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Marine engineering broadly refers to the engineering of boats, ships, oil rigs and any other marine vessel or structure. Specifically, marine engineering is the discipline of applying engineering sciences, mostly mechanical and electrical engineering, to the development, design, operation and maintenance of watercraft propulsion and on-board systems; e.g. power and propulsion plants, machinery, piping, automation and control systems etc. for marine vehicles of any kind like surface ships, submarines etc. Marine engineers and naval architects are similar professions. However, whereas naval architects are concerned with the overall design of the ship and its propulsion through the water, marine engineers are focused towards the main propulsion plant, the powering and mechanization aspects of the ship functions such as steering, anchoring, cargo handling, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical power generation and distribution, interior and exterior communication, and other related requirements. In some cases, the responsibilities of each industry collide and is not specific to either field. Propellers are examples of one of these types of responsibilities. For naval architects a propeller is a hydrodynamic device. For marine engineers a propeller acts similarly to a pump. Hull vibration, excited by the propeller, is another such area. Noise reduction and shock hardening must be the joint responsibility of both the naval architect and the marine engineer. In fact, most issues caused by machinery are responsibilities in general.
Not all marine engineering is concerned with moving vessels. Offshore construction, also called offshore engineering, ocean engineering or maritime engineering, is concerned with the technical design of fixed and floating marine structures, such as oil platforms and offshore wind farms.
History of Marine Engineering
The history of Marine Engineering dates back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (early 1700s). In 1712 Thomas Newcomen, a blacksmith, created a steam powered engine to pump water out of mines. In 1807 Robert Fulton successfully used a steam engine to propel a vessel through the water. Fulton's ship used the engine to power a small wooden paddle wheel as its propulsion system. The integration of steam engines into ships was the start of the Marine Engineering profession.
Before the integration of engines in ships, the maritime professions consisted of deck department jobs. This was because there was no engine for engineers to work on. The type of propulsion used before the engine powered paddlewheel was wind power.
Paddle wheel ships were the front runner of the industry for the next 30 years till the next type of propulsion came around. Only twelve years after Fulton’s Clermont had her first voyage, the Savannah marked the first sea voyage from America to Europe. Around 50 years later the steam powered paddle wheels had a peak with the creation of the Great Eastern, which was as big as one of the cargo ships of today, 700 feet in length, weighing 22,000 tons. The Great Eastern was said to be ahead of it’s time and was destined for failure. Since the 1800's there have been many improvements to the design of engines and propellers. The maritime industry still holds 90% of all international trade.
Marine Engineers work on more than just engines in ships. Marine engineers are also responsible for building and maintaining offshore oil rigs. These oil rigs were first made by Henry L. Williams in 1896.
In 2012, the average annual earnings for Marine Engineers in the U.S. was $96,140 with an average hourly earnings of $46.22.
Maritime universities are dedicated to teaching and training students in maritime professions. Marine Engineers generally have a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, marine engineering technology, or marine systems engineering. Practical training is valued by employers alongside the bachelor’s degree.
There are many different types of unions in the maritime industry. Some unions are specifically for marine engineers, where some are for the maritime industry as a whole.
- Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (M.E.B.A) is the longest lasting maritime trade union to date. MEBA was founded in 1875. Its main represented group are licensed maritime officers in both the deck and engine department.
- SNAME The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) is a worldwide society that is focused on the advancement of the maritime industry. SNAME was founded in 1893.
- Kane, J.R. (1971). Marine Engineering. New York: SNAME (page 1)
- Kane, J.R. (1971). Marine Engineering. New York: SNAME(page 2-3)
- Bruce A. Wells, (2003) Offshore Petroleum History, American Oil and Gas Historical Society. Retrieved 4/10/14 http://aoghs.org/offshore-exploration/offshore-oil-history/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (January 8, 2014) Marine Engineers and Naval Architects, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved April 2, 2014 http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/marine-engineers-and-naval-architects.htm
- Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, (2006) M.E.B.A History, Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association. Retrieved April 2, 2014 http://mebaunion.org/MEBA/m-e-b-a-history/
- Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers(2013) About SNAME, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. Retrieved April 2, 2014 http://www.sname.org/Membership1/AboutSNAME
- American Maritime Officers, (December 24, 2013) About AMO, American Maritime Officers. Retrieved April 2, 2014 http://www.amo-union.org/Default~Page~AboutAMO.html