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Marine Engineers

The Job

Approximately 70 percent of the earth is covered by water. We use oceans and other bodies of water to transport goods, for recreation, and for many other purposes. Scientists also conduct research below the surface of the ocean, and oil and other fossil fuels are mined from its depths. Marine engineers help design and oversee the construction and repair of marine vessels and structures ranging from aircraft carriers and tankers, to submarines and cruise ships, to oil and natural gas exploration platforms. The ships they design feature complex machinery and systems including navigation, communication, propulsion systems (steam, oil, diesel, nuclear), weapons systems, heating and ventilating systems, marine power plants, and other mechanical and electrical equipment and systems. They also feature machinery such as cranes, elevators, hoists, and equipment that move supplies within the ship and between ships at sea. Marine engineers also provide key technical support when oceangoing vessels or structures are damaged or cease to function.

It takes considerable time and money to design and build marine vessels and structures. Ships are designed with a variety of factors in mind, such as intended speed, weight capacity, size, usage (military, shipping, or pleasure), and the areas where they will be used (the ice-laden seas of the Arctic, tropical locales, etc.). As a result, marine engineers face a variety of challenges when helping to design, construct, and repair these vessels and structures and their systems.   

Some of the main duties of marine engineers include preparing system or product layouts and detailed drawings and schematics; conducting operational, analytical, environmental, or performance studies to create designs for products; preparing estimates, design and construction schedules, and contract specifications for projects; working with regulatory agencies to ensure that designs and manufacturing processes comply with government regulations; conducting operational, environmental, and performance tests on marine equipment and machinery; managing workers during the manufacturing process; assessing the operation of finished systems or vessels at shipyards or shakedown cruises; and preparing technical reports for use by engineering, sales, or management personnel.

Marine engineers also oversee the repair of ships and marine equipment. When a system malfunctions, they may be called in to troubleshoot and, hopefully, return it to working order. If the system cannot be easily fixed, the marine engineer determines the extent of necessary repairs and the cost and labor required to fix the system. They either do the repairs themselves or supervise workers who handle these duties. After the system is repaired, the marine engineer tests it to make sure that it is functioning properly.   

Marine engineers employed by companies, nonprofits, and government agencies that perform oceanographic research have designed and even invented research equipment such as computer- and satellite-linked buoys and floats, ocean seismometers, underwater video equipment, sediment traps, acoustic measuring devices, and underwater vehicles.

Some marine engineers may work strictly in research and development. They may conduct research to create more energy-efficient systems, ship hulls that can better withstand sea ice or deep ocean pressure, or more durable onboard electronics or computer systems. Some engineers develop completely new systems or entirely new types of vessels or oil or gas exploration rigs. Others conduct research regarding the effects of currents, waves, and the salt water environment on ships, structures, systems, and machinery.

Some marine engineers specialize in coastal engineering. Coastal engineers help solve environmental problems in coastal communities, such as pollution and waste disposal. They find solutions that cause the least harm to water resources, while allowing coastal communities to prosper. Coastal engineers also design ways to reduce the sometimes harsh effects of storms, waves, rising sea levels, and erosion on coastal communities.

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