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1965 built, US flagged steamship Pacific Tracker lays at the ready in Portland Oregon, picture by Martin Leduc

Careers at Sea

Marine Engineering, Bridging the Gap

Authored by: Chantal Ouellet, Maritime Magazine

Brought to you by, comments to [email protected]

So as to depict the situation in marine engineering, Maritime Magazine consulted a few studies and met with two marine engineering veterans, Carol Bouillon and Gilles Chenard, and with Maria Anastasaki and G�r�my Girard, two recent graduates of the Institut maritime du Qu�bec (IMQ).  

Marine engineers

Mechanics, electricity, electronics, hydraulics and blueprint reading mark the challenges met by marine engineers, who are enamored of both science and travel!

Transport Canada requirements vary depending on the class of engineering certificate sought (fourth, third, second class or chief engineer) � training and sea time being offered by the Georgian College, the Institut maritime du Qu�bec (IMQ), the Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, the Nova Scotia Nautical Institute or the Pacific Marine Training Campus (British Columbia Institute of Technology).

“The first-class officer (chief engineer) is responsible to the shipowner for the efficient operation of all machinery and equipment, inspection of the hull and any administrative work associated with these functions. The second-class officer is responsible to the chief engineer for supervision of staff duties and maintenance of the ship’s machinery. In addition to being responsible for the smooth functioning of the engine room during their shift, third- and fourth-class officers also have specific duties assigned to them. These officers are provided with support in their work by mechanic assistants, and sometimes  by cadets.” (Source: IMQ Web site [Translation]). To climb through all the ranks of marine engineering takes from eight to ten years’ training and sea time.

Marine engineers work at sea, in the building and testing of ships, as marine experts or as stationary engineers. The placement rate for marine engineering students is excellent: 100% in 1996 and 1997, and 95% in 1998.

Qualified Engineers Sought

In 1992, the consulting group Peat, Marwick sounded the alarm: “A number of areas in the marine sector will soon be confronted with major shortages of senior deck officers and qualified engineers.” The number of marine engineers in Canada, which used to be stable, has plummeted: 3,045 in 1971; 2,940 in 1981, 3,120 in 1986 and 1,470, including 39 women, in 1989. Forecast by the authors at that time: 23% of first-class marine engineers would retire by 1996 across Canada � for western Canada, the percentage rose to 40%.

Duncan MacDuff is interested in the Niagara marine sector workforce (Great Lakes and Seaway). According to data he gathered from January to May, 2000, 35.2% of marine engineers and 30.6% of chief engineers are over 54 years of age. He concluded that in the next ten years, 1,304 jobs, including 952 from replacement of personnel would open up in the Niagara marine sector � 58% by 2005. Some 110 marine engineers, 75 mechanic assistants and a few more than 50 chief engineers would be needed by the 23 companies employing 90% of the workforce in that region.

Representatives of the St. Lawrence marine sector confirm that there is a lack of higher-qualified marine engineers and add that this is an international trend.

Challenges to Be Met

Several reasons may explain the shortage of second-class and chief engineers: access to training being subject to quotas (though enrolment quotas are not filled), difficulties linked to the accessibility of training for unionized seagoing personnel and obstacles in the hiring structure.

Contrary to the habits and customs of other areas of employment, the Canadian Marine Officers’ Union, representing about 80% of marine engineers, and the Guilde de la marine marchande du Canada oversee distribution of the workforce and the definition of working conditions. Among engineers, chief engineers are the only officers selected and hired directly by shipowners.

In Qu�bec, shipowners earmark an average of 1.4% of their total payroll for training, often dedicating these funds to non-union personnel.[1] On account of the workforce shortage, some shipowners find that their unionized staff is stable; they therefore tend more towards targeted development. To acquire a higher certificate, however, unionized seagoing personnel need additional training, rather than development. If they wish, they may turn to the Table sectorielle de l’industrie maritime du Qu�bec, which funds the necessary courses for acquiring higher certificates and updates required by the adoption of new regulations. Furthermore, access to training for a higher certificate is not easy for seagoing personnel, even though they have greater availability during the winter.

