What Does a Marine Engineer Do?
Marine Engineers, and their related occupation, naval architects, are professionals who help to design, build, and repair man-made vessels and structures that will be used primarily at sea. They can work on anything from massive cargo ships and cruise liners to oil rigs and artificial islands. While much of their education is similar to that of engineering programs, they are also equipped with specialized knowledge necessary to deal with the challenges posed by aquatic environments. Marine engineers sometimes work aboard ships as engineering officers, performing the maintenance needed to keep ships running properly, but most work in shipyards or offices on land.
Marine Engineer Education Requirements
Aspiring marine engineers might start with a marine machanic and technician program. However, to work as a marine engineer, it is typically necessary to hold a bachelor's degree in marine engineering technology, although higher degrees are available. Programs often come in two varieties: those that provide the option of becoming licensed for shipboard work and those that do not. While marine engineering schools are slightly uncommon, they are most easily found in coastal areas and may include experience working aboard ships. Most programs will prepare students for both careers on land and at sea. The coursework in marine engineering programs can include:
- Marine engineering fundamentals
- Fluid mechanics
- Steam/diesel/gas propulsion systems
- Fundamentals of naval architecture
Marine engineering programs usually include a heavy focus on physics, engineering, and mathematics, so online courses in math or other relevant areas may offer a head start. Many programs, particularly those with shipboard experiences, also include courses on ship safety and procedures. The United States Merchant Marine Academy offers one of the most respected marine engineering programs, with graduates particularly well-suited for ship engineer roles.
Licensure for Marine Engineers
For those who plan to work aboard ships, it is important to sign up for a program that includes a licensure option, such as the Merchant Marine Academy. The licensure to become a third mate is done through the United States Coast Guard, which typically involves the completion of an approved training program (with time at sea) and the passage of the licensure exam. The licensure exam covers material such as keeping watch, maritime law, emergency procedures, ship power and propulsion systems, and navigation.
Another option, applicable to those who intend to work on land, is to pursue a Professional Engineer (PE) license, which is done through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. To become a professional engineer in marine engineering, it is necessary to graduate from a degree program accredited by ABET, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, gain at least 4 years of experience within the discipline, and finally, pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. The Fundamentals of Engineering exam is taken shortly before or after graduation and consists of 110 questions to be answered over 6 hours. The Principles and Practice of Engineering exam for marine engineering consists of 80 questions and is taken over 8 hours. A PE license is usually earned later in one's career and can lead to greater freedom and responsibilities.
Marine Engineer Career and Salary Info
Marine engineers and naval architects had a median annual salary of $92,560 as of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They generally work full time, although those serving aboard ships will tend to work according to the ship's schedule and be confined to the ship while at sea. The BLS also predicts a 9% growth in the employment of marine engineers and naval architects over the ten years from 2018 to 2028, higher than the national average. Much of this growth is attributed to the need for more environmentally sound shipping and structure design. The aging merchant marine workforce will also need to be replaced in the coming years, making this a contributing factor as well.