Naval architecture is a niche civil or military engineering role where employment opportunities fluctuate according to the state of the country's maritime industry
As professional engineers, naval architects are responsible for the design, construction and repair of ships, boats and other seafaring vessels and offshore structures including:
- high-speed craft
- merchant ships - tankers, cargo ships, passenger liners, etc.
- offshore drilling platforms
- pleasure craft - yachts, power boats, etc.
- working vessels - fishing boats, rescue boats, etc.
As a naval architect, you'll work in a team with other engineers from various fields and disciplines. You'll coordinate the team activities and carry ultimate responsibility for the project, ensuring that it is completed effectively, safely and economically.
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).
As a naval architect, you'll 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
- undertake maritime research in universities and industry
- 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 onboard 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.
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.
- Starting salaries for naval architects are in the region of £30,000 to £35,000.
- With experience, salaries range from £35,000 to £50,000.
- 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 the employer, specialist skills, type of work and geographical location.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
What to expect
- Self-employment, consultancy, freelance work and contract work are possible usually once you have built up experience, e.g. 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.
- 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.
- This is still largely a male-dominated profession, but organisations are working towards redressing the balance, see WISE.
- Some naval architects work on large projects overseas and outside Europe. High-value overseas contracts are available once you have significant levels of experience, though they tend to be short-term contracts.
- Travel within a working day and overnight absence from home, overseas travel and/or extended periods working overseas may be a feature of some jobs.
To become a naval architect working with professional status, you will need a degree in a related subject. The most direct route is to complete a BEng or MEng in naval architecture. However, courses in related fields such as engineering or marine science may also be accepted.
Degrees that are accredited by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) are available and these ensure that you acquire the skills and knowledge needed for professional status. As well as naval architecture, accredited degrees cover the study of:
- manufacturing systems
Details of accredited courses are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.
To gain professional status as a naval architect, you will need to have membership with 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 will need one of the following:
- an accredited or approved Masters (MEng) degree
- an accredited Bachelors (BEng) degree in engineering or technology, plus either an appropriate Masters degree accredited or approved by a professional engineering institution (such as RINA), or appropriate further learning to Masters level.
Incorporated engineers deal with the efficient management of existing technology. For incorporated status, you will need one of the following:
- an accredited or approved BEng degree in engineering or technology
- an HNC, HND or foundation degree in engineering or technology, plus appropriate further learning to degree level.
If your degree is not 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 for candidates who do not have the required academic qualification to achieve registration as CEng or IEng, for example those without a degree can achieve EngTech status. For more details, see Careers in Naval Architecture (RINA).
It is helpful to get student membership with RINA to help keep up to date with developments in the industry.
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 are prepared to support you in reaching the required standards.
You will need to show:
- the ability to analyse and interpret technical information and drawings
- a creative, enquiring and logical mind
- good spoken and written communication skills for dealing with people both within and outside the engineering profession
- sound judgement
- team working skills
- commercial awareness
- strong IT skills
- leadership qualities.
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 at RINA Jobs for recent vacancies. RINA publications, including The Naval Architect, also list vacancies.
Vacancies are often advertised through recruitment agencies, particularly those specialising in maritime industries, such as:
For a list of companies and other organisations active in the field, go to:
Once in employment, you will be given further training to work towards chartered or incorporated status. Some companies offer training programmes that are accredited by the RINA. If they do not have an accredited scheme, they can make sure their training programme has been approved by RINA instead.
RINA states that training courses should cover design, engineering practice and management services. You will need to have at least two years' training in these areas to be able to progress to full membership and chartered/incorporated status. You will also have to undertake a Professional Review interview.
You'll have to adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances and take advantage of new career opportunities as they arise. Continuing professional development (CPD) is therefore essential and can be achieved through courses and conferences organised by RINA and other engineering professional institutions or organisations in areas such as:
- management systems
- new technologies.
You can also keep up to date by reading technical journals and papers published by professional institutions.
After you have gained experience in the workplace and achieved chartered status through the RINA, you can begin to think about the direction you would 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 is 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 college or university lecturer, teaching aspects of naval architecture or you could move into research and development.