Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$72,040 per year
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Marine engineers design, operate, maintain, and repair the mechanical systems of ships. Working closely with the architect who designs the ship structure, a marine engineer designs the propulsion, auxiliary power machinery, and other equipment needed to run the ship. Most marine engineers are employed by private firms that build ships or make the equipment used in them. A few engineers do freelance work as consultants to these firms. Some are civilians employed by the U.S. Navy's Naval Sea System Command.
Marine engineers may specialize in certain kinds of equipment such as pumps, engines, gears, heaters, or deck machinery. Others concentrate on certain steps in shipbuilding, such as estimating the cost of the equipment needed. Still others may deal largely with one area of a ship's functions, such as lubrication. Marine engineers may also be inspectors. Inspectors make sure that the equipment works properly before the ship is launched. Some engineers specialize in the repair and maintenance of a ship when it is in dry dock.
Marine engineers are sometimes responsible for installing equipment in ships. They may, for example, supervise the crews that install electrical equipment. Others may be in charge of crews that build heating and cooling systems to protect the cargo. When marine engineers design systems within a ship, they must make sure that these systems cannot be damaged during an ocean voyage.
Some marine engineers work with ship officers who train crews to operate the ship's equipment at sea. These engineers may also help officers select tools and spare parts that may be needed for emergency repairs. Some marine engineers write technical reports and manuals for other engineers and for members of a ship's crew.
Education and Training Requirements
A bachelor's degree in ocean engineering, mechanical engineering, or marine engineering is required to enter the field. Undergraduate programs for prospective candidates should include mechanics, hydraulics, materials testing, electrical theory and practice, and mathematics. An individual who wants to work as an engineering officer in the merchant marine must be licensed. To qualify for a license, candidates must be a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or one of the six state academies. They must also pass a written exam, physical tests, and have some sea experience.
Getting the Job
College professors or school placement offices may provide job leads. Prospective candidates can also contact shipbuilders and contractors directly to learn about openings. Civil service tests are offered for jobs with the Naval Sea System Command, a division of the U.S. Navy.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement opportunities for marine engineers depend on the growth of shipping and of the U.S. naval fleet. Chances for promotion and pay raises are better for those with advanced degrees.
Marine engineers will probably experience employment growth that is slower than the average through the year 2014. For beginners with a bachelor's degree, some firms are willing to give on-the-job training to mechanical and civil engineers who show an interest in marine engineering. It is also a broad field that offers a variety of career paths.
Marine engineers divide their time between their offices and work sites. Work sites may be hazardous. Engineers also may travel to business meetings and professional conferences. They generally work forty hours a week but may work longer hours to meet deadlines. Engineers aboard merchant marine ships may face unpleasant and dangerous conditions at sea, and they can be away from home for long periods.
Where to Go for More Information
American Society of Naval Engineers
1452 Duke St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-3458
Marine Engineers Beneficial Association
444 North Capitol St., Ste. 800
Washington, DC. 20001
Earnings and Benefits
Marine engineers earn a median salary of $72,040 per year. Experienced marine engineers can make more than $100,000 per year. Most workers receive paid vacations and holidays, insurance, and pension plans. Navy personnel receive additional benefits.