How to Become a Marine Engineer or Naval Architect
Marine engineers and naval architects must give clear instructions and explain complex concepts when leading projects.
Marine engineers and naval architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and naval architecture, respectively, or a related field, such as engineering. Some marine engineering and naval architecture programs are offered at state maritime academies.
High school students interested in becoming a marine engineer or naval architect should take classes in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as chemistry and physics. If available, drafting courses may be helpful for aspiring naval architects.
College students interested in this occupation typically pursue a degree in an engineering field. Programs in marine engineering and naval architecture usually include courses in computer-aided design, fluid mechanics, ship hull strength, and mechanics of materials. Most programs also include time at sea, during which students gain hands-on experience on a vessel.
Some marine engineering and naval architecture programs are offered at state maritime academies. Students studying at the maritime academies spend time at sea, usually during the summer, to gain onboard operating experience. For more information about state maritime academies, visit the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Employers may prefer to hire candidates who graduate from a program accredited by a professional association such as ABET.
Communication skills. Marine engineers and naval architects must give clear instructions and explain complex concepts when leading projects.
Ingenuity. Marine engineers and naval architects must use operations analysis to create a design to perform the ship’s functions. They then employ critical-thinking skills to anticipate and correct any deficiencies before the ship is built or set to sea.
Interpersonal skills. Marine engineers and naval architects meet with clients to analyze their needs for ship systems. Engineers must discuss progress with clients to keep redesign options open before the project is too far along.
Math skills. Marine engineers and naval architects use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. Marine engineers must design several systems that work well together in ships. Naval architects and marine engineers are expected to solve problems for their clients. They must draw on their knowledge and experience to make effective decisions.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Along with earning a bachelor’s degree, students at states’ maritime academies take exams for licensure from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Another type of engineering license is the Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence and can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires
- A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial FE exam can be taken after earning a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).
Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative education programs and internships, which provide college credit or structured job experience, can be helpful in getting a job in this occupation.
Beginning marine engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In larger companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects, on which they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, marine engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may even become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions or sales work. In sales, an engineering background enables them to discuss technical aspects of certain kinds of engineering projects. Such knowledge is also useful in assisting clients in project planning, installation, and use. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales managers.