Although both ocean engineering and naval architecture are disciplines within mechanical engineering and have similar training in many areas, there is a major difference between them. Naval architecture is the design of self-propelled vessels. Ocean engineering is the design of facilities in or on the ocean that are stationary. Both naval architects and ocean engineers receive training in fluid mechanics and dynamics, acoustics, materials science and design principles.
Naval architects design ocean-going ships, those that carry cargo and passengers on the surface, and submarines. They design tugboats and civilian vessels of all sizes for recreational use. Designs include diesel and steam engines, generators, electrical systems, power distribution systems and plumbing and vessel interiors. Naval architects also design sailing vessels, including those with auxiliary engines to power the ship when winds aren’t available. Most naval architects do not design military vessels because of the specific requirements for war fighting.
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Naval construction is a specialty in naval architecture that deals with the design and construction of warships and submarines. This includes training in the various offensive and defense weapons systems used aboard warships and armor plating that allows ships to withstand assaults from other vessels or aircraft. Naval construction specialists also learn about specialized communications systems and vibration proofing, to prevent vibration from engines setting off anti-ship mines. In addition to the design of warships, naval construction specialists study the very specific and sometimes secret methods used to construct warships.
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Ocean engineers design floating facilities used offshore, such as oil production platforms that are anchored to the seabed, or inshore, such as dry docks. Like their counterparts in naval architecture, their designs include electrical, power-generation and power-distribution systems, plumbing and water systems. Although they may be towed to a location and anchored to the ocean’s floor, these facilities and structures are not self-propelled. Because they don’t float freely on the surface, they must withstand greater forces than a ship and dealing with these forces is a major consideration in the ocean engineer’s work, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Oceanographic engineering is a specialty within ocean engineering. Oceanographic engineers design the sensors, robots and equipment used in oceanographic exploration, including instruments that test water for temperature, depth, salinity and chemical makeup. Oceanographic engineers design remotely operated vehicles with robots controlled by operators aboard ship that can carry cameras to depths beyond that of a diver or a research submarine. They also design autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, which are free-swimming robots controlled by onboard, pre-programmed computer guidance systems. AUVs can operate for extended periods, allowing a ship to set out several AUVs over a large area.
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