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Careers in Merchant Navy – Marine Engineers

written by: Ricky • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 10/10/2008

Engineers are required on board ships to keep them running smoothly across the seven seas. Read this article to learn about various aspects of marine engineers such as their entry qualifications, rank hierarchy and so forth

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    Basic Qualifications of a Marine Engineer

    You know that every specialized job needs a specific qualification and marine engineering is no different in this regard. Obviously the entry level qualifications vary from country to country and there is often more than one route via which entry can be gained. Most major shipping nations of the world have a government department which takes care of maritime certifications in accordance with the internationally agreed STWC convention guidelines (STWC will be studied in a separate article in detail). Prior to the adoption of STWC standards each nation followed their own set of rules which were quite different from each other which led to problems of all sorts such as accidents, lack of standardization etc.

    Initially either you need a degree or diploma in engineering or need to do specified period of training at recognized institutions which are authorized by the maritime agencies of the respective countries where you are pursuing the course. Some of the agencies are as follows

    • UK – Maritime & Coastguard Agency
    • Australia – Australian Maritime and Safety Academy
    • India – Directorate General of Shipping

    There are several other agencies as well although I won’t be giving a full list here.

    After the initial training and the requisite short certifications of STCW you are ready to join your first ship as an engine cadet, trainee engineer, junior engineer or fifth engineer. Basically the job profile of all these are same and it is just the difference in names in different companies or countries.

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    Rank Hierarchy

    After a stipulated period spend on board ships the engineer then goes on to clear the first certificate of competency which requires attending classes and practicals at an authorized institute. Thereafter this loop of working on board for some period of time and taking exams continues, till one reaches the level of a chief engineer which is the senior most engineering position on board ships. I have deliberately omitted the specific time periods that need to be spend as that depend on various factors so no single answer would suffice but it should give a fairly good idea to the reader about marine certifications. The diagram below shows the rank hierarchy of marine engineers on board ships.

    Rank Hierarchy 

    The job profiles of these ranks are normally divided as below

    1. Chief Engineer – Overall incharge, administration and supervision of all ship machineries
    2. Second Engineer – Operational Head of all machineries and the main engine of the ship
    3. Third Engineer – usually in charge of Boilers, IG Plant, Generators etc
    4. Fourth Engineer – usually in charge of purifiers, pumps etc
    5. Fifth Engineer – assists the above in most operations and learns

    Please keep in mind that this segregation is just a standard practice and not defined very strictly so can be somewhat different in different situations. Apart from this all engineers expect the chief engineer carry out watch-keeping in manned ships on a four-on four-off basis, while in UMS ships it is usually 8-5 working with alternative watch keeping during the UMS period. I will deal with these terms in detail separately

    Hope this gives you quite a clear picture of what goes on inside the engine room but there will be lot more material so keep watching (i.e. reading). Also you can take a look at the part of a typical engine control room in the picture below which shows a panel having all sorts of gauges, switches, indications etc.

    Typical Engine Control Room