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Marine Engineer Alternative titles
Marine engineers build, maintain, service and repair engines, as well as mechanical and electronic equipment on yachts, boats and ships.
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Certificates in Marine Engineering
- Workshop Technology
Pay for marine engineers varies considerably and may depend on your experience, qualifications and the size and type of boat you work on.
- Marine engineers starting out usually earn between $60,000 and $80,000 a year.
- Marine engineers with more than five years' experience usually earn between $80,000 and $165,000.
What you will do
Marine engineers may do some or all of the following:
- diagnose engine and machinery problems, and carry out maintenance and repairs
- order and receive fuel and lubricating oils and spare parts
- perform specialised fabrication, maintenance and diagnostics or electrical fitting tasks
- check, test and maintain automatic controls and alarm systems.
Marine engineers at sea may also:
- have charge of engines and mechanical, electrical and electronic equipment in ships' engine rooms (and elsewhere aboard)
- keep ships moving at required speeds by operating propulsion engines according to orders from the captain or computers on the bridge
- maintain services to electrical power, heating, ventilation, refrigeration, water and sewerage systems
- supervise other engineers and crew members, and be responsible for training them in routine and emergency duties.
Skills and knowledge
Marine engineers need to have:
- knowledge of mechanical engineering
- knowledge of pneumatic and hydraulic machinery (operated with pressure caused by air or liquids)
- knowledge of how to operate and fix electronic and electrical equipment
- knowledge of safety regulations and procedures
- fire-fighting, first aid and survival skills
- knowledge of home and foreign port regulations.
- usually work shifts and can be on call
- work in dry docks if they are shore-based, or on board ships, mainly in engine rooms
- work in all weather conditions and in conditions that can be hot and noisy
- may travel within New Zealand waters or to overseas ports.
What's the job really like?
Craig Wray - Marine Engineer
A varied and vital role
"You cover the jobs of a refrigeration engineer, electrician, mechanic, fitter turner and fitter welder – you're sort of a jack of all trades really. If you're not fixing a breakdown, you might be rebuilding a piece of equipment that isn't urgent or working on another project that you have on the go.
"You might be cleaning sea strainers and generating the engines, as well as keeping written records of what temperatures and pressures the engines are running at."
Conditions can be extreme
"I have to repair any breakdowns that may occur at sea, which can occur anywhere from the engine room to the factory or on deck. The conditions vary – working in the ship's engine room can get quite hot. It's not unusual to be working in temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius, especially on the bigger vessels."
Satisfaction behind the scenes
"Generally you should expect at least one breakdown a day on different parts of the vessel. When you don't have any breakdowns, the sense of satisfaction is great, because you know that you're doing your job well."
Follow Chase as he finds out what it's like to work as an engineer on a deep-sea fishing trawler - 9.21 mins. (Video courtesy of Talley's)
Clinton: Well you’re in luck Chase because Talley's will be taking you on a trip of a lifetime aboard a deep-sea trawler. The Amaltal Enterprise is returning from a six-week voyage to its home port of Nelson.
Clinton: Not only do they catch fish on the ship, they process it ready to be sent straight to the supermarkets. The 38-person crew have two days to unload tonnes of fish, and take on fresh supplies before setting out again for another trip. It’s called turnaround.
Mike: How’re ya going Chase? Pleased to meet you. Welcome to the Enterprise. We’ll go and have a look around eh?
Mike: Sweet as.
Clinton: Mike Knowles is a Baadar technician named after the machine that cuts and fillets the fish.
Mike: Well Chase, turnaround is really important for us – it’s the only time that we can get in and do the maintenance that we need to do to get through our trip. So we’ll get out and have a look. But before we do that, here's some gear you'll be needing to put on.
Chase: Alright. Thank you. I'll go and throw this on then.
Mike: Good stuff.
Mike: A trainee would have to be someone who's motivated, can use their head, and a team player. OK Chase, this machine here is called a 192. It fillets 90 fish a minute. Basically, the fish come through here, its tail gets cut off, its head gets removed, it gets transferred through here, it does a series of cuts and it actually removes the fillets from the frame of the fish and it will come out the other end as two perfect fillets.
