Becoming a Yacht Designer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a yacht designer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a yacht designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Yacht Designer Career

Designing yachts and other luxury watercraft requires a sound background in naval architecture. Read the pros and cons of this profession to see if it's right for you.

Pros of Being a Yacht Designer
Above-average salary (median annual wages were about $93,000 in 2014)*
Integrate your artistic abilities and aesthetic sensibilities with concepts in engineering**
Bachelor's degree is sufficient for most positions*
You could be qualified to design other watercraft (sail boats, submarines and aircraft carriers)*

Cons of Being a Yacht Designer
Employers typically prefer those with work experience for such positions**
Work is performed in an office, not in a naval setting*
Multiple credentials could be required (mariner's license* and engineering license***)
Job could require the ability to deal with stress**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** O*Net Online, ***Job Postings from

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Yacht designers supervise and design the construction of luxury recreational watercraft. They plan ships in accordance with specifications that establish the basic size, weight and speed of a yacht. They design the waterlines and sectional curves of hulls to establish gravitational centers and buoyancy. Designers may also develop ship superstructures and interior spaces, including cargo holds and passenger compartments. They may work closely with marine engineers in order to develop specifications for propulsion systems, ventilation and heating systems, boiler room machinery and refrigeration equipment. As a designer, you might lead development teams in order to test prototypes and evaluate yacht designs.

Job Growth and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for naval architects and marine engineers was about $93,000 in May 2014. The top ten percent of these workers earned $147,000 or more, while the bottom ten percent earned less than $59,000. Between 2012 and 2022, employment in this field is expected to grow by 10%, which is about as fast as average among all occupations, according to the BLS.

Education and Licensure

In order to become a yacht designer, you typically need to have a bachelor's degree in an area such as naval architecture or marine engineering. In these programs, you can study topics in areas such as marine engineering, hydrodynamics, electrical systems and small craft design. These programs emphasize concepts in engineering and science, and they also provide students with a strong and necessary foundation in mathematical concepts, such as trigonometry and calculus. Some programs may allow you to focus your education in a specific area, such as sailing yachts.

Licensure may also be required for certain employment positions. Marine engineers and naval architects may take an examination offered by the U.S. Coast Guard in order to obtain a mariner's license, which can be obtained at several levels. A higher level of license can result in higher pay. The first grade of licensure is known as the 3rd Assistant License. With adequate experience and further testing, you may obtain a 2nd and a 1st Assistant License. The highest grade of licensure is titled Chief Assistant.

Useful Skills

Beyond education and licensure, there are some general skills that all naval architects should possess in order to ensure success in this field. Yacht designers may want to develop the following skills, concepts and talents:

  • A solid background in engineering, math and science
  • Skills in drafting, including knowledge of computer-aided drafting (CAD) software programs
  • The ability to work and communicate with other professionals, such as marine engineers
  • The ability to explain complex concepts and give instructions when interacting with professional teams
  • The ability to solve problems related to ship design while complying with the needs of clients

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers in this field typically value bachelor's degrees in naval architecture and relevant work experience. Some employers may require you to hold licensure and be familiar with a variety of software applications. In order to get a better sense of the kinds of jobs available to naval architects, see the following examples of job postings found online during May 2012:

  • A company was hiring naval architects in Louisiana and Mississippi. Candidates needed a bachelor's degree in naval architecture, 2-5 years of experience in the shipbuilding industry and 8-12 years of professional engineering experience. Proficiency in a variety of software applications that are instrumental to naval architecture, such as AutoCAD and ASSET, is also important, as well as expected to have expertise in areas such as weight estimating, seakeeping prediction, deck equipment sizing and layout, computational fluid dynamics and hydrodynamic estimation.
  • A Washington company was looking for a naval architect with a bachelor's degree in naval architecture and 1-2 years of work experience. Other requirements included passing the Fundamentals in Engineering examination and proficiency with AutoCAD, GHS, Microsoft Word and Excel. Job duties included developing stability test procedures, overseeing inclining tests and providing lead engineer support on projects.
  • A company in Texas was seeking a naval architect who would plan the building process of vessels. This would include all steps, from the conceptual phase through the delivery of the final product. This employer expected candidates to be able to use CAD applications, prepare documentation on weight control and material management, and act as a consultant for clients who need engineering solutions and technical support.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Earn a Graduate Degree

While earning a bachelor's degree, it may be helpful to attend a program that offers specialized courses in yacht or recreational watercraft design. You can also stand out by earning a graduate degree in naval architecture. In a graduate program, you can take more advanced courses in marine systems and structures and participate in a variety of research projects that may augment your skills and allow you to compete for a larger variety of jobs. According to O*Net Online, about 18% of all marine architects have master's degrees, so obtaining one could help you compete.

Get Certified by the American Boat and Yacht Council

The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) develops safety standards for the construction, design and maintenance of recreational boats. ABYC also offers a comprehensive education program that includes workshops, seminars and a Marine Technician Certification program. You can earn certification through the ABYC by attending their special certification class and taking their examination. These certifications remain valid for five years.

Alternative Career Paths

Mechanical Engineer

If you're interested in engineering concepts but you don't want to specialize in marine structures, then you may enjoy a career as a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineering is a broad discipline with many subspecialties. These professionals design, build, develop and test various mechanical devices, such as engines, tools and machines. In order to become a mechanical engineer, you need to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. Employment positions that require more responsibilities may require a graduate degree. Mechanical engineers who offer services directly to the public must be licensed in every state. According to the BLS, in May 2011 the median annual wage in this field was about $79,000. The BLS reported that employment in this field is expected to grow by nine percent between 2010 and 2020, which is slower than average among all occupations.

Petroleum Engineer

If you are interested in marine technology, but want to specialize in developing and overseeing the drilling operations of oil rigs, then you may wish to become a petroleum engineer. Petroleum engineers design methods for extracting gas and oil from below the surface of the earth. They design equipment and develop ways to extract as much oil and gas as possible while keeping expenses at a minimum. They also ensure that all oil field equipment is operated, installed and maintained in a proper manner. In May 2011, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for petroleum engineers was about $122,000. Between 2010 and 2020, employment in this field is expected to grow by 17%, about as fast as average among all occupations according to the BLS.

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