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How to Become a Marine Engineer or Naval Architect

Marine engineers and naval architects must have a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, naval architecture, or marine systems engineering. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative engineering programs, which provide college credit for structured job experience, are valuable.


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.

Programs in marine engineering, naval architecture, and marine systems engineering are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Marine engineers and naval architects must be able to give clear instructions and explain complex concepts when leading teams of professionals on projects.

Interpersonal skills. Marine engineers and naval architects meet with clients to analyze their needs for ship systems. Engineers must be able to discuss progress with clients to keep redesign options open before the project is too far along.

Math skills. Marine engineers and naval architects use the principals of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Marine engineers must design several systems for ships that work well together. Naval architects and marine engineers are expected to solve problems for their clients. They must draw on their knowledge and experience to make effective decisions.

Teamwork. Naval architects often lead teams of diverse professionals to create a feasible design, and they must effectively use the skills that each person brings to the design process.


Along with graduating from a bachelor’s degree program, marine engineers and naval architects usually take an exam for a mariner’s license from the U.S. 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.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition