Naval Architect

The Job and What's Involved

Naval architects are responsible for the design, construction and repair of ships, boats, other marine vessels and offshore structures, including:

  • Merchant ships, e.g. oil/gas tankers, cargo ships and cruise liners.
  • Passenger and vehicle ferries.
  • Warships, eg frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers.
  • Amphibious ships, e.g. submarines, semi-submersibles and underwater vehicles.
  • Offshore drilling platforms.
  • High-speed craft, e.g. hovercraft, multi-hull ships and hydrofoil craft.
  • Workboats, e.g. fishing vessels, tugs, pilot vessels and rescue craft.
  • Yachts, power boats and other recreational craft.

Some of the craft they work on are very large and complex, and all craft have to be safe and seaworthy. Although engineering on this scale involves whole teams of professional engineers in their respective fields, it is the naval architect who is responsible for co-ordinating the whole project.

Actual work activities vary depending on the type of company, project and role of the architect. They might specialise in one area such as:

- Design
- Construction and repair
- Consultancy
- Research and development
- Regulation, surveying and overseeing

Their work may include:

  • Preparing design plans of the architecture of the vessel and its layout, using computer software.
  • Working with complex computer and 3D models to check specifications.
  • Ensuring that the design meets safety standards and is seaworthy.
  • Sourcing materials and equipment.
  • Co-ordinating the construction or repair work.
  • Evaluating the safety of ships and marine structures.

Naval architects tend to work normal office hours, but may need to work additional hours to meet deadlines. They may be required to travel to shipyards or docks and this could involve spending some time away from home, possibly overseas.

Shipyards, docks and marinas can be noisy and dirty, and work onboard a craft may involve time in the engine room or other areas where there can be fumes, heat and noise. It may be necessary to work outside during bad weather and rough seas.

Office-based design work can involve sitting at a computer for long periods, while work onboard a vessel can mean a lot of walking, bending and climbing.

When visiting construction or repair sites, it may be necessary to wear protective clothing.

Naval architects can be self-employed or work on a contract basis - especially in the small or high-speed craft sectors.

Starting salaries range from around £20,000 to £24,000 a year. The pay for self-employed architects varies depending on their experience, the particular projects they are involved in, and the amount of time they work.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

With the decline in shipbuilding in the UK over the past 20 years, there are fewer shipyards (only four large commercial shipyards are currently in operation), and so fewer openings for naval architects working specifically on new vessels. However, the remaining shipyards are now busy building specialist vessels, particularly for the offshore industry and the Royal Navy.

There are also many opportunities in the design and construction of small craft and yachts. This is an expanding area as a result of the long UK coastline, navigable rivers and canals. Most jobs are based in coastal cities or towns.

Some naval architects work as ship surveyors for the classification societies or the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), assessing the safety of marine structures and ships. There are now almost 50 classification societies around the world. The main companies have offices in the UK and overseas, so there are opportunities to work in a variety of locations. Many naval architects work abroad, often on large-scale projects outside of Europe.

In all areas, competition for jobs is fierce.

Posts may be advertised in journals such as The Naval Architect and Offshore Marine Technology. There are also recruitment and skills-matching agencies that specialise in marine and engineering posts.

Education and Training

A degree in an engineering subject is usually essential. Relevant degree courses include naval architecture, marine technology or other disciplines of engineering closely related to naval architecture.

Entry to degree courses is with at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades, including maths and physics, or equivalent qualifications.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) operates the Defence Engineering & Science Group (DESG) graduate scheme. The scheme gives science and engineering graduates training and work placements within a range of MOD departments.

School leavers may be able to train in marine engineering with the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. Some organisations, including The Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA), offer scholarships to provide financial help during periods of study.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

A diploma or degree in naval architecture or a related subject is normally followed by four years training in design, engineering practice and management, before naval architects can become professionally qualified.

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.

Training is normally on the job. New recruits are usually given an individual training programme to meet their particular needs, and a senior engineer is often appointed to act as their mentor. Some companies run RINA and The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) accredited training programmes. A full list is available on the RINA and IMarEST websites.

With a sufficient period of training and enough experience, a naval architect can become a member of RINA and register with the Engineering Council UK (ECUK) as a chartered or incorporated engineer.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A naval architect should:

  • Be an excellent leader and manager.
  • Understand many branches of engineering.
  • Be analytical and logical.
  • Have good written and spoken communication skills to explain technical details.
  • Be computer literate and up to date with technical developments.
  • Be accurate with numbers.
  • Be able to work well in a team.
  • Have an eye for detail.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues.
  • Be able to combine creativity with an awareness of costs and practical design matters.
  • Be able to plan and prioritise.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced and qualified naval architects may move from technical to general management, and on to a senior post or directorship. There are also many opportunities in other branches of engineering or in consultancy.

Naval architects can become self-employed, working as design consultants or in small craft or yacht-building.

Get Further Information

Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
246 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500

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

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

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA),
Bay 3/19 Spring Place, 105 Commercial Road,
Southampton, Hamshire, SO15 1EG
Tel: 023 8032 9308

Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB),
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

Scottish Engineering,
105 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1QL
Tel: 0141 221 3181

SEMTA (Science, Engineering and
Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford,
Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 238441

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