Marine Engineering wages – Part 2 of 2

In part one of this thread, I theorized that the Canadian marine industry did not have an effective workforce succession plan, and therefore relies for its survival on what should be, the “fringe” groups within the make-up of the workforce. Without a larger, younger, but more experienced core to the workforce, the people who should be on the edges – the new entrants, and the soon to retire members of the workforce, are skewing the overall wage and benefits package offered to Marine Engineering professionals.

Although both these groups get their needs met in the short term; in the long term, it will make the marine industry an unsustainable place to raise a family, and therefor an unsustainable industry in Canada. In this, Part Two, we look at what is a “competitive wage” for a Marine Engineering professional, and what it should be.


Competitive Package

There are many barriers to determining what a “competitive” Marine Engineer compensation package is.  I often hear of a super low hourly wage, but that is pumped up with overtime and double time, and such – like you have an option when confined to working on a ship. Other times, you have a high hourly wages, but nothing else.

Different employers such as government, provincial or federal, have usually lower take home wage, but considerable other benefits, such as a pension and paid leave, and additional vacation time. Then there is an annual salary, which seems good, until you realize you are working twice as much as other outfits, or low daily hours, but longer away from home.

In my experience, anyone telling you they offer a “competitive wage” probably is not, because there is no industry standard in Canada for them to make that determination. One thing Is for sure, every employers thinks they pay too much, and every employee thinks they don’t make enough.

I have worked for provincial, federal, commercial employers across Canada and on the international market – and I have not seen any standards. Typically this is set by a union, but these days, the wages offered by some unions to its members seem to have more benefits to the Canadian operators than the Marine Engineer. In my experience, the closest to a standard is the international model – pure US dollar cash, per day, agreement.


Cash is king

So to compare apples to apples, or at least a Granny Smith to a Macintosh, one must, honestly, break down the wage package as best as possible, including pension contributions, paid days off (which should be easy since hardly anyone gives it anymore) and other tangible benefits.

The easiest way, is to take your T4 income (which usually included the benefits package, and pension contributions), divided it up to how many hours per year worked. Turn those hours into 12 hrs days, and then spit out a daily cash rate. If you don’t have a T4, then this requires intimate of the remuneration packages, which is why when someone tells you “competitive wage offered”, be wary.

There is a fair bit of voodoo involved in the formula, as for some people, working close to home is paramount, while others couldn’t care less. Working conditions do have a tangible value that affect overall compensation – an old boat with lots of machinery, on heavy fuel, doing a busy run with two engineers, is definitely more taxing then on a small ferry running on diesel, which ties up every night.  Then again housing, transportation, and groceries costs also play a factor.


A standard definition of “competitive”

So in the hopes of setting a standard, here are my general terms of remuneration for a Marine Engineering professional working in Canada, in 2017.

  • ER Rating – $250 – $350 / day
  • 4th Class – $475-$550 / day
  • 3rd Class  – $525 -$650 / day
  • 2nd Class – $625 – $850 / day
  • 1st Class – $750 – $1200 / day

With the following basic terms:

  • 12 hour working day (no overtime bullshit)
  • Equal, day for day, leave
  • Four weeks on / off
  • Paid travel, front door to ship, and back
  • Paid license fees (medical, license renewals, etc)
  • Paid licensed maintenance required training
  • Basic benefits package – extended health, dental and life insurance


More than a “job”

It is interesting that despite “rising” salaries, marine engineers are still in short supply. This suggests that a cash compensation package is not adequate, or even the whole story, when it comes to Marine Engineer satisfaction working on-board. Lately, there has been a trend of paying engineers more, but then cutting crew size down (Engine Room Assistants), but this quickly leads to burn out.

I often hear HR people balk at the wages being asked; from the attitude I see, they feel they could train monkeys to do our jobs. It is therefore trendy to lump Marine Engineers with shore side trades people, like plumbers and electricians, and pay accordingly, this is a totally misleading characterisation. It is certainly conceivable that the numerous technical skills required by a Marine Engineer could be passed onto monkeys; however the work is much more nuanced, and entails far more than just technical skills. Let’s explore some differences:

  • The requirements to become and maintain a Certificate of Competency are miles apart from a Trades Qualification or Red Seal
  • A “ticket to fill” the crew list is one thing, but you need for suitability for the job
  • after that, you need to find a person that meets medical, security and travel requirements,
  • a person that is healthy enough throughout his career, mentally and physically, without substance abuse issues or other pesky human traits.
  • That’s even before any technical work is done, or expertise required; usually done on moving platform, with little support, technical or moral.
  • Then, to have to have employee that fits and promotes the company culture, and not have them burnt out.

To have these qualities, you’ll need some very special monkeys to train, or an attractive remuneration package for professionals.  I always welcome anyone to spend a month, even a week on-board working, and see how they feel about remuneration after that.


Other perks, why do you need wages

Truth be told, I would probably do my work and enjoy it, even if I wasn’t being paid. But like I discussed in Part One of this topic, we are humans, and humans will procreate, it is a basic need. This is why I work; it is for my team members – my spouse – and our kids – our family unit.

With that, comes what all humans want, those people we cherish to have a safe, healthy, and hopefully, happy life. Work should provide that, especially if it is burdensome to become a Marine Engineer, and the family unit makes real and significant sacrifices in the absence of the one parent while at sea, managing a litany of risks.

Of course one of the biggest misconceptions about working at sea,, is that seafarers are on “holidays” – and therefore don’t need wages – well, it’s not. Period.

Another point that sometimes people point out, is that seafarer only works half the year – six months. While that is somewhat correct, the typical seafarer works about 2200 hours a year, while a shore-side job clocks about 1900 hours every year. As a “shorten your life bonus”, those 2200 hours, are usually done on a mind numbing 6 on 6 off “watch” system.

This wage scale is my opinion of what should be a standard based on my 20 yrs experience working at sea; I welcome any input and feedback.

Transport Canada and Australian Marine Safety certified Marine Engineer, over 25 years experience sailing professionally on commercial ships all over the world. Creator and editor of Father of three, based in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

2 Responses

  1. Hello Martin,

    I read your last two articles and you are very much bang on with your observations and your new wage suggestion would be most welcomed. At this time, with a 1st class certificate I am running in the wage class (according to your new scale) of about a mid pack 4th class level. Our contract has been up for 4 years now and we are going to arbitration now as no one can come to an agreement. My age would put me in the meat of your “burger” but I am digging my way to the bottom of the bun in a hurry. Depending on the results of this Arbitration, I may be outside the burger looking to work with the fries. After all, it seems they are getting all the gravy! A 1st class cert with many years of management skills should be worth a lot more than $500/day – the contractors I have to supervise are charged out at $1200/8 hour day and are paid $700/12 hour day….and they are only doing one little part of a job. Your article hits on many key points (home life included) and marine employers need to be paying attention. After 30 years in the marine field all I have seen is a steady progression down ward, despite the industry being warned it was going south many years ago. TCMS is a mess and cannot hire competent inspectors, lots of people in a big run around to increase certification but hitting road blocks. One big cluster!

  2. Love the puns, and appreciate your input.

    Yes in deed, I believe Canadian companies are living in a reality that is not sustainable and a severe adjustment is on the horizon, it has to be, as things as they are are not able to support normal Canadian families.

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