Marine Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Marine engineers play an important role in the design, construction and maintenance of ships' marine systems and equipment, and offshore installations. They work in a number of different fields:

In shipbuilding they select ships' machinery, which may include diesel engines, steam turbines, gas turbines or nuclear reactors, and design mechanical, electrical, fluid and control systems.

On board ship (and in Royal Navy submarines) they are responsible for making sure that all the ship's systems, including fuel, power, electricity, propulsion, hydraulics, and water and air purification, run efficiently.

In marine surveying and ship repair they inspect ships and their systems to determine their safety and seaworthiness.

In the offshore oil and gas industry they are involved in the design, construction, modification, operation and maintenance of offshore platforms, pipelines, submersibles and associated systems.

In the leisure boat industry they may manufacture, maintain or repair leisure craft in local boatyards.

Marine engineers must be knowledgeable about a range of different disciplines including naval construction, and mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering. They have to be adaptable and able to work with a wide variety of systems and equipment.

They may supervise the work of marine engineering technicians and mechanics, and work closely with a range of people including ships' officers and crew, offshore workers and naval architects.

Working hours vary from job to job. A flexible attitude to working hours is essential for meeting deadlines.

Working environments include offices, shipyards and boatyards, ships, submarines and offshore installations. Many jobs involve a combination of indoor and outdoor work.

Travelling in the UK and overseas, and spending periods away from home may be required. Living quarters on a ship, submarine or offshore installation are compact and jobs in these environments require spending 24 hours a day in close proximity to colleagues.

The work may demand physical activity such as climbing and bending. Working conditions may be cramped, cold, hot, humid or wet, and work must continue in bad weather conditions. However, most shipyards and boatyards have covered areas to protect workers. Marine engineers in the Royal Navy may be required to work in battle conditions.

Salaries for graduates start at around £21,000 a year depending on the role.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Marine engineers are employed by a number of organisations including the Merchant Navy, the Royal Navy, the offshore oil and gas industry, plant and equipment manufacturers, engineering consultancies, shipping companies, shipbuilding and repair yards, boatbuilding and leisure craft yards, insurance organisations, safety organisations and governments. Employers may be based in the UK or overseas.

There is a shortage of skilled applicants.

Vacancies are advertised in the local and national press, in specialist magazines, and on the websites of The Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology, Scenta, shipping organisations, oil companies, specialist employment agencies and crewing agencies.

Education and Training

The usual route into this career is with an HNC/HND or degree in a subject like marine engineering, marine technology, naval engineering, offshore engineering or general engineering.

Entry to a degree course usually requires at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two or three A levels/three or four H grades, normally including maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications. Some universities offer a one-year foundation course for candidates without the necessary background in science and maths.

For HNC/HND courses the usual entry requirements are one A level/two H grades, or a BTEC national certificate/diploma in a relevant subject, or equivalent qualifications.

A Diploma will help you make a more informed choice about the type of learning that best suits you and about what kind of work or further study you may want to do afterwards.

Some universities and colleges in England are involved in the graduate Apprenticeship scheme. Candidates should check with individual colleges, universities and training providers to see if this option is available.

It is possible to enter this career as a marine engineering technician through an Apprenticeship and, with additional training and qualifications, progress to the position of marine engineer.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

The Merchant Navy Training Board co-ordinates a number of training and sponsorship schemes. There are three entry levels:

Officer cadet training requires at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English, maths, physics or combined science, or A levels/H grades, or equivalent qualifications.

For undergraduate entry, candidates must meet the admission requirements of the universities/colleges offering the degree courses.

Graduate entry requires a science-based degree. The training for graduates offering a relevant engineering degree would be significantly shorter.

All entrants must be in good health and pass a statutory medical examination before being employed at sea. They must be sponsored by a shipping company or training provider.

The Royal Navy accepts applications for engineer officer roles from final year students and graduates of Engineering Council UK accredited engineer disciplines. Candidates must have the fitness levels and personal qualities required for a career as an officer in the Armed Forces.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training varies depending on the entry route taken and the type of employer. Generally, new recruits receive on-the-job training and may also attend internal or external courses.

Trainees with the Merchant Navy Training Board spend alternate periods at college and at sea, obtaining the relevant nationally recognised qualifications and professional maritime certificates. Each route provides opportunities to progress to the next stage, through the ranks to chief engineer.

Trainees with the Royal Navy undergo 28 weeks' basic training at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon. Successful candidates complete a four-month package of training at sea before entering professional training.

Qualified marine engineers should aim to become either an incorporated or chartered engineer. For more information visit and

Ideas and technologies change rapidly so marine engineers should commit to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A marine engineer should:

  • Have excellent maths and IT skills.
  • Be good at planning and project management.
  • Be able to analyse and interpret data.
  • Have excellent problem-solving skills.
  • Be able to prioritise a varied workload.
  • Be adaptable and able to work with a wide variety of systems and equipment.
  • Be good at working as part of a team.
  • Have management and leadership skills.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be physically fit, although this varies depending on the role.
  • Have a co-operative attitude to living and working closely with others.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects are good for qualified marine engineers, particularly those with management and leadership skills. With the relevant skills and experience it is possible to specialise in project management, research and development or consultancy.

Career options are wider for people who gain professional status.

There are many opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER
Tel: 020 7240 7891

Enginuity careers (an Engineering and
Technology Board initiative),
10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER
Tel: 020 7557 6432

Institute of Marine Engineering Science
& Technology (IMarEST), 80 Coleman Street,
London EC2R 5BJ
Tel: 020 7382 2600

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL
Tel: 020 7240 1871

Merchant Navy Training Board,
Carthusian Court, 12 Carthusian Street,
London EC1M 6EZ
Tel: 020 7417 2800

The Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA),
10 Upper Belgrave Street, London SW1X 8BQ
Tel: 020 7235 4622

SEMTA (Science, Engineering
and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0800 282167

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