How to Become a Marine Engineer or Naval Architect
Marine engineers must design several systems for ships and vessels that will function well together.
Marine engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, marine systems engineering, or marine engineering technology, and naval architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in naval architecture. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative education programs, which provide college credit and job experience, are valuable.
Marine engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, marine systems engineering, or marine engineering technology, and naval architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in naval architecture. Programs typically include courses in calculus, physics, and computer-aided design. Some programs are offered at one of the six state maritime academies. 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.
Students studying marine engineering and naval architecture at the maritime academies spend time at sea, usually during the summer, to gain onboard operating experience.
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 use operations analysis to create a design that will most likely perform the ship’s functions. They 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 that work well together in ships. 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, students at states’ maritime academies take an exam for a U.S. Merchant Mariner’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard. The first stage of the license is known as the 3rd Assistant Engineer’s License. With experience and further testing, a marine engineer may get a 2nd and then a 1st Assistant Engineer’s License. The highest level of licensure is known as Chief Engineer. Higher grades of licensing usually are accompanied by higher pay and more responsibilities.
Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as an engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, 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 all of the following:
- 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 one earns 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.
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. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales managers.