After receiving their fourth-class engineer’s certificate on passing a Transport Canada exam at the end of their basic training, engineers try to get into the labour market and gradually move through the ranks. Third- and fourth-class engineer positions are almost entirely filled by the most experienced, and this forces the new arrivals to accept work on international waters. They may come back here after earning a second-class certificate, but their experience of conditions on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence will have been acquired as cadets, and perhaps not then. MacDuff’s data confirm that young fourth-, third- and second-class engineers are scarce on the Niagara waters: 9% are under 30 and 29% between 31 and 44.

Fourth- and third-class engineers sailing here would not find the monetary situation conducive to accepting additional responsibilities in a higher position. MacDuff mentions that in Niagara, a basic fourth-class engineer’s wage is $23.29 an hour, while a second-class engineer earns only $26.36 an hour.

So that is basically what the writers consulted have to say about training structures, job prospects and possibilities of promotion. We also wanted to find out how things look from the viewpoint of the engineers themselves.

Engineers Speak

Origins and motivations. The engineers interviewed have seen their share of ship’s engines: Carol Bouillon from 1955 to 2001 (fourth-class engineer), Gilles Chenard since 1957 (chief engineer for the Soci�t� des traversiers du Qu�bec), G�r�my Girard and Maria Anastasaki since their first summer internship in 1998 (respectively fourth-class engineer and fourth-class engineer in training).

Carol Bouillon comes from a seagoing family; in 1868, Captain Lucien Bouillon of Rimouski acquired the schooner Marie Ad�le and several Bouillons pursued what would become a tradition (Massicotte:1986:108). Gilles Chenard’s parents were farmers, but he wanted to see the world � “Going to see is like seeing your life open up before you!” G�r�my Girard claims that before beginning his studies at the IMQ, he was a drop-out, in spite of his 85% average, which drove the administration crazy. For him, “working at sea is where real life begins!” Maria Anastasaki was “never conventional.” She wanted “to see the world,” but also wanted to study somewhere other than in the known context of a metropolis. People become marine engineers on board ships, regardless of their origins, out of a taste for freedom and for the money. And do people ever get off ships? “These days, if you’re still at sea at 30 or 35 years of age, you’ll stay. You won’t be able to be back on land after that.”

They recount in rich detail their expeditions to the North, on the Great Lakes, to Europe and other international waters on board various ships, from tugboats to tankers.

The advantages of the job. Sea time is an opportunity to learn a lot from the other members of the crew and the Other � the foreigner encountered in unfamiliar territory � and an opportunity to find out about oneself. “The loneliness felt on board matures us, the calm sea and the need to always remain positive forms us!” says Maria. “We take pride in our daily achievements. The concrete results, the motivation to continue,” say Maria and G�r�my. For Mr. Bouillon, “as you acquire your certificates, you feel satisfaction with a job well done; the engineer has succeeded in learning his job, in doing it well, and he is recognized as someone who is tenacious and not afraid of work!”

The complaints. Carol Bouillon and Gilles Chenard speak bitterly of relations between the Great Lakes bosses and the “Frenchie” employees, the lack of dialogue between engine-room and wheelhouse personnel, and the frequent turnover of staff in the 1970s. “Unionization enabled marine engineers to earn more, but above all to secure rights and respect from their bosses and captains,” points out Carol Bouillon, a union steward for 17 years. For G�r�my and Maria, the inequalities stem from differences of class, age and personality. G�r�my says, “When an oiler was giving me a hard time, I just said to myself: “one day, I’ll be your boss!” I’m not vindictive, it’s just that you have to learn to put things in perspective!” Maria adds that the presence of women “changes the feel of things on ships,” discussions being about a wider variety of topics; a presence made possible in part by the fact that “the reduction in the size and weight of parts, coupled with automation, means that engineers have to make less physical effort. And, anyway, there are some small men engineers!”    

