What does a Naval Architect do?

What is a Naval Architect?

Marine engineers and naval architects design, build, and maintain ships from aircraft carriers to submarines, from sailboats to tankers. Marine engineers work on the mechanical systems, such as propulsion and steering. Naval architects work on the basic design, including the form and stability of hulls.

What does a Naval Architect do?

Marine engineers typically do the following:

  • Prepare system layouts and detailed drawings and schematics
  • Inspect marine equipment and machinery to draw up work requests and job specifications
  • Conduct environmental, operational, or performance tests on marine machinery and equipment
  • Design and oversee testing, installation, and repair of marine apparatus and equipment
  • Investigate and observe tests on machinery and equipment for compliance with standards
  • Coordinate activities with regulatory bodies to ensure that repairs and alterations are done safely and at minimal cost
  • Prepare technical reports for use by engineers, managers, or sales personnel
  • Prepare cost estimates, schedules for design and construction, and contract specifications
  • Maintain contact with contractors to be sure the work is being done correctly, on schedule, and within budget.

The people who operate or supervise the operation of the machinery on a ship are sometimes called marine engineers, or, more frequently, ship engineers. Their work differs from that of the marine engineers in this profile. Marine engineers are increasingly putting their knowledge to work in power generation. Companies that formerly concentrated on other activities, such as papermaking, are now increasing their efforts to produce and sell electricity back to the power grid. These engineers’ skills are also useful in the oil and gas industry, including offshore drilling operations.

Naval architects typically do the following:

  • Study design proposals and specifications to establish basic characteristics of a ship, such as size, weight, and speed
  • Develop sectional and waterline curves of the hull to establish the center of gravity, ideal hull form, and data on buoyancy and stability
  • Design entire ship hulls and superstructures, following safety standards
  • Design the layout of ships’ interiors, including passenger compartments, cargo space, ladder wells, and elevators
  • Confer with marine engineers to set up the layout of boiler room equipment, heating and ventilation systems, refrigeration equipment, and propulsion machinery
  • Lead teams from a variety of specialties to oversee building and testing prototypes
  • Evaluate how the ship does during trials both at the dock and at sea and change the design as needed to make sure the ship meets national and international

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How to become a Naval Architect

Entry-level jobs in marine engineering and naval architecture require a bachelor's degree. Students interested in preparing for this occupation benefit from taking high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as chemistry and physics. For aspiring naval architects, drafting courses are helpful.

Programs that lead to a bachelor's degree in engineering typically include courses in calculus, physics, and computer-aided design. Courses specific to marine engineering and naval architecture include fluid mechanics, ship hull strength, and mechanics of materials. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative engineering programs, which provide college credit for structured job experience, are valuable.

Along with graduating from a bachelor’s degree program, marine engineers and naval architects usually take an exam for a mariner’s license from Coast Guard. The first stage of the license is known as the 3rd Assistant License. With experience and further testing, a marine engineer may get a 2nd and then 1st Assistant License. The highest level of licensure is known as Chief Assistant. Higher grades of licensing are usually accompanied by higher pay and more responsibilities.

Beginning marine engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In larger companies, new engineers may also receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects where they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Eventually, marine engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may even become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions or sales work. In sales, an engineering background enables them to discuss technical aspects of certain kinds of engineering projects. Such knowledge is also useful in assisting clients in project planning, installation, and use.

What is the workplace of a Naval Architect like?

Marine engineers and naval architects typically work in offices, where they have access to computer software and other tools necessary for analyzing projects and designing solutions. Sometimes, they must go to sea on the ships to test them or maintain them.

Those working on power generation projects, such as offshore wind turbines or tidal power, work along the coast—both offshore and on land. They also sometimes work on oil rigs where they oversee repair or maintenance of systems that they may have designed.