Ships are extremely complex and highly valuable commodities. 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.
Certain organisations, such as classification societies, fleet owners and flag states, employ naval architects as ship surveyors. A ship is monitored during its design, construction and throughout its life to ensure that it is safe and seaworthy and meets other statutory rules and regulations. Naval architects, marine engineers and nautical surveyors often work together carrying out tests, surveys and procedures. Naval architects may also work in research. There are also opportunities in rig fabrication and siting for the oil and gas industries. Those operating at Chartered and Incorporated Engineer level in naval architecture usually have the most responsible jobs. They are involved with bringing in new technological innovations and advanced design and production methods and ensuring that existing technology works as efficiently as possible. Engineers usually also have managerial responsibility. Engineering Technicians typically lead small, specialist teams in the detailed, ‘hands-on’ engineering work.
What skills and personal qualities do you need?
A naval architect needs:
- 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?
Incorporated and Chartered Engineers 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.
Graduates whose degrees are not accredited by the IMarEST or RINA may still become members of these bodies, although checks on their academic qualifications may be necessary and additional training or experience may be required. 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. In addition, it offers an undergraduate sponsorship programme. For details, see: http://marinecareers.lr.org The Defence Engineering and Science Group (part of the UK’s Ministry of Defence) offers undergraduate sponsorship and a scheme for graduates. For information, see: www.desg.mod.uk Engineering Technicians Entry requirements for trainee engineering technicians in naval architecture vary, but are usually four GCSEs at grades A*-C, including maths, science (preferably double award, or science and an additional science) and english. Trainees work towards a relevant NVQ or BTEC qualification. With sufficient skills and experience, you can apply for ‘Engineering Technician’ status.
Who employs naval architects?
Employers of naval architects include:
- 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.
Where can I find out more?
- Engineering Council UK – for information on the standards required for Engineering Technician, Incorporated Engineer and Chartered Engineer status
- The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) – tel: +44 (0)20 7382 2600, or see: www.imarest.org/join-us
- The Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) – tel: +44 (0)20 7235 4622. For a description of the work of a naval architect and entry routes, view Careers in Naval Architecture on: