtime hours are not uncommon, especially when working at sea. Those who work on shore usually have more regular work schedules. Because naval architects are primarily designers, they are much more likely to work a regular schedule in an office or at a shipyard. Marine engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, marine systems engineering, or marine engineering technology. Naval architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in naval architecture, or a related field like mechanical or electrical engineering.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org