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Marine engineering: industry sector overview

Marine engineering: industry sector overview

Marine industry engineers design, build and maintain vessels and equipment.

The ultimate aim of marine engineering is to develop and operate vessels that can transport commodities safely and provide service functions. Ships must be designed and built to operate in a harsh environment: not only do they operate in a salt-laden environment, but they’re also subject to the vagaries of wind and weather. To survive in an environment that’s constantly vibrating, pitching and rolling, a ship needs to be resilient.

Ship designers create a plan that meets standards and statutory requirements; ship-building yards translate this into a practical design and build the vessels. It’s essential for engineering solutions to be reliable, because vessels spend so much time at sea: operational engineers oversee working vessels, sometimes on ship and sometimes from a distance, and there’s a significant repair industry. Equipment must either be ‘marinised’ or specially designed for the marine environment so there’s a large supply industry. A relatively new area is building and operating equipment for off-shore and sub-sea exploration.

Trends and developments in the marine industry

Shipping is the most efficient method of transportation on the planet but, due to the huge volume of activity, the industry’s total contribution to emissions is very large. The industry is looking to improve the efficiency of vessels, optimising hull forms to reduce the water and wind drag. Engineers are also investigating the possibilities of using wind energy and solar power.

What it’s like working in marine engineering

Shipping is probably one of the most regulated industries in the world because of the high risks. It’s a global industry so there are opportunities for travel, but it also means that vessels are operating 24 hours a day. Ship building and repair are affected by the world economy and demand for transportation but there’s currently a demand for ships. Engineers can work in multidisciplinary or engineering teams, or as freelance consultants.

Getting a graduate job in marine engineering

Marine engineering is principally suited to mechanical or marine engineers but there are opportunities for graduates from a range of other disciplines. Key skills include flexibility, the ability to multitask, people skills and communication. You need to be able to deal with complexity and digest the legislative information that regulates the industry. Most large organisations run graduate schemes, but it’s also possible to enter the sector following experience at sea. Graduate engineers will start with broadbased training and can then progress into their preferred area, in a technical or management role.

The highlights of a career in marine

  • The dynamism of working in a 24/7 business that never stops.
  • The romance of the sea – it’s not possible to get away from it.
  • The sheer scale of the engineering: we build engines the size of a house.

The marine industry seeks graduates in...

  • Control
  • Electrical
  • Electronics
  • Environmental
  • Instruments
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical
  • Power systems

Always check individual employers’ requirements.

Thanks to Steve Clews, CEng FIMarEST, for his help with this article. Steve is engineering standards manager and company engineering authority for marine systems at BP. He has a BSc in technology from the Open University (1998).