Marine engineers touch many parts of the economy. As professionals who design freight ships, oil rigs and other sea-based structures, marine engineers help the global economy run. But few of the people in this important field are women: The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 6 percent of marine engineers and naval architects were women as of 2007, though more recent college enrollment numbers show that women make up as much as 11 percent of students in the major at a school such as the University of Michigan.
The marine engineer’s job begins with design. She creates blueprints for marine engines, structures and other equipment, planning system layouts and producing drawings and schematics of how the equipment will work. To see if her ideas will work, she conducts analytical, environmental and performance tests. To help other engineers, managers or salespeople do their jobs, she writes technical reports on the equipment’s specs.
Once testing is complete, the marine engineer oversees building and installation. Cost estimates, building schedules and other contract specifications are her responsibility. During construction or installation, she stays in touch with contractors to make sure they’re doing the work correctly, on schedule and within budget. Along the way, she writes reports for contractors and clients to update them on the project’s progress, and to assure them that building is happening at the lowest possible cost.
Once marine equipment is installed, the engineer helps maintain it. She inspects equipment to make sure it works properly, and draws up maintenance requests to make repairs if equipment fails. Plus, she runs environmental and performance tests to make sure marine devices or structures meet regulatory standards. When regulatory agencies inspect equipment and mandate repairs, the marine engineer coordinates with officials to ensure maintenance staff complete their work safely and at low cost.
Marine engineers need postsecondary education. As of 2011, 58 percent had a bachelor’s degree, while 33 percent had a master’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Course work includes marine design and construction, power systems, engines, electromechanical engineering, offshore structural dynamics, hydrodynamics and ocean and coastal engineering. Marine engineers must be able to think critically, or use judgment and reasoning to solve complicated science problems. Plus, they should have math-reasoning skills and the ability to communicate their findings in writing and verbally.
Marine engineers should enjoy solid career opportunities. The BLS forecasts 17 percent job growth from 2010 to 2020 for marine engineers and naval architects. Demand for new freight ships and systems to transport liquefied gas and other energies will drive gains. Also, stricter environmental regulations on existing ships will create jobs designing modifications. Because marine engineers design and maintain offshore oil rigs, an increase in the number of companies drilling for oil and gas in ocean floors will create job growth, as well.