Naval architects are engineers responsible for the design, construction and repair of seafaring vessels, including ships and boats, and offshore structures

As a naval architect you'll work in a team with other engineers from various fields and disciplines, coordinating activities and carrying ultimate responsibility for a project - ensuring its effective, safe and economical completion.

Projects can include the design, construction, repair, conversion or decommissioning of a range of crafts and structures, including:

  • ferries, cruise ships and passenger liners
  • high-speed craft including hovercraft and hydrofoils
  • merchant ships such as tankers and cargo or container ships
  • offshore drilling platforms, floating units and susbsea infrastructure installations
  • pleasure craft, such as yachts and power boats
  • submarines
  • warships
  • working vessels, including fishing boats and rescue boats.

You must have an understanding of the different areas of engineering, as well as a good working knowledge of the technology used within the field, such as computer-aided design (CAD).

Responsibilities

Activities will vary depending on your area of work and type of employer. However, as a naval architect, you'll typically need to:

  • design ships and boats, related components and specialist equipment, using complex mathematical and physical models to ensure the ship's design is technically sound and that it complies with safety regulations
  • plan the whole build process of a vessel, managing everything from concept through to delivery of the final product
  • act as a consultant - providing clients with engineering solutions, technical and commercial guidance, support and project management for concept design studies, new vessel constructions, refits and conversions
  • conduct a risk analysis of ships and marine structures, using the regulations of classification societies and intergovernmental organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), to assess aspects of design such as strength, stability and lifesaving
  • provide on-board safety training for crews (for naval architects with seafaring experience).

Operational areas of work within shipping companies include:

  • taking responsibility for the many phases of ship and equipment procurement
  • solving problems affecting the economics of maritime operations.

If you specialise in construction, you may take responsibility for the management of a whole shipyard or for sections of it, such as planning, production or fitting out.

Naval architects may occasionally teach courses in higher education institutions or undertake maritime research in universities and industry.

Depending on the type of qualifications you hold and your personal interests, you could become a specialist in one field or develop broad experience in several.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for naval architects are in the region of £25,000 to £35,000.
  • With experience, salaries can range from £35,000 to £50,000, rising to £60,000 in some instances for senior naval architect posts.
  • Highly experienced naval architects can earn in excess of £65,000 in posts such as principal naval architect for a large organisation.

Salaries vary depending on your employer, specialist skills, type of work and geographical location.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, with some extra hours. You'll need a flexible approach to working hours as there may be peak times during a project when you'll have a busy workload.

What to expect

  • Design activity is usually undertaken in an office environment and related experimental work may take place in laboratories, shipyards and off-shore locations.
  • Some aspects of your work, such as in-ship inspections, ship trials and commissioning, may involve working in off-shore locations or under demanding physical conditions.
  • Naval architects in the UK work mainly in, or from, seaside towns and cities, at shipbuilding yards or at ship repair facilities at ports around the coast. Some naval architects work on large projects overseas. High-value overseas contracts are available once you've got significant levels of experience, though they tend to be short-term contracts.
  • Self-employment, consultancy, freelance and contract work are possible once you've built up experience. This could be as a small boat or yacht builder or design consultant, particularly in the small or high-speed craft sectors. Income will vary depending on your skills and experience, the nature of the project, and the hours worked.
  • Travel within a working day and overnight absence from home, overseas travel and/or extended periods working overseas is a feature of some jobs.

Qualifications

To become a naval architect, you'll typically need a degree in a relevant engineering subject. The most direct route is to complete a BEng or MEng in naval architecture. Accredited courses in related fields such as marine technology, offshore engineering and ship science may also be accepted.

Degrees that are accredited by The Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) ensure that you acquire the skills and knowledge needed for professional registration later in your career. As well as naval architecture, accredited degrees cover the study of:

  • design
  • engineering
  • management
  • manufacturing systems
  • materials
  • mathematics.

Details of accredited courses are available from the Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

To gain professional registration as a naval architect, you'll need to have membership of RINA and register through the Engineering Council. Various levels are available, including:

  • chartered engineer (CEng)
  • incorporated engineer (IEng)
  • engineering technician (EngTech).

