If you have a penchant for science and technology and relish the prospect of working on ships, other ocean vessels, and structures on and near the ocean, you might want to consider majoring in marine engineering. Marine engineering deals with the powering and mechanical operation of ships, the design of machinery for ships, and maintenance of ship systems, particularly power supply and propulsion systems. Depending on how the degree program is set up, the knowledge base built in a marine engineering major may dovetail with naval architecture and ocean engineering, but marine engineering remains distinct in and of itself.
In a marine engineering major, students learn how to design and manufacture vehicles and structures that operate in an ocean environment. The also learn how to think analytically, applying principles of science, mathematics, and engineering in order to solve problems with ships and ship systems. They learn how to apply the foundational principles of engineering — including fluid mechanics, dynamics, structural mechanics, and propulsion systems— to ocean vessels and structures. Students also become familiar with the instruments and software needed in marine engineering.
Classes and Assignments of a Marine Engineering Major
In general, students start out taking a variety of math- and science-heavy courses, including chemistry, physics, and calculus. General engineering courses include solid mechanics, dynamics, and thermodynamics. From here, students move on to courses specific to marine engineering, such as marine design, marine systems manufacturing, marine hydrodynamics, and marine electrical engineering.
Students who major in marine engineering should expect rigorous course work and assignments that emphasize advanced principles of mathematics and engineering. Expect to analyze case studies, perform complex computer exercises and modeling, complete group work, and do hands-on work in labs. While this major is offered through online degrees, you may still be required to be present on a campus for required lab work. Graduate students in marine engineering may also need to produce a thesis or design project.
Degree Levels for a Marine Engineering Major
- Associate. An associate degree in marine engineering, or marine engineering technology, is designed to equip students with essential knowledge of the structure and functions of marine vessels. This includes marine vessel manufacturing, propulsion, power distribution, and general navigation. Students who complete an associate program cannot work as engineers, but may be qualified to work as engineering technicians in the marine manufacturing sector or in the professional mariner industry in a variety of other roles in vessel operations and marine servicing.
- Bachelor's. A bachelor's degree in marine engineering teaches students about the design and manufacture of marine vehicles, thermal power systems, applied mechanics, and electrical machinery. Students may choose to complete a bachelor's program as a stepping stone into a master's program in marine engineering, since a graduate degree is needed for many jobs in the field.
- Master's. A master's degree in marine engineering is necessary for becoming a full-fledged marine engineer. Such programs may provide either a thesis option or a course work option, and students learn management of a ship lifecycle, systems engineering, advanced offshore engineering, ship hydrodynamics, and related information. Self paced online masters degree programs in marine engineering make it more manageable for working students to earn an advanced degree.
- Doctoral. A doctoral degree in marine engineering is one of the most useful college degrees for students who aspire to teach marine engineering at the college level or move on to research and/or consulting careers in the field. Students generally take a qualifying examination, complete rigorous course work, take a comprehensive exam after completing their course work, and then complete and defend a dissertation. Students may pursue a Ph.D. for the opportunity to add to the body of knowledge available in marine engineering through their own research.
A Future as a Marine Engineering Major
Those with advanced degrees in marine engineering who have the necessary certifications may become marine engineers and naval architects. These engineering professionals may work in ship design and building, offshore structure design and building, yacht design and building, the operation and servicing of marine systems, or pursue more niche careers in the shipping/transportation or fishing industries. Some may go on to provide engineering support to ocean scientists.
The median yearly salary for marine engineers and naval architects was $74,140, as of May 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those with undergraduate degrees in marine engineering and related areas may qualify for jobs as engineering technicians, whose salaries vary greatly depending on job title and specialty, the BLS notes. Those with undergraduate training and appropriate licensure and certifications may also qualify for various water transportation careers, which include captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels, who earned $61,960 on average, and ship engineers, who earned $60,690 as of May 2008, the BLS notes. Salaries in marine professions vary greatly based on experience, location, and responsibilities.