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An overview of the marine industry

Marine engineering: industry sector overview

Engineers in the marine industry usually either operate and maintain vessels and equipment or design and build them.

The marine sector involves moving goods, raw materials and people over oceans, rivers and lakes. The goal of engineering is to achieve this in a safe and responsible way, reducing the impact on the environment while maximising returns. The industry is traditionally split between engineers who operate and maintain and engineers who design and build, but the two often overlap.

Trends and developments in the marine industry

While the global economy continues to struggle, engineers in the marine field are faced with increasing challenges to drive down cost while maintaining the safety, integrity and profitability of existing assets.

With so much of world trade dependent on maritime transport, international focus on environmental issues has increased within the sector. New technologies to address emissions from the existing fleet, ballast water management solutions and the future of connected smarter ships all require new thinking in a traditional industry.

What life is like in the marine industry

A cargo ship can take as little as nine months to build while complex cruise ships and naval vessels can take years. In terms of timescales, designers may develop new ideas over years or have just weeks to adapt existing technology. Service engineers tend to work within tight deadlines as a ship that's not sailing doesn't produce revenue for its operators and investors. You may be the sole engineer, repairing one ship, or you may work in a team on research and development projects.

Businesses and clients in the industry are often from different countries and cultures, so being able to communicate ideas effectively is essential. It is a truly global industry so mobility is also a requirement – it's difficult to have a career in this sector and have geographical stability.

Getting a graduate engineering job in the marine industry

As well as having a relevant degree, you'll need to develop your skills in mathematics, data analysis, graphic communication and giving presentations as well as having an aptitude for engineering computer software such as CAD/CAM and FEA. It is also important to be a good communicator, to have an understanding of the business environment and to be able to see the bigger picture while working on the smallest of details.

Summer internships and graduate schemes in marine often include time at sea, either in sponsored placements or as part of a bigger scheme. Not all engineers in the marine sector end up working at sea but these placements give valuable insights into the end use and users of the engineering projects. Many schemes also involve travel so they also highlight the global nature of the business, giving an introduction to different working cultures as well as different regulatory environments.

The highlights of a career in marine

  • Seeing engineering designs turning into a finished ship at sea.
  • The opportunity to travel and meet people from other countries.
  • Working in a team on large projects that have an international impact.

The marine industry seeks graduates from the following disciplines:

  • chemical
  • civil/structural
  • control
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • environmental
  • instruments
  • manufacturing
  • materials
  • mathematics
  • mechanical
  • physics
  • power systems
  • software

Always check individual employers' requirements.

Thanks to Blair Anderson for his help with this article. Blair is a marine classification surveyor with Lloyd's Register. He has an MEng in naval architecture and ocean engineering from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde (joint department) and has been working in the industry for eight years.