Marine engineering is the discipline of engineering concerned with designing the technological systems of ships. Steering systems, electrical systems, propulsion systems and refrigeration systems onboard boats of all sizes all fall under the domain of a marine engineer’s work, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you want to become a marine engineer, you will need a bachelor’s degree, possibly from a maritime academy.

What Degree Does a Marine Engineer Need

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A Maritime Academy Education

What exactly does it mean to study at a maritime academy? Generally, studying at a maritime academy means simply that you are studying at an institution of higher education that focuses on teaching practical, technical skills for industries that have to do with the ocean. Often, students of a maritime academy will spend time – at least one term or one year of their studies – at sea.

A maritime academy can be governmental or private. The cost to earn a four-year degree from a maritime academy can range from zero dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

Does studying at a maritime academy require you to join the military? That depends on where you get your education. Graduates of the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, which is the only marine academy run by the federal government, have a service obligation. For six years, they must maintain their license as an officer in the merchant marine of the United States. For five years, graduates must serve in an approved maritime occupation, such as merchant marine officer or commissioned officer on active duty in one of the armed forces. The student must also apply to be appointed a commissioned officer in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve or U.S. Navy Reserve for a minimum of eight years. However, students who are accepted as midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy pay nothing for their tuition, room, board, textbooks or uniforms. The federal government pays these costs, and the service obligation that students sign a contract to complete is the government’s return on this investment.

At other institutions, no such service requirement exists. For example, students of the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College, a maritime academy run by a state government, are called cadets. They are not part of the military, although many cadets choose to pursue their U.S. Coast Guard license. What you can expect is to be part of a regiment of uniformed cadets who are learning a disciplined lifestyle along with the knowledge they need to become a maritime engineer. It’s important to consider what your goals for life after college are and what you are willing to invest – financially and otherwise – in your education, and to explore what studying marine engineering at different maritime academies will been for you.

Degree-granting state maritime academies exist in California, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Washington. A handful of private maritime colleges also offer courses approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Marine Engineering Curriculum

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the organization that sets the criteria for a marine engineering program to become accredited, determining at least the basic  course requirements you will need to complete in order to graduate. An ABET-accredited curriculum includes studies of structural mechanics, fluid mechanics, materials properties, dynamics, hydrostatics, energy and propulsion systems, instrumentation and probability and statistics.

Students often start of their education with a course or sequence of courses in introduction to marine engineering. Basic science courses in physics and chemistry as well as math classes such as calculus, differential equations provide the foundation of science and math knowledge engineers need. Studies in nautical science, naval science and the history of sea power are all valuable subjects of study.

Aspiring marine engineers spend much of their time learning about general components of engineering systems, like electric circuits, electronics, gas turbines and internal combustion systems. They also study systems specific to marine settings, including marine refrigeration, shipboard systems, deck operations and marine steam plants and components. Because life at sea can be dangerous, basic swimming, medical care provider, first aid, self-defense tactics, safety of life at sea, basic firefighting and aquatic survival are also important parts of some marine engineering programs.

Aspiring marine engineers may also take courses such as maritime leadership and management, maritime business, naval leadership and ethics and principles of leadership.

Additional Resources

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