What is a Ship Engineer?

Ship engineers are technical job positions aboard a ship that require an engineering college degree and involve supervising and overseeing the activity of a crew of technicians. Ship engineers may be involved in coordinating the activity in virtually any technical department aboard a commercial, research and even military ship. The operation of engines, pumps, propeller shafts, electronic equipment, auxiliary equipment such as refrigerators and communication equipment is supervised, coordinated and adjusted by ship engineers, who usually have a crew of technicians in subordination. In today's fast paced world, maritime, riverine and other methods of water transport is done by commercial vessels that need to be technically maintained, repaired and monitored for proper operation. This job requires a deep understanding of technical processes, interaction between various parts of a ship's equipment, but also communication with the ship's crew and its captain.

Ship engineering is a difficult yet challenging occupation due to the complexity of the task and the need to make quick decisions during sea operation, when replacement parts, new equipment and technical service may become scarce or unavailable. Ship engineers have the task to ensure that the vessel is running smoothly from a technical point of view until it reaches a port where it can undergo repairs and maintenance. Ship engineering is about being detail oriented, having excellent communication skills, and making quick decisions amidst scarce resources and uncertainty.

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What does a Ship Engineer do?

Ships engineers are in charge of crews who maintain and repair technical equipment such as ship engines, pumps, electrical wiring, communication systems and refrigeration equipment. These people also have the task of creating comprehensive reports about the ship's current technical status, and requesting any necessary repairs in nearby ports. However, sometimes a ship's technical crew may not have the "luxury" to wait until the vessel reaches a port, and it has to perform emergency repairs on the spot to ensure decent ship operation. Ship engineers also act as liaisons between the ship's command and its captain and technical crews. While people on the deck are usually responsible for navigation, cargo safety, legal issues and communication with port authorities, ship engineers and their crews are responsible for technical operations "below deck."

The engine is the heart of a ship. Any malfunction may cause unnecessary delays and even dangerous situations, and it is a ship engineer's task to quickly figure out where the problem resides, make the necessary repairs, report to the captain and make sure anything similar does not happen again during the cruise. When a ship's captain or navigation officers make changes in a ship's speed and direction, its technical crews and their engineers are responsible for making sure that the "technical" aspect of such changes does not affect the overall operation of the maritime vessel. However, ship engineers also respond in emergency situations such as leaks, fires and other dramatic events on board. They conduct and oversee safety operations, emergency drills and check on the readiness of the technical crew to face difficult situations while at sea.

What does it take to be a Ship Engineer?

Ship engineers need a technical degree in engineering before they can practice their profession. During college, they learn advanced physics, mathematics, chemistry, construction and repair subjects, engine design and other technical subjects that make them proficient and comfortable with making quick decisions regarding a ship's technical operation. They also learn special engineering that is applied specifically to ships and other naval vessels. Ship engineers also may require a master's degree in a specific field of naval engineering, which allows them to achieve in-depth knowledge about particular areas of ships' operation.

Ship engineers are usually people who are very detail oriented and have excellent problem-solving and leadership abilities. There is no time nor space for uncertainty, presumptions and debates aboard a ship that has a malfunction, and this is when ship engineers step in to coordinate and supervise quick and effective repair and maintenance processes by guiding and motivating the technical crew. Ship engineers must also have a broad view of the big picture about a ship's current technical condition unlike crew members who are usually in charge of a specific part or department on a ship. People who aspire to become ship engineers need to have physical endurance, be emotionally stable and have excellent communication skills. They also need to be able to overcome frustration caused by failure and be resilient in their job. Future ship engineers need to learn how to mediate conflicts between technical crew members and act quickly in cases when resources are scarce and large-scale repairs are temporarily impossible to execute.

What is the workplace of a Ship Engineer like?

Ship engineers work aboard ships, and more exactly, in the compartments where the technical equipment and engines are located. However, ship engineers may also conduct emergency drills and work with the other crew members to make sure they follow technical safety procedures. Finally, ship engineers work closely with navigation officers and with the ship's captain to ensure proper communication between navigation requirements and the technical potential of a maritime vessel.

How much does a Ship Engineer earn?

The average salary of a ship engineer ranges between $40,000 and $70,000 per year, and they may be eligible for various bonuses depending on the complexity of their task.

Learn more about being a Ship Engineer