Same job, divergent positions. Carol Bouillon acknowledges that “with computers, a lot is expected of engineers nowadays, and this may be discouraging to those taking our places,” an opinion shared by Gilles Chenard. For G�r�my and Maria, computerization and automation help make the work easier and are among the challenges to be met. G�r�my points out: “Just as to err is human, major decisions are made by humans.” Maria concludes: Before, engineers suffered from the monotony of manual labour; today, more diversified challenges require us to use our sense of logic.” 

If they had to do it over again? Carol Bouillon and Gilles Chenard would not hesitate to begin all over again. G�r�my and Maria would repeat the training period that fulfilled them within the institution they say they are so proud of. And what about increasing the number of marine engineers? Unanimous response: “We have to get the word out about this career and the marine environment in different forums, get out of the closed vessel!”


Actions under way

Since 2000, two trends have emerged: one ensuing from MacDuff’s studies and one from the initiative taken by the St. Lawrence Ship Operators Association.

In September 2000, members of the Niagara Marine Sector, the federal government and the Niagara College recognized four priorities requiring immediate action: effective recruitment, accessible training, cross-sector competition and replacement needs. In June, 2001, one of their wishes came true with the creation of the Niagara Marine Secretariat, whose objective is to build a lasting, self-sufficient capacity within Niagara’s marine sector to attract, recruit, develop, and retain its workforce. Designed within a partnership, the Secretariat’s strategies will result in recruitment under the sector’s purview. Likewise, Niagara College is preparing, for the fall of 2002, a “Mechanical Engineering Technology (Co-op) Marine” option, supported by a partnership between the College and Port Weller Dry Docks, Upper Lakes Shipping, Algoma Central Marine and the Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland.

In Qu�bec, the members of the Table sectorielle de l’industrie maritime du Qu�bec, set up on January 26, 2001, have decided to remedy the most urgent training needs. In a particular context (see Maritime Magazine, nos. 21 and 22), it allocates funds received from the Qu�bec government � $1.2 million for the past and current years � directly to training seagoing personnel. The steps leading up to a detailed view of training needs for 2002-2005 began this fall. Subsequently, combined strategies will be presented and applied by the parties involved.   

The shortage of chief engineers and second-class engineers has been recognized as a problem for some ten years, and solutions are currently being sought. So marine engineering remains an open field to anyone interested!

[1] Under the Act to foster the development of manpower training, employers whose total payroll is over $250,000 must annually invest 1% for personnel training. They can use these funds directly or transfer them to the Qu�bec government, which assumes responsibility for redistributing them to the Table sectorielle de l’industrie maritime, for example.

As published in Maritime Magazine no.24, February 2002

For more information, you may consult the following sites:

Georgian College or

 Institut maritime du Qu�bec

 Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland

 Niagara Marine Secretariat

 Nova Scotia Nautical Institute or

 Pacific Marine Training Campus, British Columbia Institute of Technology or

 Table sectorielle de l'industrie maritime du Quebec

MACDUFF, Duncan (2000), Making Waves, a Profile of Career Opportunities in Niagara’s Marine Sector, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara College’s Workplace Learning Ventures Division.
MASSICOTE, Marie-Andr�e (1986), “Au gr� du fleuve et de l’histoire, La navigation c�ti�re dans notre region,” in Revue d’histoire du Bas-Saint-Laurent, vol. XI, no 4, p. 99-122.  
PEAT, MARWICK & al (1992), �tude des ressources humaines dans l’industrie canadienne du transport maritime, Rapport de projet, [s.l.]: Peat, Marwick, Steveson & Kellog.
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During their training at sea, Maria Anastasaki has sailed the waters of Belgium, Finland, Holland, France, England, Portugal, Spain and Russia, while G�r�my Girard has voyaged to the Persian Gulf, Asia, Europe and the Great Lakes.

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