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Merchant Navy engineering officer

Merchant navy engineering officers maintain the mechanical and electrical machinery and instruments on board a ship.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £8,000 to £70,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll need to apply for sponsored training with a marine engineering or shipping company.

You’ll train towards an HND, foundation degree or degree in marine or mechanical engineering. Your training will include the Maritime and Coastguard agency (MCA) Certificate of Competency (CoC) as an Officer of the Watch (OOW). You need this to work at sea.

The training route you take will depend on the experience and qualifications you already have.

To get onto an HND training course, you’ll usually need 4 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) including maths, English and a science (preferably physics). 

For foundation degrees and degrees you’ll need A levels or equivalent. 

You’ll also need to pass a medical, including an eyesight test.

If you already have experience as a mechanical engineer, you may be exempt from some of the training, but you’ll still need to find a sponsor.

Careers at Sea has more information on becoming a merchant navy engineering officer.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • practical skills in mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering
  • the ability to communicate clearly with staff at all levels
  • the ability to prioritise workloads and plan effectively
  • decision making skills
  • excellent maths, science, technology and IT skills

3. What you'll do

You’ll operate and maintain the machinery and support systems on a ship, both above and below deck. 

You’ll work with the engines, ventilation systems, navigation and communications equipment, and deck fittings like cranes, hoists and landing craft.

You’ll be graded according to your experience and qualifications, with each grade having slightly different responsibilities:

  • Chief Engineer – overall authority for planning engineering tasks and allocating staff
  • Second Engineer – supervising the day-to-day duties of staff and engine crew
  • Third Engineer – assisting the second officer and looking after electrical systems and machinery
  • Junior/Fourth Engineer – carrying out general machinery maintenance, often the first posting for an officer trainee

Whatever your engineering grade, your day-to-day duties might include:

  • running maintenance checks on machinery and systems
  • responding to equipment failure alerts and repairing faults
  • maintaining fuel levels and stocks of spare parts
  • updating record management systems
  • mentoring and supporting trainees

In the merchant navy, you could work on passenger ferries, cruise liners, container ships, bulk carriers, tankers, and salvage and supply vessels. 

In the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (civilian-crewed ships that support the Royal Navy), you could have responsibility for weapons maintenance.

4. Salary

Starter: £8,000 to to £30,000

Experienced: up to £54,000

Highly Experienced: up to £70,000

Your employer will pay for food and accommodation at sea, and some travel costs when ashore.

Figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You’ll work shifts, known as ‘watches’, which vary according to the size of the ship. On a large vessel, you might work 4 hours on duty followed by 8 hours off.

The amount of time you’ll spend at sea could last from a few days or weeks to several months. Your shore leave between voyages will also vary in length.

You’ll spend most of your shift in the engine control room and the engine room. You may have to work in confined spaces in the vessel's hull, or in refrigerated areas.

If you’re with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, you may need to work in conflict zones.

6. Career path and progression

With experience, you could become captain or chief engineer. You could also work towards chartered status with the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST).

If you decide to work onshore, you could move into management, ship surveying, lecturing or research.

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Last updated: 18 August 2017