What is a Marine Engineer?
Marine Engineers are responsible for the design and connstruction of seagoing vessels and structures, focusing primarily on their internal systems. Simply put, they design the onboard electrical, environmental and propulsion systems aboard everything from oil platforms to cruise ships.
No environment on Earth is as demanding as the sea. Designing and building vessels and structures that can withstand the wind, waves and salt exposure requires special education and experience. The modern world’s global commerce is largely enabled by the ocean-going technological marvels created by Marine Engineers.
Today’s oceans are plied by oil and cargo ships that are amazingly huge and complex. The largest ship ever built, once named Seawise Giant, was over 1500 feet long. Royal Caribbean International recently launched 2 Oasis class cruise ships, floating paradises that routinely carry over 5000 happy cruisers on vacation. The Marine Engineering involved in assuring the safety of the crews and passengers of these behemoths is challenging and exacting. Marine engineers routinely break records and create new technology as a normal course of doing business.
Becoming a Marine Engineer
The normal path to becoming a Marine Engineer is to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited university. Many public and private colleges offer undergraduate degrees in Marine Engineering, but there are some schools that specialize in this arena. Marine Engineers are highly involved in the design and operation of shipboard electrical and environmental systems as well as power plants, so you’ll take courses in electrical engineering, fluid dynamics and power production.
Moving on to a Master’s Degree in Marine Engineering will often encompass a broader area of study including Naval Architecture. Naval Architecture involves the overall structural design of ships and other vessels.
At the pinnacle of Marine Engineering are professionals who have earned their Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D.) in the field. With the complexity involved in many of these large-scale systems, the sky is the limit.
A Day in the Life of a Marine Engineer
Based on the performance specifications of the vessel, marine engineers design the propulsion system to deliver the power required. They also design the steering system, heating, cooling and ventilation systems and hydraulics for the ship. If the job is a retrofit, the marine engineer studies the current plans before designing the new systems.
Once marine engineers know what equipment is to be installed and where each duct, machine and power source is to be located, they prepare detailed plans. They create layouts and schematics, determine the work schedule and prepare a cost estimate for approval by management.
As the work progresses, marine engineers may conduct periodic inspections or tests to catch any issues as soon as possible. They ensure that design specifications are being followed, monitor the project budget and prepare status reports for clients or managers.
Although most of a marine engineer's work can be performed in an office, there are times when sea trials are part of the job. Marine engineers may spend time aboard ship to test how the vessel performs or to gather information for maintenance or an upcoming retrofit. Engineers who specialize in offshore drilling may spend some time on the oil rig to supervise maintenance or repair efforts involving the rig's mechanical systems.
Marine Engineer Employment Outlook and Salary
According to the US Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Marine Engineers and Naval Architects earn an average annual salary of $84,850. However, the top 10% of the career field pulls in a healthy $145,790 annually.
Demand for Marine Engineers is expected to continue growing about as fast as the national average for all careers. New fields like alternative energy from wind and tides combine with traditional ship design and oil platform work to generate a healthy demand for professional Marine Engineers.
The demand is expected to be fueled by a combination of factors. First, many existing vessels may need to be retrofitted to comply with new regulations involving pollution and emissions standards. As oil companies continue to move offshore to drill, marine engineers will also be needed to design and service these rigs. Marine engineers will be needed to work on offshore energy sources, such as wind turbines. However, as marine engineering is a relatively small field, the numerical change is only expected to be about 1,000 new jobs.
Career advancement usually follows with experience in the field. You’ll normally start off focusing on specific systems, and move on to more complex applications as you increase your experience and education. There are many opportunities operating systems in their native maritime environment, but if life at sea isn’t for you, there are many office-based jobs where skills like Computer Aided Design (CAD) come into play.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Marine engineers can advance into supervisory or management positions with experience. Typically, the USCG licenses can help marine engineers move up; as the level of license increases, responsibilities normally increase. Some marine engineers move into sales, using their technical knowledge to help clients plan and execute projects.
Is Marine Engineering the right career for you?
Like any engineering field, Marine Engineering requires a strong background in math and science. Pursuing and engineering degree is a serious commitment and is not to be taken lightly.
Along with math and science skills, you’ll probably do well if you’re fascinated by the ocean and the engineering involved with in harnessing the power of the sea. Not all Marine Engineers work safely behind a desk designing systems. If you don’t think you ever want to spend time on a ship or other off-shore structure, you might think about a different career choice. However, if ships and the sea call to you, this is a rewarding profession worthy of consideration.
Marine Engineering Associations
Compared to some other engineering fields, Marine Engineering is a small and highly focused profession. However, there are opportunities for robust professional development and camaraderie.
Probably the largest international group in this field is the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers . With membership around 8500, this organization is focused on their stated mission “to advance the art, science, and practice of naval architecture, shipbuilding and marine engineering.”