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Engineering

Naval Architect

Job Description

Do you want to be the next Noah, and build your very own Ark? Do you want to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic? Or do you want to be like Argus and build a ship for a chap called Jason who wants to obtain a golden fleece?

If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, or you just really like boats, then it’s about time you found out what naval architects do for a living.

Naval architecture is all about designing, building and maintaining boats and other maritime vessels. Naval architects are the expert engineers that oversee the design, development and production of large ships for cargo and passenger transport, ferries, cruise ships and naval craft for military use, such as frigates, warships and submarines.

These guys also get involved with the construction of boats used for fishing, rescue operations, marine studies and leisure activities, such as yachts, speedboats and catamarans.

Some design and development work also involves permanent offshore structures, such as drilling platforms or anchored vessels used in marine biology and other research activities.

Naval architects are employed by all kinds of organisations – from shipbuilders, the Royal Navy and transport and logistics companies, to emergency rescue operators, such as the coast guard, and manufacturers of specialist offshore and underwater equipment.

If you enter this profession, you’ll be designing vessels using your technical expertise, mathematical knowledge and advanced computer modelling tools. Naval architects tend to oversee a team of other engineers and technicians, managing the design, development and production of the boat throughout the entire project lifecycle.

Naval architects may even have the additional responsibilities of budget control and procuring the right equipment and materials for the construction process. Once the vessel is finished, naval architects may also be conducting safety tests, quality control procedures and risk assessments.

Some naval architects may focus their efforts on providing consultancy to other clients, rather than carrying out hands-on design work or implementing and managing projects directly. 

Salary & benefits

Graduates with a degree in naval architecture can start off by earning around £25,000 to £30,000 per annum, but graduate trainees from other disciplines can still earn around £20,000 to £28,000.

Annual salaries for professionals with five to ten years’ experience are around £38,000 to £80,000, while senior personnel with bags of experience can earn up to £120,000 a year. 

Working hours

Your working hours will vary depending on the kind of work you are carrying out. For instance, if you’re working on preliminary design work, you may simply be required to work a standard nine-to-five day. However, long hours are usually necessary for meeting construction deadlines.

A large part of your work will actually be office-based, though offices are usually located in shipyards and coastal facilities. You’ll also be required to work onsite from time to time.

Travel is frequent for naval architects engaged in specialist boatbuilding, inspection and maintenance activities. Freelance consulting is a common option for naval architects with an established reputation, tons of experience and recognised professional credentials.

Entry

An undergraduate degree in naval architecture, accredited by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA), or a degree in any other marine science or engineering subject, which is supplemented by a relevant postgraduate qualification in naval architecture, is the preferred academic requirement for candidates looking to break into this competitive line of work.

Entry into this profession without a degree is not usually possible.

Training & progression

Graduate training programmes are conducted over a period of three to five years, culminating with the attainment of ‘chartered’ status, which requires a combination of theoretical, practical and management training in engineering design and practice.

Personnel with accredited postgraduate qualifications may receive exemption from the initial training requirements for becoming a chartered engineer, cutting down the training period to just three years.

Upon completion of professional qualifications and meeting the membership criteria of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, naval architects can opt to specialise in a particular area of naval architecture or develop overall project management experience and move into managerial roles, consulting or academic research and teaching positions.