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Marine mechanics are part of a larger group known as small engine mechanics. While many of these professionals possess some skills and knowledge in all types of small engines, most specialize in one area. Those who choose marine mechanics careers diagnose, repair, inspect, and make necessary adjustments to motorboats and small watercraft.
Some aspects of small engine repair are becoming computerized; for instance, some larger marine repair shops use computerized diagnostic testing equipment, which helps to pinpoint problems needed to be repaired. Also, some highly-skilled marine mechanics use computerized equipment to fine-tune and customize motorboats for racing. For most jobs, though, marine mechanics use standard hand tools: wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers. Marine mechanics also might use compression gauges, ammeters and voltmeters, and other testing devices to diagnose and tune engines.
Marine mechanics mostly work in repair shops, although sometimes they work outdoors at docks or marinas. For small motorboats and watercraft, engines are easily removed and brought into repair shops. But for larger craft, such as commercial fishing boats, engines are removed only for major overhauls. Therefore, most of these repairs are done on site, at docks and marinas.
In addition to engines, marine mechanics might also work on marine plumbing, propellers, steering mechanisms, and other boat equipment.
Repairing equipment is just one task of marine mechanics, who actually spend much of their time conducting routine maintenance. Small engines need regular service to minimize the risk of breaking down and to keep at peak performance levels. For routine equipment maintenance, marine mechanics use a checklist that includes inspection and cleaning of the electrical system, fuel system, and other parts.
While many marine mechanics learn their skills on their own and on the job, many employers prefer to hire those who have attended marine technology schools. But marine technology degree programs are not widely available: most are found at community colleges and technical schools in coastal communities. These programs offer certificates and associates' degrees. Earning formal marine mechanics training means you'll likely need far less on-the-job training, which bosses like. This could help you advance to higher positions more quickly.
Formal training programs can teach you skills that might be hard to learn on your own. In addition to instruction on inboard and outboard engines, classes might teach you to pilot boats, and about wood and fiberglass framing and construction.
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Most marine mechanics are employed by motor vehicle and parts dealers and repair shops. Approximately 13 percent of small engine mechanics, including marine mechanics, are self-employed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 9 percent job growth in marine mechanics jobs, the highest of all small engine mechanics jobs. The BLS also notes that job opportunities should be excellent for those with marine mechanics degrees or certificates.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for marine mechanics was $35,430. The lower 10 percent to 25 percent wages fell between $22,440 and $28,000. The highest 10-percent wage earners in the field earned more than $55,030.
The two top paying industries for marine mechanics represented specialty areas in the field: deep sea, coastal, and Great Lakes water transportation (median salary $44,900) and inland water transportation (median salary $42,360). The biggest hiring industry, motor vehicle dealers, paid a median wage of $36,310.
The states with the highest concentrations of marine mechanics include Maine, Washington, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Florida.*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.