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How to Become a Ship Mechanic: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a ship mechanic. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in marine engineering. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a Ship…
  • 0:58 Career Requirements
  • 1:35 Step 1: Complete…
  • 2:05 Step 2: Choose a Specialty
  • 2:29 Step 3: Gather…
  • 3:45 Step 4: Obtain a…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Ship Mechanic?

Ship mechanics, also referred to as ship engineers, are responsible for maintaining engines on ships. This includes monitoring related machinery, such as generators, electrical equipment, boilers, and pumps. Depending on the size of the vessel, ship mechanics may work alone or with other technicians. They perform general maintenance on engine equipment, run diagnostics, and replace faulty components. Most ships operate with several levels of engineers, including a chief engineer and several ranks of assistant engineer.

Some jobs require workers to live on-ship and be away from home for extended periods of time. Ship engineers may work irregular hours in order to maintain machinery as well as make any necessary repairs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual salary for marine engineers and naval architects was $93,110 in May 2015.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Merchant marine engineering
Licensure Ship mechanics on ocean vessels require merchant mariner credentials
Experience Related sea experience necessary for credential
Key Skills Ability to communicate well with customers; figure out difficult technical problems and be a team player; familiarity with on-board equipment computer systems; knowledge of computerized diagnostic equipment; extensive understanding of power tools and familiarity with all ship systems
Salary $93,110 (2015 median for marine engineers and naval architects)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), U.S. Coast Guard

To become a ship mechanic you'll need a bachelor's degree in merchant marine engineering. Ship mechanics who work on ocean vessels are usually required to obtain merchant mariner credentials, which requires related sea experience. The skills you'll need include the ability to communicate well with customers, figure out difficult technical problems, be a team player, familiarity with onboard equipment computer systems, knowledge of computerized diagnostic equipment, extensive understanding of power tools and familiarity with all ship systems.

Let's go over what steps need to be taken to become a ship mechanic.

Step 1: Complete Undergraduate Studies

Bachelor's degree programs in marine engineering can be found at maritime colleges or academies. Common coursework in these programs covers ships' systems, electrical engineering, engineering mechanics, thermal dynamics, hydraulics, gas turbines, and instrumentation. Students are usually required to spend one or more semesters at sea to gain hands-on training with actual ship systems and equipment.

Step 2: Choose a Specialty

Ship mechanics often obtain the necessary training to work on practically any type of vessel. Nevertheless, some mechanics prefer to work on ships that transport cargo, while others specialize in ships that transport people, such as cruise ships. Mechanics might also specialize by working on certain types of engines, such as motor, steam or gas turbine.

Step 3: Gather Information for Licensure

Merchant mariner licenses are now called Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMCs). Before acquiring MMCs, individuals have to gather all necessary information for the credentialing process, which can take significant time.

First, workers must obtain a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card. According to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the TWIC card verifies the identity of the cardholder with biometric information. To obtain one, individuals must pass extensive background checks conducted by the federal government.

Applicants must show that they are physically fit enough for the job, which usually involves passing medical examinations. They must also provide three character references, show proof of citizenship, pass drug tests, provide documentation of maritime training and show proof of sea experience.

Use the application checklist. Since the USCG requires so much information for credentialing, it provides a handy checklist to help applicants stay organized. There is also an online version with links to all application forms on the USCG merchant mariner credential webpage.

Step 4: Obtain a Merchant Mariner Credential

Upon completing the application process and passing all background checks, ship mechanics are eligible to take the MMC engineering exams. General topics on the exam include engineering safety, control engineering, environmental protection, electronics and electrical equipment. There are different exams for the different types of propulsion engines, including steam and motor, motor only, gas turbine or steam only. Mechanics who want to work on multiple types of propulsion engines must take the correlating exams and earn the necessary credentials.

Individuals who pass the first set of engineer exams are usually awarded the merchant mariner credential with the position endorsement of third assistant engineer. To move up the ranks to second assistant engineer, first assistant engineer and finally chief engineer, individuals must reapply for the advanced ranks and take any necessary exams. They also must have sufficient experience from each previous grade.

Maintain credentials. MMCs are good for five years. To renew credentials, individuals must hold an up-to-date TWIC card. They must also pass drug tests and physical exams. Ship mechanics without sufficient recent job experience may take refresher courses or retake credential exams, according to the USCG.


To become a ship mechanic, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree and complete any required credentials.

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