Job: Marine engineer
The role: Marine engineers are responsible for maintaining a wide range of mechanical systems aboard ships. They are tasked with overseeing, maintaining and repairing everything from the ship’s propulsion to on-board heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.
“They’re the individuals on board any ship of any size that takes care of the propulsion plant primarily, and any auxiliary systems connected to the engineering plant itself,” explains Jeff Otto, the co-operative education co-ordinator for the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Nautical Sciences and Marine Engineering programs.
“They’re the people that make sure the ship’s engines are working, that electricity is going throughout the ship, making sure heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and everything electromechanical is in working condition.”
While marine engineers work primarily in the machinery room aboard a ship, some are also responsible for conducting maintenance and repairs on land. Furthermore, those that become chief engineers may also be employed primarily onshore in corporate management. The majority, however, work full-time on board a moving vessel – typically for a predetermined number of weeks or months – before an extended period of time off.
Marine engineers work on a range of vessel types for a range of employers, including cargo vessels, cruise lines, commuter ferries and coast guards.
Salary: The Canadian Merchant Service Guild regulates compensation rates for a majority of ship’s officers in the Maritime industry in Canada. According to the guild’s most recent bargaining agreement, hourly rates for qualified marine engineers start at $33.02. Salary increases for guild members are directly tied to licensing and qualified years of experience.
“A lot of the money they make is based on overtime, because when you’re there for a month or two months or four months there’s long days and lots of overtime,” Mr. Otto explained. "A fourth-level [licensed] engineer working six months of the year can make nearly $100,000 a year, and that’s with your very first licence; as a chief engineer you can make well over $150,000 a year.”
Education: International educational standards and requirements for marine engineers are set by the International Maritime Organization, enforced in Canada by Transport Canada, and administered by a handful of postsecondary institutions. The four-year educational program is divided between classroom learning and hands-on experience aboard a ship in operation.
“It’s very prescriptive in terms of what individuals have to learn,” explained Mr. Otto. “They have to be well adept in things like heavy-duty mechanics for diesel engines, there’s machining, there’s welding, HVAC, and then academic courses like math, thermodynamics, heat transfer, controls, drafting, blueprint reading.”
Students graduate with a fourth-class engineer licence from Transport Canada, which permits them to begin working as marine engineers, Mr. Otto said. After 12 months of qualifying service and completing a series of exams they are eligible to become third- and second-class engineers, before completing additional training to become a chief engineer. Employers may also require additional, specialized training, such as passenger management training for ferry workers.
Job prospects: Job prospects for marine engineers are growing in Canada as a result of an aging population. “The retirement glut is a bit of a concern to shipping companies, hence the larger demand,” Mr. Otto said.
Challenges: Marine engineers are challenged by an unorthodox working schedule, which often requires them to work long hours for several days, weeks or even months at a time.
“It’s definitely not Monday to Friday, you’re working almost six and a half days a week when you’re out there,” Mr. Otto said. “Being away from home and family for those periods is a challenge for a lot of people.”
Why they do it: While higher-than-average salary and strong opportunities for upward mobility are encouraging factors, Mr. Otto believes most marine engineers are attracted to the industry out of a sense of adventure.
“All mariners want to travel and see the world,” he said. “It’s fun; living in a ship and travelling the world is an interesting line of work.”
Misconceptions: Some may assume that marine engineers need to live by the coasts or near a major body of water, but Mr. Otto says employers often provide transportation to ports from anywhere in the country.
“You don’t have to live near the workplace,” he said. “You can live anywhere for about 80 per cent of the jobs.”
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