Chartered engineers deal in innovation, creativity and change. For chartered status, you'll need one of the following:

  • an accredited integrated MEng degree
  • an accredited BEng degree, plus either an appropriate accredited Masters degree or Engineering Doctorate (EngD) or appropriate further learning to Masters level.

Incorporated engineers deal with the efficient management of existing technology. For incorporated status, you'll need one of the following:

  • an accredited BEng degree
  • an accredited HNC, HND or foundation degree in engineering or technology, plus appropriate further learning to degree level.

If your degree isn't accredited by RINA, you may need to submit additional evidence to prove your level of knowledge or complete further training to cover any gaps.

Alternative routes are available if you don't have the required academic qualification to achieve registration as CEng, IEng or EngTech. For example, experience can be offered in lieu of formal academic qualification.

For more details, see RINA - Careers in Naval Architecture.

It's helpful to get student membership of RINA to keep up to date with developments in the industry.

In certain cases you can become a naval architect with an accredited engineering degree in, for example, mechanical engineering if you also have the right experience and training.

Competition fluctuates according to the current state of the maritime industry. Submit applications to employers early in your final year. When contacting sponsors or employers, check whether their training schemes have been accredited by RINA, or if they're prepared to support you in reaching the required standards.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • the ability to produce clear and well-presented drawings and plans
  • analytical skills to interpret technical information and drawings
  • effective spoken and written communication skills for dealing with people both within and outside the engineering profession
  • report-writing skills
  • sound judgement and problem-solving skills
  • team-working skills, and the ability to work independently in both office and site environments
  • commercial awareness
  • strong IT skills
  • project management and leadership skills
  • a creative, enquiring and logical mind
  • self-motivation.

Work experience

Some courses offer the option to take a work placement or year in industry. This provides you with the opportunity to get first-hand experience of working in naval architecture, so you can put your learning into practice and develop your professional expertise. You'll also be able to develop a network of contacts in the industry.

Employers

Employers of naval architects include:

  • ship and boat builders and repairers working on vessels of all types and size, from passenger liners to power boats, and oil tankers to fishing boats
  • offshore support companies
  • design consultancies
  • the Royal Navy, Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG) for the design and management of naval vessels and submarines
  • classification societies responsible for evaluating the safety of marine structures and ships - more information is available from the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS)
  • major equipment manufacturers of products such as propulsion systems, auxiliary systems, subsea production systems and control systems
  • governmental and international maritime organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies also advertise vacancies. These include:

For a list of companies and other organisations active in the field, see:

Professional development

Once in employment, some companies will provide a training programme accredited by the RINA. However, you'll usually have to develop your own individual programme that's approved by RINA. During your training you'll have a mentor - a senior engineer who'll provide advice and help.

All training courses need to cover the three key areas of:

  • design
  • engineering practice
  • management services.

After this initial training period, you'll need to spend a minimum of two years developing your skills and knowledge in these areas to be able to progress to corporate membership of the RINA and to apply for chartered or incorporated engineer status. You'll also have to undertake a professional review to prove that you've achieved the required professional competence. For more information, see RINA - Professional Development.

You'll need to keep up to date with new developments and technologies in the industry throughout your career through continuing professional development (CPD). Relevant courses and conferences are offered by organisations such as RINA, in areas including:

  • business
  • communication
  • management systems
  • new technologies.

You can also keep up to date by reading technical journals and papers published by professional institutions.

Career prospects

After you've gained experience in the workplace and achieved chartered status, you can begin to think about the direction you'd like your career to take.

Senior naval architects tend to develop specific technical skills or strong project-management experience, which can be used to further increase management responsibility, allowing you to eventually move into senior executive positions.

You may decide to develop a career in consultancy, working with clients to provide guidance on designs and constructions, or suggesting engineering solutions and project-management support.

With experience it's possible to work for classification societies in regulation and surveying. This involves making sure that any plans of vessels to be built, and the actual construction of the ships themselves, meet rules and regulations as set out by organisations such as the IMO.

Career development opportunities may also lie within other areas of the maritime field such as equipment procurement, sales or marketing. Many of the skills gained in this industry are transferable and valued elsewhere so many options are available.

With further qualifications you could consider becoming a university lecturer, teaching aspects of naval architecture or you could move into research and development.