Marine engineering: industry sector overview

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:38

The marine industry operates in four key areas: naval, commercial, leisure and offshore renewable energy, says Sarah Hilder, a project manager at Babcock International Group.

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The marine industry is a significant contributor to the UK economy, with 95% of the UK's exports and 75% of its imports transported by sea.

The industry operates in four key areas: naval, commercial, leisure and offshore renewable energy. The major players in naval include Babcock, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and BMT Group; in leisure, Sunseeker, Princess and Oyster Yachts; in commercial, Cammell Laird, Lloyds Register and A&P Group; and in offshore renewables, ORE Catapult, Harland and Wolff, EDF Energy and Siemens.

Trends and developments in the marine industry

The UK Marine Alliance Strategy aims to expand upon our current capabilities, leading the research and manufacture of tidal and wave energy devices and expanding the international customer base in naval, leisure craft and the commercial shipping markets.

As a trading nation surrounded by sea, it is fundamental to our economy that the sea lanes remain safe and open. The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 proposed four new dreadnought class submarines at the heart of the decision to maintain the continuous at sea deterrent (CASD). The next SDSR, due in 2020, will no doubt influence the naval marine strategy and UK industry going forward.

Meanwhile, the National Ship Building Strategy covers the strategy for the procurement of the new Type 26 Global Combat Ships and the Type 31e General Purpose Frigate.

Growing international pressure on reducing human impact on the environment has led to a binding international agreement brokered by the International Maritime Organisation to halve greenhouse gas emissions from ships at sea by 2050. This will drive innovation in alternative energy and efficiencies in order to achieve this challenging objective. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is a European directive aimed at achieving or maintaining 'good environmental status' by 2020. Post-Brexit, the future of the MSFD is uncertain; however, the environmental and renewable energy targets imposed in the UK, EU and internationally will likely only become more stringent.

Further areas of opportunity for the marine industry are the design, integration, manufacture and operation of autonomous vessels and systems; the research and use of composites and other novel materials and technology; and the increased use of 3D printing.

What life is like in the marine industry

The industry is generally heavily regulated by environmental, safety and nuclear leglisation.

Depending on your role, you could be based in a research laboratory, managing technical requirements, undertaking concept design, managing technical projects, working at sea or undertaking site surveys for renewable energy offshore wind farms.

The team size, travel requirements and range of products or services you'll work on varies, and the length of a project could be weeks to years. Cross-team collaboration is a must, given the requirement to liaise among technical, logistics, materials, subcontract, safety, design, commercial and manufacturing teams.

Getting a graduate engineering job in the marine industry

The industry is regulated, fast paced and competitive, so adaptability, an eye for innovation and a drive to continuously learn will help contribute to a successful career.

Large companies sometimes offer graduate schemes where you are able to 'test the water' in several different roles before choosing a career route, whereas a smaller firm may offer more responsibility sooner but in a certain technical or management role.

Progression opportunities vary and may be affected by the size of a company, so it is worth asking individual employers about this. One of your goals may be to achieve chartership, which can influence your pay and progression.

The highlights of a career in marine

  • The industry has an exciting future.
  • There are international opportunities for work and travel.
  • You can make a positive difference to the UK's safety, economy and environment.

The marine industry seeks graduates from the following disciplines:

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

Always check individual employers' requirements.

Thanks to Sarah Hilder for her help with this article. Sarah is a project manager at Babcock International Group . She has a masters in aerospace engineering from the University of Southampton and has been working in the industry for seven years.

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