How to become a Marine Engineer

Marine engineering involves the design, build, operation and maintenance of marine vessels – including boats, ships and submarines – as well as offshore platforms and all related oceanographic technology.  

Given that we’re an island nation, we have numerous ports and a strong naval presence, meaning it’s a dynamic field to work in with plenty of opportunities for employment.  

However, it’s not a job that’s restricted to these shores; there are also fantastic career opportunities overseas, particularly in the transportation of goods.  

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, 90% of the world’s trade is transported around the world by the shipping industry, demonstrating the importance of maritime transport to the global economy. 

So if you’re technically minded, with an interest in all things nautical, then why not consider becoming a Marine Engineer? Read on to find out more about this fascinating career.  

What does a Marine Engineer do? 

Marine Engineers are predominantly employed within the shipping industry. The role varies widely – from the design and development of new marine vessels, to the installation, inspection and maintenance of all the internal systems. 

This includes propulsion systems, diaphragm pumps, air conditioning, refrigeration, steering and control systems. The work can take place on a number of vessels, including: 

  • Naval ships 
  • Submarines 
  • Tankers 
  • Port-assisting boats such as tugs and barges 
  • Leisure boats 
  • Ferries 
  • Cruise liners 
  • Hovercrafts 

Marine Engineers also work within the offshore oil and gas industry. Within this sector, Marine Engineers are responsible for the design, build and smooth operation of the platforms, drilling equipment, pipelines and associated equipment, including remote operated vehicles (ROV’s). Engineers working within the military will also work on weapons systems. 

In terms of employment, Marine Engineers are in strong demand. This means they can command good starting salaries and there are excellent opportunities for career progression. 

Indeed, there are currently over 700 different companies operating in the marine engineering industry in the UK, including Lloyd’s Register, Carnival, BAE Systems, QinetiQ and the Maritime and Coastguard agencies. There are also excellent career opportunities within the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy. 

What do Marine Engineers typically earn? 

Salaries will vary depending on the industry sector and location of employment, but on average, a Marine Engineer will earn over £40,000 per annum.  

Generally, the following salary scale applies: 

  • Starter: £24,000 to £28,000 
  • Experienced: £30,000 to £40,000 
  • Highly experienced: £45,000 to £55,000+ 

Earnings can be considerably higher for experienced Maritime Engineers working on a freelance basis. 

How do I get started as a Marine Engineer? 

In order to enter this profession, you’ll need to obtain an HNC, HND or degree in an Engineering discipline. Consult UCAS for the most up to date list of degree courses available.  

Relevant subjects include: 

  • Marine engineering 
  • Maritime engineering 
  • Naval architecture 
  • Marine technology  
  • Offshore engineering 

Given the variety of mechanical and technical systems involved in this profession, you can also study a related subject such as:  

You’ll need to obtain a postgraduate degree before achieving chartered status, however your employer may sponsor you through this process.

Many companies offer graduate development programmes, where you’ll receive in-house training and financial support to gain incorporated or chartered status.  

If you’re a school leaver without higher education qualifications, you could get into this profession by first becoming an Engineering Technician within the Merchant or Royal Navy. You can then study whilst on the job. There are also opportunities to enter this career by gaining an apprenticeship. 

For further advice, consult the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST). Not only is this an excellent source of information, but it’s also incredibly useful for networking into new roles.  

What key skills do I need to become a Marine Engineer? 

If you’re considering becoming a Marine Engineer, you’ll need to possess the following key skills: 

  • Strong communication and negotiating skills 
  • Excel at maths and possess a high level of technical knowledge  
  • The ability to work independently or as part of a team 
  • Experience of using computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software 
  • Good management skills 
  • Excellent problem-solving skills 
  • The ability to work under pressure 
  • Budget management skills 
  • Good interpersonal skills 
  • The ability to prioritise workloads and plan effectively 

Depending on your specific industry sector, you may also need to possess diving skills. In addition, some jobs will be physically demanding so you’ll need to be in good health. 

What do Marine Engineers do day-to-day? 

As a Marine Engineer, you’ll not usually work a 9-5, Monday-Friday routine. You’ll typically be expected to work flexible hours, which may include shift work and weekends.  

If you work in design and construction then you’ll be shore-based, however those working on marine vessels or offshore installations will work away from home, often for long periods of time.  

Given the wide spectrum of jobs included within this sector, your daily duties can vary widely. However, in general, your daily routine could include: 

  • Liaising with clients to understand project requirements 
  • Designing and building marine vessels  
  • Designing, building and operating offshore platforms 
  • Surveying, maintaining and repairing machinery 
  • Ensuring engines, instruments and systems operate efficiently and safely 
  • Operating ROVs to check drilling equipment and pipelines 
  • Project management and budgeting responsibilities 

Once I’m a Marine Engineer, what career progression is available? 

There are excellent opportunities for career progression within this field. With experience, you can specialise in project management, research and development or move into a managerial role. Marine Engineers with an established reputation can also go freelance, working as a Consultant.  

In addition, given that this industry sector is expanding, there are excellent opportunities for experienced Marine Engineers to move into training or a teaching role. The global nature of this business also means there are excellent opportunities to secure employment overseas. 

What are the best bits about being a Marine Engineer? 

This is a really rewarding career choice, especially if you’re working on high-profile projects such as designing a new naval ship or establishing new gas pipelines. It’s such a varied and dynamic industry sector, where every day can be a different challenge. 

There are plenty of opportunities for travel and you’ll be working in a truly international arena, working with people from all around the world. 

While being away from home won’t suit everyone, if you’re adventurous and love to travel it’s a great career choice. Plus, there’s the added bonus of no daily commute for offshore workers.  

What are the challenges of being a Marine Engineer? 

Given the importance of marine technology to the global economy, there are constant technological advances, so you’ll need to stay up to date with industry developments. However, if you love your work and have the right mindset for this career choice, this won’t be an arduous task, but something you’ll enjoy. 

Sometimes project timelines will fall behind, or machinery will fail, meaning you’ll also have to be able to cope under pressure, remaining calm at times of crisis. When you’re on an offshore platform or ship and something goes wrong, you are the emergency service that will have to fix the problem, but this can be the buzz many Engineers relish. 

In addition, if you’re working on ships, submarines or offshore platforms you could also spend lengthy periods of time away from home. However, this is then balanced by longer periods of shore leave. 

This career is for you if… 

You love a challenge. Engineering and technical skills aside, this job suits those with an adventurous spirit. With a variety of possible job locations, you’ll definitely not be desk-bound. 

It’s also great for team players, as there’s nothing like the camaraderie you’ll experience on board a ship travelling far from home. 

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About the author: Sam Hathway is a Content Marketing Executive for Leapfrog Internet Marketing, working to help clients improve their online presence and maintain market leadership. Her industry experience spans publishing and editorial roles in the world of medical communications as well as digital marketing and event planning for the education sector. She has a broad, eclectic range of writing interests – from lifestyle advice and professional development to digital marketing and emerging technologies.