Becoming a Marine Engineer: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a marine engineer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a marine engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Marine Engineer

Marine engineering (not to be confused with the similar field of naval architecture) involves developing the mechanical systems used in seafaring vessels, such as commercial ships, tankers, yachts, submarines and aircraft carriers. Learn about some of the pros and cons associated with this field to determine if a career in marine engineering might suit you.

PROS of Being a Marine Engineer
High earnings (an average salary of about $99,000 as of 2014)*
Steady job growth (an expected 10% increase from 2012-2022)*
Opportunity to work in the growing power generation industry*
Can advance to higher-paying supervisory or technical specialist positions*

CONS of Being a Marine Engineer
Requires specialized education (a bachelor's degree in marine engineering)*
Entails extensive experience (through cooperative education programs, internships or on-the-job training)*
Mariner's and professional engineer licensure is often required*
May have to go to sea with vessels*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Marine engineers design, assemble and maintain the mechanical parts of watercraft, such as steering, power supply, engine and propulsion. In order to design such equipment, they examine vessels to determine specifications, prepare detailed schematics, submit work requests and estimate costs for the materials needed. They then oversee the installation process, conduct operational and environmental tests to ensure equipment is in compliance with industry standards and repair or upgrade outdated machinery. Marine engineers may also prepare technical reports that are used by engineering, salespeople or management personnel. Computer software, such as computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs, are often utilized in designing marine components.

Marine engineers work in a number of different geographical environments, but typically find employment near coastal areas. They often work in offices, though they also visit shipyards and coasts to examine and work on ships. Some marine engineers have to go out on the sea with the ships they've worked on in order to maintain or test machinery. Additionally, many of these workers are beginning to apply their knowledge to power generation, working for manufacturing companies that want to sell their electricity back to the power grid. Others work in oil extraction, designing machinery for offshore drilling. In these cases, you'll spend most of your time along the coast, working both on land and offshore.

Salary and Job Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a marine engineer was nearly $99,000 as of May 2014. At this time, most of these engineers worked for architectural and engineering firms, technical services and the federal government, as well as the water transportation and ship and boat building industries. The BLS also reports that jobs in marine engineering were expected to grow 10% between 2012 and 2022, which is about as average as other occupations in the nation. The need to create new and update old marine vessels is a driving force for this growth, but there will be particular demand for those who can maintain oil rigs, offshore wind turbines or tidal power generators.

Education and Training Requirements

To become a marine engineer, you must complete a bachelor's degree program in marine engineering that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In a marine engineering program, you'll learn about topics like ship hull structure, hydrodynamics, marine power systems and marine dynamics. You can expect to learn through both hands-on and didactic instruction, and you'll also complete an internship. Additionally, since experience is so essential to this career, many training engineers participate in cooperative education programs during college.

After getting hired, you'll work under more experienced marine engineers and, depending on your employer, continue your formal training through company-run classroom instruction and seminars. With experience, you'll take on greater projects and gain independence. You may eventually advance to a supervisory or technical specialist position, or you may go on to work in marine machinery sales.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many employers value educational and work experience in marine engineering or other related fields, such as naval architecture. Marine engineers must also be able to work well with others, coordinate job duties and create detailed technical reports. Refer to the following examples of job postings that were open during March 2012 in order to get a sense of what employers are looking for:

  • A shipyard in Wisconsin was looking for a naval architect/marine engineer with a bachelor's in naval architecture coupled with ten years of ship design experience or a high school diploma and 15 years of experience. Applicants need an understanding of distributive systems, like HVAC, Piping and Electrical, as well as ship stability and weights.
  • A company in Louisiana was looking for a marine engineer with a bachelor's degree and ten years of commercial ship design experience, including mechanics, plumbing and HVAC. You also need proficiency in AutoCAD software and must be willing to travel locally in Gulf Coast. The ideal candidate has a professional engineer license and shipyard experience.
  • A purification system company in Pennsylvania was seeking a marine engineer with a bachelor's degree and at least six years of experience in the maritime industry. The employer preferred candidates with experience with larger ship vessels, ballast systems and sales support.
  • A yacht company in Wisconsin was seeking a marine engineer/naval architect who could assist in the building of luxury yachts. This employer did not specify any educational requirements but did require candidates to be highly motivated and able to work as a member of a team.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Earn Advanced Education

While it is standard for marine engineers to hold bachelor's degrees, you can stand out in this field by earning a master's degree or a Ph.D. in marine engineering or naval architecture. In a graduate degree program, you can study more advanced and specialized topics in marine engineering, like small craft or sailboat design, and engage in innovative research projects. Graduate training can enhance your credentials and potentially accelerate your career development. If you are interested in teaching marine engineering at a university, you will need to earn a Ph.D. in the subject.

Obtain Licensure

The BLS notes that most marine engineers hold a mariner's license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. The licensing process consists of multiple stages, which begins with 3rd Assistant licensure. As you gain experience as pass tests, you'll move on to 2nd Assistant and then eventually 1st Assistant. The capstone is the Chief Assistant license. In general, the higher your mariner's licensure status, the greater your responsibilities and pay will be.

Many marine engineers also hold professional engineer (PE) licensure, which is necessary to provide services to the public. The licensing process varies by state but often includes completion of an ABET-accredited program and at least four years of internship training under the supervision of a licensed PE. You'll also have to pass a preliminary exam and a final licensing exam, both of which are administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.

Alternative Career Paths

Mechanical Engineer

If you're interested in designing mechanical devices, but are not especially interested in devices specific to boats, you may want to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineers develop, design, manufacture and test a variety of mechanical parts, including engines, tools and machines. Mechanical engineers may work on machines that produce power, like combustion engines, gas turbines and generators. They may also work on machines that use power, such as machine tools, industrial production equipment, refrigeration equipment and robots used in manufacturing processes.

These professionals need to hold bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering or a closely related engineering discipline. They also need to be licensed to provide their services to the public, which involves gaining four years of experience as an intern and passing a series of licensing exams. The BLS reports that the mean salary for mechanical engineers was about $84,000 as of May 2011.

Civil Engineer

If you don't want to limit your engineering career to mechanics, you may want to pursue a career in civil engineering. Civil engineers design and oversee major construction projects, like buildings, tunnels, bridges, dams, airports and highways. These engineers need bachelor's degrees in civil engineering as well as a civil engineer license, which can entail years of supervised experience and passage of multiple exams. The BLS reports that the mean annual wage for civil engineers was $83,000 as of May 2011.

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