Naval architects are professional engineers who specialise in the design, construction, conversion, repair, surveying and decommissioning of ships, boats, and offshore structures. Buoyant world trade, a thriving leisure industry and the need for defence of nations’ coastal waters and overseas interests, all mean that ships and boats of all types will continue to be required. New challenges, such as the need for environmental protection and security, also impact on vessel technology and design. 

What does a naval architect do?

Naval architects are primarily involved in the design of vessels which move just above, on or under the sea. These include tankers, container ships, passenger ferries, warships, drilling platforms, submarines, hovercraft, yachts and other small vessels – such as landing craft, diving support vessels and unmanned submersibles. Naval architects work on the safe, economic and seaworthy design of small boats and yachts as well as on ships and submarines. They can specialise in construction/conversion, managing the whole process from the design board to the finished vessel. Their work includes planning the construction process, the supply of materials, fitting-out and testing. There are also specialised technical problems to be solved in areas such as cargo handling. Some naval architects advise on the repair and maintenance of fleets.

What skills and personal qualities do you need?

  • a broad understanding of different branches of engineering 

  • skills in computer-aided engineering and information technology 

  • a creative, logical and enquiring mind 

  • good communication skills 

  • the ability to lead and work in teams. 

What about entry, training and qualifications?

Fully-qualified naval architects are often members of the IMarEST and/or The Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) and have a BEng or an MEng honours degree or equivalent in an approved engineering subject. A few universities offer degree courses specifically in naval architecture. RINA and IMarEST accredit a number of degree courses in naval architecture, marine technology, offshore engineering and ship science. After achieving a degree, you follow a period of structured training with an employer, which generally covers design, engineering practice and management services. This is followed by at least two years’ experience doing a responsible job in a chosen field of specialisation. Amongst other organisations in the UK, Lloyd’s Register runs a training programme for graduates of naval architecture, and related subjects, to train as ship surveyors. 

Who employs naval architects?

  • boatbuilders, shipbuilders and repairers 

  • shipping companies 

  • marine design consultants/ yacht designers 

  • government defence departments, such as the Ministry of Defence in the UK 

  • maritime and coastguard agencies 

  • marine equipment manufacturers 

  • classification societies 

  • research organisations, including universities 

  • companies operating in the offshore oil and gas industry. 

What about future prospects?

It’s possible to start off as an engineering technician then become either an Incorporated or Chartered Engineer through extra study and training, and by developing technical and managerial competence. Naval architects have a wide range of employment opportunities worldwide. Depending on their qualifications and personal interests, they may specialise in one field or develop broad experience in several areas. With experience, it is possible for naval architects to gain promotion to senior technical and general management positions in industry, commerce and government. It’s also possible to move into another related area of engineering.