Mike: When you have problems with Baader machines, if you’re doing say 90 fish a minute, you’ve got 90 problems a minute.
Clinton: The machine is far from ready to process fish and Chase will be helping to put it back together. Job one is sharpening a knife.
Mike: So we’ll put one on there and we’ll give it a sharpen up.
Mike: These here are our sharpening stones. The knife will sit just in the middle here, the stones will turn, obviously water to lubricate the stones and it puts a nice sharp edge on our blades. OK Chase, I’ll let you sharpen that one.
Clinton: Chase is sharpening a Flank knife. There are 16 knives in a 192 Baader machine so there are a fair few to get through.
Chase: How long do you sharpen the knives for?
Mike: Depending on how blunt they are, but usually three minutes.
Mike: Bones are an issue, fish jamming up the machine, bits breaking off the machine – the maintenance is huge, it’s something that you’re doing just day in, day out.
Mike: I think that might be sharp now Chase, shall we have a look?
Mike: So we’ll just lift it up, lock it in, and this is how we check our knives to see how sharp they are. That’s pretty damn sharp.
Clinton: Once the fish is in fillets, it needs the skin removed, and that job is easily done by the trio machine.
Mike: We'll take this here off, and we'll do a bit of maintenance on it. We'll replace these two bearings here.
Mike: Basically, we're processing the fish here to a point where there's next to no meat left on the frame. It's a bit of a balancing act to get it right, so there's no bone on the product. OK, Chase, this is our trio knife guide. These are the bearings here we're going to replace and the knife basically runs along these bearings like that. What I'll get you to do is replace these two bearings here. Good as gold?
Chase: Yep. How far do you want that undone?
Mike: Yeah, we'll take that all the way out. It might be loose enough now, you can get it out with your fingers. Good as gold. A good trainee would be someone who's motivated, keen to learn, and is a good team player. Someone who can go to sea with 40 other people and fit in and get on. So now, we'll fit that seal again. So the reason we do that is to stop the salt water getting into the bearing, and rusting the bearing, and the bearing collapses.
Chase: So do we want to clean that down, or is that fine?
Mike: It will be fine.
Chase: So how often do you change the bearings on this machine?
Mike: We have two of those machines, and we'll change those bearings twice, maybe three times a trip. Excellent.
Clinton: The fish factory is filled with a range of machines all doing different jobs and all needing maintenance and this one gets greased every day.
Mike: This machine is driven by an electric motor. It’s very important to have grease in these bearings at all times. If the bearings collapse, the chains could come off and it could be a real nightmare.
Clinton: When they are out at sea and something goes wrong, there is no calling back to shore for parts, so Mike has to be able to fix any part of the factory line and that means welding.
Mike: There’s always something to fix, there’s a lot of stainless steel. Before our trainees come onto the boat, we’d like them to have welding experience. I’ve set a test piece here for you to have a crack at. OK mate, so here’s your helmet and your gloves. Basically, you're going to hold your electrode on a slight angle, and not push it in too far, and just move it slowly across the edge here, and just close the visor on your helmet before you strike your electrode. OK. Good stuff. All yours.
Mike: Basically to get a chance at a trainee's position, a trade would be good. There’s electrical work, there’s mechanical, there’s hydraulic – it’s right across the board. That’s what makes it quite challenging
Mike: Very good. When you’re in rough weather obviously it's a lot more difficult, there can be a bit more fun and games. But that’s great, excellent.
Clinton: It’s been a big day but there is so much more to come. Mike and his team work on into the night to get the Baader machine up and running. When Chase turns up the next morning he’s shown his cabin for the journey.
Crewman: Do you get seasick?
Chase: Er, I don’t know yet. We’ll have to see!
Crewman: Time will tell.
Clinton: ...Before being shown the finished Baader machine.
Mike: So it’s been a busy night, but we’ve got it all together now, it’s ready to run. So Chase, here we have our alignment station – the fish go underneath here and this stands and straightens the fish up, and then from there it’s transported through by these spike chains. They’re rather sharp and rather nasty. And then we have a series of knives all the way along the machine – very sharp, and these knives will fillet the fish.
