Marine Engineering

The sea’s enduring role in global trade and travel ensures that the marine environment continues to offer a host of engineering opportunities for those looking for a challe nging and important career.

The Ulysses is an impressive sight: 209m from prow to stern and 51m from keel to the tip of its funnel, this Irish Ferries vessel is far from being just a ship – it’s a floating hotel built on top of a multi-storey car park and a power station, which cuts its way through the sea between Dublin and Holyhead, whatever the weather.

The design, construction, conversion, testing and maintenance of such vessels – as well as any underwater craft, remotely operated vehicles, offshore platforms and equipment – is at the heart of marine engineering. The importance of such work is undeniable; with water covering almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface, it’s not surprising that over 95% of all the UK’s imports and exports travel by sea. British companies also remain significant players in the world’s offshore oil and gas extraction industries.

Maritime activities underpin our whole quality of life – ensuring the safe, reliable and cost-effective movement of food, consumer goods and raw materials. The industry also supports a wide range of exciting and challenging careers – particularly for skilled engineers. According to the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST), marine engineering is a multi-disciplinary field, with marine engineering technicians and marine engineers (who will normally also have a supervisory or managerial role) working in a variety of sectors:

· the design, development, construction and maintenance of vessels and associated machinery;

· overseeing offshore oil and gas platforms, rigs, pipelines and equipment;

· inspecting marine vessels, installations and equipment for safety and insurance purposes;

· ensuring the safe function of machinery and equipment in the likes of the Merchant Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

If you have already earned relevant marine engineering qualifications from your time in the Royal Navy, and are leaving as an engineering technician (marine engineering) or marine engineer officer, then you will be well-placed to move into a civilian position with a marine engineering company, the Merchant Navy or the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Qualified engineers from the other Services might wish to augment their existing experience with some vocational training; further information on courses and registration is available from IMarEST or the Engineering Council.

If you a re under 25 years old, a common entry rou te for aspiring engineers both inside and outside of the Armed Forces is to train as a technician apprentice, for which you will need clear knowledge and understanding of subjects including English, science and design and technology or appropriate equivalents.

Broader engineering courses open to people of all age groups include a range of National/Scottish Vocational Qualifications and City & Guilds Certificates. These, in turn, can be stepping stones t owards relevant Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, such as the BTEC Higher National Certificate/Diploma in Marine Engineering. Institutions across the UK – such as Newcastle University ‘s School of Marine Science & Technology, or the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, operated jointly by Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities – offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. Entry requirements are decided by the individual institutions, but courses will require demonstrable understanding of physics, mathematics and chemistry.

Suitably qualified/experienced marine technicians can improve their professional development by registering with the Engineering Council in order to attain EngTech status, or by attaining incorporated or chartered status, either through the Engineering Council or IMarEST.

Marine engineers are characterized by their love of challenge, their passion for technology (including the very latest in IT), and their commitment to both continuous professional development and the highest standards. As a truly international profession, marine engineering offers plenty of interesting and rewarding opportunities. However, it has particular appeal to ex-Services personnel. “The discipline onboard a ship is similar to the discipline in the Navy,” says Professor Mesbahi from the School of Marine Science and Technology (MaST) at Newcastle University, which describes itself as the largest and broadest-based marine school in the UK. “You have a captain, the chief engineer, and then second and third engineer officers – a line of command is there. It’s not as strict as the military, but you are part of a discipline and structure suitable for civilian-type vessels.”

A career in this sector also suits those who are looking for a challenge. “We are not standard engineers,” says Professor Mesbahi. “If you originally joined the military because you were desperate for more adrenalin and enjoy dealing with big objects, then here is the place for you to come.”

Marine engineers should have strong analytical skills, an innovative approach to problem solving, excellent mathematical, IT and technical knowledge, strong communication skills and an eagerness to keep up to date with new developments. A willingness to travel and to work at sea for extended periods is also important. (In compensation, leave time is usually generous.)

Starting salaries for new marine engineering technicians are between £12k and £15k a year. With experience and qualifications, earnings can rise to between £17k and £23k, while senior technicians can earn over £25k. In contrast, graduate marine engineers will start at around £20k a year; experienced marine engineers can earn between £28k and £37k, with senior engineers earning over £40k.

According to Professor Mesbahi, the last five to six years have seen a revitalized marine engineering sector in both the UK and Europe, after decades of decline in which work had transferred to shipyards in Japan, Korea and China. “Marine transport still carries about 85% of world trade; growing passenger transport has added to that. So, practically speaking, there is a very, very good market for employment. More than 90% of our graduates get a job within three or four months of graduation. We also have a huge overseas demand. The market is booming, particularly for engineers trained in the UK.” Proof of the reputation enjoyed by British engineering can be found in the 49 nationalities currently registered on undergraduate and postgraduate courses at MaST.

Marine engineering offers many opportunities – from travelling the globe to practical problem solving. But, according to Professor Mesbahi, who himself was once a marine engineer working on ships around the world, there’s one ultimate plus. “Ships are amongst the largest man-made objects ever built,” he says, “and we have the privilege of playing with those toys!”


Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST)
020 7382 2600

Engineering Council (ECUK)
020 7240 7891

Institution of Mechanical Engineers
020 7222 7899

Dept of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Glasgow
0141 548 4094

School of Marine Science and Technology, Newcastle University
0191 222 6718

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