Marine Engineers and Naval Architects

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Marine Engineers and Naval Architects Do[About this section] [To Top]

Marine engineers and naval architects design, build, and maintain ships from aircraft carriers to submarines, from sailboats to tankers. Marine engineers are also known as marine design engineers or marine mechanical engineers, and are primarily responsible for the internal systems of a ship, such as propulsion, electrical, refrigeration, and steering. Naval architects are primarily responsible for ship design, including the form, structure, and stability of hulls.

Duties of Marine Engineers and Naval Architects

Marine engineers typically do the following:

  • Prepare system layouts and detailed drawings and schematics
  • Inspect marine equipment and machinery, and draw up work requests and job specifications
  • Conduct environmental, operational, or performance tests on marine machinery and equipment
  • Design and oversee the testing, installation, and repair of marine equipment
  • Investigate and test machinery and equipment to ensure compliance with standards
  • Coordinate activities with regulatory bodies to ensure that repairs and alterations are done safely and at minimal cost
  • Prepare technical reports for use by engineers, managers, or sales personnel
  • Prepare cost estimates, contract specifications, and design and construction schedules 
  • Maintain contact with contractors to be sure that the work is being done correctly, on schedule, and within budget

Naval architects typically do the following:

  • Study design proposals and specifications to establish basic characteristics of a ship, such as its size, weight, and speed
  • Develop sectional and waterline curves of the ship’s hull to establish the center of gravity, ideal hull form, and data on buoyancy and stability
  • Design entire ship hulls and superstructures, following safety and regulatory standards
  • Design the complete layout of ships’ interiors, including spaces for machinery and auxiliary equipment, passenger compartments, cargo space, ladder wells, and elevators
  • Confer with marine engineers to design the layout of boiler room equipment, heating and ventilation systems, refrigeration equipment, electrical distribution systems, safety systems, steering, and propulsion machinery
  • Lead teams from a variety of specialties to oversee building and testing prototypes
  • Evaluate how ships perform during trials, both in the dock and at sea, and change designs as needed to make sure that national and international standards are met

Marine engineers and naval architects apply knowledge from a range of engineering fields to the entire water vehicles’ design and production processes. Marine engineers also design and maintain offshore oil rigs and may work on alternative energy projects, such as wind turbines located offshore and tidal power.

Marine engineers and naval architects who work for ship and boat building firms design large ships such as passenger ships and cargo ships, as well as small craft such as inflatable boats and rowboats. Those who work in the federal government may design or test the designs of ships or systems for the Army, Navy, or Coast Guard.

Ship engineers, who are sometimes called marine engineers, operate or supervise the operation of the machinery on a ship. Their work differs from that of the marine engineers discussed in this profile. For more information on ship engineers, see the profile on water transportation workers.

Work Environment for Marine Engineers and Naval Architects[About this section] [To Top]

Marine engineers and naval architects held about 8,300 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most marine engineers and naval architects were as follows:

Engineering services 23%
Ship and boat building 13
Federal government, excluding postal service 12
Water transportation 9
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 7

They typically work in offices, where they have access to computer software and other tools necessary for analyzing projects and designing solutions. Sometimes, they must go to sea on ships to test or maintain the ships that they have designed or built.

Marine engineers and naval architects who work on power generation projects, such as offshore wind turbines and tidal power, work along the coast—both offshore and on land. They also sometimes work on oil rigs, where they oversee the repair or maintenance of systems that they may have designed.

Naval architects often lead teams to create feasible designs, and they must effectively use the skills that each person brings to the design process.

Marine Engineer and Naval Architect Work Schedules

Marine engineers and naval architects work full time, and about 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014. Marine engineers who work at sea will work a schedule tied to the operations of their particular ship. Those who work on shore will have somewhat more regular work schedules. Because naval architects are primarily designers, they are much more likely to work a regular schedule in an office or at a shipyard.

How to Become a Marine Engineer or Naval Architect[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Marine Engineers and Naval Architects near you!

Marine engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, marine systems engineering, or marine engineering technology, and naval architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in naval architecture. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative education programs, which provide college credit and job experience, are valuable.

Marine Engineer and Naval Architect Education

Marine engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, marine systems engineering, or marine engineering technology, and naval architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in naval architecture. Programs typically include courses in calculus, physics, and computer-aided design. Some programs are offered at one of the six state maritime academies. Courses specific to marine engineering and naval architecture include fluid mechanics, ship hull strength, and mechanics of materials. Some marine engineers have bachelor’s degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering.

Students studying marine engineering and naval architecture at the maritime academies spend time at sea, usually during the summer, to gain onboard operating experience.

Programs in marine engineering, naval architecture, marine systems engineering, and marine engineering technology are accredited by ABET.

Students interested in preparing for this occupation benefit from taking high school courses in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as chemistry and physics. For aspiring naval architects, drafting courses are helpful.

Important Qualities for Marine Engineers and Naval Architects

Communication skills. Marine engineers and naval architects must be able to give clear instructions and explain complex concepts when leading teams of professionals on projects.

Ingenuity. Marine engineers and naval architects must use operations analysis to create a design that will most likely perform the ship’s functions. They then employ skills of critical thinking 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 be able to 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 an exam for a U.S. Merchant Mariner’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard. The first stage of the license is known as the 3rd Assistant Engineer’s License. With experience and further testing, a marine engineer may get a 2nd and then a 1st Assistant Engineer’s License. The highest level of licensure is known as Chief Engineer. Higher grades of licensing usually are accompanied by higher pay and more responsibilities.

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as an engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, 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 all of the following:

  • 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 one earns 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.

Advancement for Marine Engineers and Naval Architects

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 where 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.

Marine Engineer and Naval Architect Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for marine engineers and naval architects was $92,930 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $146,840.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for marine engineers and naval architects in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction $116,830
Federal government, excluding postal service 98,570
Engineering services 91,470
Water transportation 89,890
Ship and boat building 87,830

Marine engineers and naval architects work full time, and about 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014. Marine engineers who work at sea will work a schedule tied to the operations of their particular ship. Those who work on shore will have somewhat more regular work schedules. Because naval architects are primarily designers, they are much more likely to work a regular schedule in an office or at a shipyard.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, marine engineers and naval architects had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2014.

Job Outlook for Marine Engineers and Naval Architects[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of marine engineers and naval architects is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

The need to design ships and systems to transport energy products, such as liquefied natural gas, across the globe will help to spur employment growth for this occupation. Employment of marine engineers and naval architects also will be supported by the need to modify existing ships and their systems because of new emissions and pollution regulations on cargo shipping.

Marine engineers who design and maintain offshore oil rigs are expected to be in demand as more companies seek and drill for oil and gas deposits in the ocean floor. In addition, an increase in international overseas transportation of liquefied natural gas is expected to lead to demand for marine engineers to work on ship crews, although sometimes on ships sailing under foreign flags.

Demand for marine engineers and naval architects also will come from the desire to have cargo ships that pollute less. The technology to produce less pollution is becoming more cost effective, and the United States and other countries are focusing more on reducing pollution. This task will include the adoption of new and alternative energy sources, such as offshore wind turbines and tidal power generators.

Employment projections data for Marine Engineers and Naval Architects, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Marine engineers and naval architects 8,300 9,000 9 700


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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