Clinton: The machine has to be tested before they leave the dock so this is the moment it all comes down to.
Mike: OK, the machine sounds good, she’s all ready to run so it’s time to go to sea and get some fish.
Clinton: With part one of his journey complete, how did he do?
Mike: Overall, I think he’s done extremely well. He seems like a really good team player and I could see him fitting in on this vessel and being part of the team.
Chase: I’ve realised that what they do requires a lot of skill and precision and a memorable part was the welding, just because I haven’t done it before. But yeah, it was all good fun.
Clinton: There is a National Certificate in Seafood Vessel Operations (Factory Trawler Technician) – Level 4. This qualification balances the technical skills of the job along with vessel and personnel safety. When completed you can start work towards the National Diploma in Seafood Vessel Operations (Factory Trawler Technician) – Level 6. Baader technicians are employed on a range of fishing vessels from small fishing boats to factory trawlers. They need to be fit and healthy as the job involves heavy lifting. Marine engineers earn $58,000 a year on average. And sea-going chief engineers may earn up to $165,000. The boat is alcohol and drug-free and spot checks are made regularly.
Entry requirements to become a marine engineer differ depending on whether you wish to work on:
- fishing vessels
- merchant navy ships, such as cargo boats, cruise liners and super yachts
- vessels that work in restricted waters, such as harbour tugs and ferries
- on shore – working on vessels when they are in dry dock.
To get a Marine Engineer (Class 6) certificate you must:
- be aged over 18 years
- prove you have worked at sea for at least the minimum time required, which varies depending on your previous training and qualifications
- hold a current first-aid certificate
- pass police and medical checks
- supply work and character references.
For further details visit Maritime New Zealand's website for information on marine engineering qualifications.
The Royal New Zealand Navy also offers marine engineering cadet training.
- Maritime New Zealand website - list of approved training providers
- Maritime New Zealand website - information about engineering qualifications
- Maritime New Zealand website - guidelines for Marine Engineer (Class 6) certificate (PDF - 102KB)
- Royal NZ Navy website - information on marine engineering officer training
At least three years of secondary education is recommended. Useful subjects include English and maths.
Marine engineers need to be:
- practical, methodical and adaptable
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- excellent problem-solvers, so they can diagnose engine and machinery faults
- confident decision-makers who can remain calm in emergencies
- good communicators
- good at maths, physics and chemistry.
John Mapp - Marine Engineer
Useful experience for marine engineers includes:
- other engineering work
- experience with pneumatic or hydraulic machinery (operated with pressure caused by air or liquids)
- electrical or electronics work
- experience working on ships.
Marine engineers need to be reasonably fit and healthy because they may have to work at heights, in confined spaces, and lift heavy objects. They should also have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
View information on courses in the course database
Find out more about training
years of training required
What are the chances of getting a job?
According to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates, the number of marine engineers increased by about 9% between 2010 and 2012.
Despite increasing numbers of people in the role, demand for marine engineers still exceeds supply. As a result, ship's engineer (marine engineer) appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled ship's engineers from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Types of employers varied
Employers of marine engineers include:
- shore-based marine engineering companies
- fishing companies
- coastal shipping companies
- oil and gas industry companies.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long-term Skill Shortage List', accessed March 2013, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2013.
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- IPENZ JobHunt - JobHunt website - engineering vacancies at IPENZ
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Progression and specialisations
Marine engineers can advance to work on larger and more complex vessels, or can move into engineering work in other industries.
Marine engineers may specialise in the following roles:
- Fishing Industry Marine Engineer
- Fishing industry marine engineers work on vessels ranging from small inshore fishing boats to large factory trawlers.
- Merchant Navy Marine Engineer
- Merchant navy marine engineers work on merchant ships in coastal waters and overseas, including cruise liners and superyachts.
- Restricted-limit Vessel Marine Engineer
- Restricted-limit vessel marine engineers work on vessels in restricted waters, such as harbour tugs and ferries, charter launches or small cargo ships.
- Shore-based Marine Engineer
- Shore-based marine engineers work on vessels when they are in dry dock.
How many people are doing this job?
Job vacancies by region
Updated 14 Aug 2013