Shipbuilding is the business of building large ocean-going vessels usually of steel. Boatbuilding is the term used for the construction of smaller vessels from materials such as wood, steel, aluminium, glass fibre or new composite materials. There are opportunities in ship and boatbuilding at every level. 

The worldwide shipbuilding industry has changed in recent years – dominance has moved from the West to the Far East – particularly South Korea and China. In the UK, there are currently a small number of shipyards engaged in building large ships. These may build specialist vessels such as chemical carriers, or, often, ships for the Royal Navy. There are also a number of smaller shipyards building smaller vessels such as tugs, ferries, fishing and survey/research vessels. 

Boatbuilders construct boats typically up to about 50 metres in length – both boats for leisure (from luxury power boats to sailing dinghies) and small commercial craft. There are also manufacturers of marine equipment such as sails, engines, electronics and boat fittings. Most modern boats are made in a factory environment, but there are also some boatbuilders that build traditional wooden craft.  

What opportunities are there?

There are many specialised craft jobs. Skills include welding, steel-cutting and bending, assembling sections, pipework, installing engines, plumbing, carpentry, boat-fitting, painting, rigging and sail making. 

Technicians are employed on such work as drafting, estimating, testing, quality control, building/manufacture, surveying and production control. Skilled technicians are also needed to install the sophisticated electrical and electronic systems in boats and ships – such as navigation systems and communications equipment. 

Professional engineers design vessels and may oversee their manufacture and production. Designers often specialise in a particular aspect of the design. Specialist interior designers are also needed. Apart from the technical careers involved in designing and manufacturing, there are jobs within the industry in general management, project management, training, sales and marketing, purchasing and supply, accounts, and in administrative work. 

What skills and personal qualities do you need?

  • good practical skills 

  • problem-solving skills 

  • the ability to work accurately 

  • the ability to meet deadlines 

  • good teamworking skills. 

What about entry, training and qualifications?

Training is usually in the workplace, combined with a part-time college course or attendance at a company training centre, perhaps gaining qualifications. Apprenticeships are available with some shipbuilders and boatbuilders. For some crafts, such as welding, plumbing and carpentry, it is possible to move into marine work after completing your initial training in a non-marine environment. 

Craftsmen and women may move up to technician level by gaining additional qualification or through an advanced apprenticeship. With experience and competence, appropriately qualified people can apply for ‘Engineering Technican’ status. 

Degree and foundation degree courses in marine technology/engineering are offered at a number of universities. Some are sandwich courses, offering work experience as part of the course. Degree qualifications, plus further training and work experience, can lead eventually to ‘Chartered Engineer’ or ‘Incorporated Engineer’ status. Degrees that cover yacht and small boat design are offered by a small number of institutions. 

Who employs shipbuilders and boatbuilders?

  • Shipyards 

  • Boatyards  

  • Specialist companies making engines, sails, fittings, electronics and other specialist marine components. 

What about future prospects?

Promotion prospects depend on the nature and size of the employer. With the right experience and skills, in boatbuilding, there are some opportunities to be self-employed or to start up your own business.