Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Career, Salary and Education Information

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Top 3 Boiler Operator Jobs

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What Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators Do[About this section] [To Top]

Stationary engineers and boiler operators control stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or for industrial purposes.

Duties of Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically do the following:

  • Operate engines, boilers, and auxiliary equipment
  • Read gauges, meters, and charts to track boiler operations
  • Monitor boiler water, chemical, and fuel levels
  • Activate valves to change the amount of water, air, and fuel in boilers
  • Fire coal furnaces or feed boilers, using gas feeds or oil pumps
  • Inspect equipment to ensure that it is operating efficiently
  • Check safety devices routinely
  • Record data and keep logs of operation, maintenance, and safety activity

Most large office buildings, malls, warehouses, and other commercial facilities have extensive heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems that maintain comfortable temperatures all year long. Industrial plants often have additional facilities to provide electrical power, steam, or other services. Stationary engineers and boiler operators control and maintain these systems, which include boilers, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment, turbines, generators, pumps, and compressors.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators start up, regulate, repair, and shut down equipment. They monitor meters, gauges, and computerized controls to ensure that equipment operates safely and within established limits. They use sophisticated electrical and electronic test equipment to service, troubleshoot, repair, and monitor heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators also perform routine maintenance. They may completely overhaul or replace defective valves, gaskets, or bearings. In addition, stationary engineers and boiler operators lubricate moving parts, replace filters, and remove soot and corrosion that can make a boiler less efficient.

Work Environment for Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators[About this section] [To Top]

Stationary engineers and boiler operators hold about 39,100 jobs. The industries that employ the most stationary engineers and boiler operators are as follows:

Manufacturing 27%
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 17
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 12
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 12
Real estate 5

They were employed in a variety of industries. Because most stationary engineers and boiler operators work in large commercial or industrial buildings, the majority of jobs were in manufacturing, government, educational services, and hospitals.

In a large building or industrial plant, a senior stationary engineer or boiler operator may be in charge of all mechanical systems in the building and may supervise a team of assistant stationary engineers, assistant boiler tenders, and other operators or mechanics.

In small buildings, there may be only one stationary engineer or boiler operator who operates and maintains all of the systems.

Some stationary engineers and boiler operators are exposed to high temperatures, dust, dirt, and loud noise from the equipment. Maintenance duties may require contact with oil, grease, and smoke.

Workers spend much of their time on their feet. They also may have to crawl inside boilers and work while crouched, or kneel to inspect, clean, or repair equipment.

Injuries and Illnesses

Stationary engineers and boiler operators work around hazardous machinery. They must follow procedures to guard against burns, electric shock, noise, dangerous moving parts, and exposure to hazardous materials.

Stationary Engineer and Boiler Operator Work Schedules

Most stationary engineers and boiler operators work full time during regular business hours. In facilities that operate around the clock, engineers and operators usually work one of three 8-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Because buildings such as hospitals are open 365 days a year and depend on the steam generated by boilers and other machines, many of these workers must work weekends and holidays.

How to Become a Stationary Engineer or Boiler Operator[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators near you!

Stationary engineers and boiler operators need at least a high school diploma and are trained on the job by more experienced engineers and operators. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are allowed to operate equipment without supervision.

Stationary Engineer and Boiler Operator Education

Stationary engineers and boiler operators need at least a high school diploma. Students should take courses in math, science, and mechanical and technical subjects.

With the growing complexity of the work, vocational school or college courses may benefit workers trying to advance in the occupation.

Stationary Engineer and Boiler Operator Training

Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically learn their work through long-term on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced engineer or operator. Trainees are assigned basic tasks, such as monitoring the temperatures and pressures in the heating and cooling systems and low-pressure boilers. After they demonstrate competence in basic tasks, trainees move on to more complicated tasks, such as the repair of cracks or ruptured tubes for high-pressure boilers.

Some stationary engineers and boiler operators complete apprenticeship programs sponsored by the International Union of Operating Engineers. Apprenticeships usually last 4 years, include 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, and require 600 hours of technical instruction. Apprentices learn about operating and maintaining equipment; using controls and balancing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; safety; electricity; and air quality. Employers may prefer to hire these workers because they usually require considerably less on-the-job training. However, because of the limited number of apprenticeship programs, employers often have difficulty finding workers who have completed one.

Experienced stationary engineers and boiler operators update their skills regularly through training, especially when new equipment is introduced or when regulations change.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some state and local governments require licensure for stationary engineers and boiler operators. These governments typically have several classes of stationary engineer and boiler operator licenses. Each class specifies the type and size of equipment the engineer is permitted to operate without supervision. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are allowed to operate the equipment without supervision.

A top-level engineer or operator is qualified to run a large facility, supervise others, and operate equipment of all types and capacities. Engineers and operators with licenses below this level are limited in the types or capacities of equipment they may operate without supervision.

Applicants for licensure usually must be at least 18 years of age, meet experience requirements, and pass a written exam. In some cases, employers may require that workers be licensed before starting the job. A stationary engineer or boiler operator who moves from one state or city to another may have to pass an examination for a new license because of regional differences in licensing requirements.

Advancement for Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Generally, stationary engineers and boiler operators can advance as they become qualified to operate larger, more powerful, and more varied equipment by obtaining higher class licenses. In jurisdictions where licenses are not required, workers usually advance by taking company-administered exams, ensuring a level of knowledge needed to operate different types of boilers safely.

Important Qualities for Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Detail oriented. Stationary engineers and boiler operators monitor intricate machinery, gauges, and meters to ensure that everything is operating properly.

Dexterity. Stationary engineers and boiler operators must use precise motions to control or repair machines. They grasp tools and use their hands to perform many tasks.

Mechanical skills. Stationary engineers and boiler operators must know how to use tools and work with machines. They must be able to repair, maintain, and operate equipment.

Problem-solving skills. Stationary engineers and boiler operators must figure out how things work and quickly solve problems that arise with equipment or controls.

Stationary Engineer and Boiler Operator Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for stationary engineers and boiler operators is $58,530. 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 $35,400, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,260.

The median annual wages for stationary engineers and boiler operators in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Real estate $68,750
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 62,770
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 59,290
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 54,820
Manufacturing 54,560

Most stationary engineers and boiler operators work full time during regular business hours. In facilities that operate around the clock, engineers and operators usually work one of three 8-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Because buildings such as hospitals are open 365 days a year and depend on the steam generated by boilers and other machines, many of these workers must work weekends and holidays.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, stationary engineers and boiler operators have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of stationary engineers and boiler operators is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years. Employment in manufacturing industries is projected to decline over the projection period, contributing to the slow growth for stationary engineers.

Although this occupation is spread across many industries, it is concentrated in those which require large commercial and industrial buildings. As a result, most employment gains will come from growth in these industries.

Faster employment growth is expected in education and healthcare services as more buildings are built to accommodate a growing population in need of these services. Stationary engineers and boiler operators are especially important in buildings that operate around the clock and need precise temperature control, such as hospitals.

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators Job Prospects

Job prospects for stationary engineers and boiler operators should be excellent as older workers in the occupation retire.

Job opportunities should be best for those with apprenticeship training. Although apprenticeship programs have a competitive application process, they are the most reliable path of entry into the occupation.

Employment projections data for Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Stationary engineers and boiler operators 39,100 39,700 1 600


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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