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What Kind of Schooling Is Needed to Become a Marine Engineer?

by Karen Farnen

Marine engineers design and maintain the equipment, power systems and mechanisms of ships, tankers and submarines. They usually work for architecture and engineering firms, the federal government and shipbuilders. However, these days some work for the petroleum industry designing offshore oil and gas drilling rigs. In any case, you need a bachelor's degree in marine engineering to obtain an entry-level job.

High School Requirements

Each college sets its own admission requirements for marine engineering majors. However, programs usually recommend a minimum of three years each of high school science and math. Specifically, you usually need classes in trigonometry, algebra, calculus or pre-calculus, chemistry, biology and physics.

Bachelor's Degree Basics

Programs in marine engineering receive their accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, now known as ABET. A bachelor's degree usually takes four years and includes general education subjects in addition to classes and labs in the engineering major. The required subjects typically include physics, calculus, computer-aided design, fluid mechanics and mechanics of materials. Other classes cover applied mechanics, thermal power systems, electrical engineering and power electronics.

Practical Work

Marine engineering employers look for workers with practical know-how, so bachelor's degree programs often require internships or practical experience. For example, marine engineering students at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy spend approximately 50 days during each academic year on the academy's training vessel or on commercial ships. Similarly, students at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy complete summer internships with a Coast Guard unit before the senior year. As seniors, they work in teams to make a preliminary design of an actual ship for their capstone project.

Licensing

The U.S. Coast Guard licenses marine engineers at several levels. Students in marine engineering usually take the first licensing exam toward the end of their bachelor's degree program. For example, students at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy are required to pass the Third Assistant License during their eighth semester. After graduation, marine engineers qualify to take higher exams as they gain work experience. If they pass, they advance to Second Assistant, First Assistant and eventually to Chief Assistant. Passing a higher licensing grade usually qualifies a marine engineer for advancement and higher pay.

Career Facts

Jobs for marine engineers will increase by 17 percent between 2010 and 2020, compared to 14 percent for all occupations, predicts the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More engineers will be needed to design nonpolluting ships and bring current ships up to environmental standards. As of 2012, the average pay for marine engineers and naval architects was $96,140 per year, according to the BLS, but the top 10 percent earned $150,560 or more.

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