Being a marine engineer

Marine Engineering

What is it?

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A marine engineer is responsible for maintaining and operating the machinery and electrical and electronic equipment on board ship.

Alternative Titles

  • Ship's Engineer
  • Naval Engineer
  • Engineer (Marine)

Tasks and Duties

A marine engineer:

  • has charge of equipment in a ship's engine-room and all deck machinery
  • prepares machinery such as boilers and diesel engines for use
  • sets automatic controls and alarms
  • tests, maintains and repairs machinery, electrical and electronics systems
  • operates the engines which drive the ship as instructed keeps the ship at the required speed
  • looks after systems such as fuel, oil, refrigeration and fresh water


"In a nutshell, we are responsible for the safe and efficient running of the engine-room, which includes the operating, the maintenance and the repair of the engines, and all the equipment in the engine-room."

Peter Harding, Marine Engineer


Marine engineers need to have:

  • mechanical skills
  • an eye for detail
  • problem-solving skills
  • decision-making ability
  • good communication skills


  • A marine engineer has to know about:
  • maths, physics and chemistry
  • machine operation and maintenance
  • safety rules and methods
  • hydraulics and pneumatics
  • engineering
  • electrics, electronics and computers
  • deck and safety equipment


"Knowledge of computers is critical. There are maintenance programmes generated by computer, and most of the new ships' engines are controlled by computer."

Peter Harding, Marine Engineer


Personal Qualities

  • A  marine engineer should be: responsible
  • practical and adaptable
  • accurate
  • quick and efficient
  • calm in emergencies


"You need to be able to operate under pressure. If something goes wrong, you've got to look at the situation in a cool and calm manner so you can make a rational decision."

Peter Harding, Marine Engineer


Physical Requirements

Marine engineers need to be fit, healthy and strong as heavy lifting may be required. They should also have good eyesight (with or without glasses) and good co-ordination.


Marine engineers are required to have School Certificate with at least a B2 grade in English and maths, although Sixth Form Certificate or a higher qualification is preferred.

Entry Requirements

  • Marine engineers must first work as trainees. Trainees need to have completed one of the following:
  • Trade Certificate in Fitting and Turning or Auto Engineering (Heavy Equipment)
  • university or polytechnic training
  • engineering technician or marine engineering cadet training

After working at sea for six months, trainees may apply for a first level Marine Engineering Certificate, which allows them to take charge of an engineering watch.

Useful Experience

Useful experience for a marine engineer includes:

  • engineering work
  • electrical or electronics work
  • sea and ship work
  • work with hydraulics and pneumatics

Training On The Job

Skills are learned on the job.


"The biggest trouble is to get to sea. Most employers won't employ you unless you've got a marine certificate, and you can't get a certificate unless you get the sea time."

Peter Harding, Marine Engineer


Work Places and Travel

Marine engineers work at sea in a ship's engine-room and on other parts of a ship. They may work on land as maintenance engineers in hospitals, hotels and powerstations. They often travel in New Zealand waters and may travel to overseas ports.



Equipment a marine engineer uses includes:

  • hand and power tools
  • machine tools such as lathes and drills
  • measuring instruments
  • lifting equipment
  • electronic equipment
  • a computer
  • safety equipment including earmuffs


Workplace Conditions

Marine engineers work on ships in all weather conditions. Conditions are usually hot, noisy and messy. Workplaces may also be dangerous.


Marine engineers frequently work in shifts or can be on-call. They may be away from home for long periods of time.


Salary varies, but marine engineers usually earn between about $53,000 and $120,000 per year.

Contact with People

Marine engineers:

work alone or as part of a team depending on the size of the ship

interact with engineering contractors and other ship staff may supervise other marine engineers


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