What is a Marine Engineer? Job description, Qualifications, Salary & more


We don’t hear a lot about marine engineering because we don’t come across marine engineers very often.

In this article, we shall give you a complete rundown of this profession. We will talk about the different aspects such as job description, qualifications, salary and more. But let’s start from the beginning.


What is marine engineering?

Marine engineering is the branch of engineering that studies the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of sea-going crafts, docks, and other related infrastructure and machinery.

This includes everything from massive ships to offshore structures. It also includes establishing regulations for safe and secure operations at sea.


What is a marine engineer?

A marine engineer is a student of marine engineering. There are various disciplines under marine engineering that a marine engineer can work in. Opportunities are present both at sea as well as on land for marine engineers.


What does a marine engineer do?

A marine engineer designs, operates, and maintains marine equipment and related infrastructure to ensure smooth and efficient operations of activities at ports and on ships. He may also work in government organizations that oversee and regulate the marine industry.

As a marine engineer you may work in the following four sectors:

  1. Engineering officers on ships
  2. Shipbuilding and ship repair
  3. Government and military
  4. Other industries

1. Engineering officers on ships

The largest employers of marine engineers are merchant ships. These are ships that transport raw materials and finished products over the sea. Every ship has a host of marine equipment that needs to be maintained and repaired on a regular basis for efficient operation.

Marine engineers join merchant ships from the engine side. They usually work on these vessels on a contract basis, attending to onboard machinery such as the main engine, diesel generators, separators, steam boilers, etc. They also ensure the proper functioning of supporting equipment such as pipelines, valves, filters, etc.

Ideally, there are five ranks on merchant ships for marine engineers. These are Chief Engineer, 2nd engineer, 3rd engineer, 4th engineer, and Trainee marine engineer.

Apart from common duties, each engineer is also assigned specific machinery for regular maintenance. Let’s look a little further into the duties of different ranks on a merchant vessel.

Chief Engineer (Also known as 1st engineer)

He is the overall technical in charge of the vessel. He may maintain watches and carry out maneuvering and bunker operations. Chief Engineers are also heavily involved in all technical jobs that are planned for the vessels.

A Chief Engineer is the overall incharge for the operation of all MARPOL equipment such as the oily water separator, incinerator, and sewage treatment plant.

Apart from this, a Chief Engineer also coordinates with the shore staff to maintain and operate the vessel as per the owner’s and the management company’s policies. Operating the vessel according to national and international regulations is of utmost importance as a Chief Engineer.

2nd Engineer (also known as 1st assistant engineer)

A 2nd Engineer assumes the responsibility of maintaining the engine room machinery, deck machinery, and related areas such as the engine room platforms, steering gear room, CO2 room, AHU room, engine casing, funnel, pump room and so on. He reports directly to the Chief Engineer.

The 2nd Engineer carries out planned as well as breakdown maintenance of various equipment onboard such as the main engine, incinerator, sewage treatment plant, refrigeration system, and freshwater generator.

He is also responsible for resource management and handles daily and weekly engine room routines, spares and stores inventory, various work permits, toolbox meetings, housekeeping etc.

3rd Engineer (Also known as 2d assistant engineer)

The 3rd Engineer reports to the Chief and 2nd Engineer and assists them in the maintenance of the engine room and its various machinery.

He is also assigned machinery such as the auxiliary boiler, diesel generators, lifeboat engine, and emergency generator for maintenance. He carries out any PMS job that deals with the abovementioned machinery.

The 3rd Engineer also carries out the various routine tests for lub oil, LT, HT and boiler water. He also adjusts the dosing for them based on the test results.

4th Engineer (Also known as 3rd Assistant Engineer)

The 4th Engineer also reports to the 2nd Engineer and performs many common as well as specific duties on ships.

He performs and supervises the maintenance of equipment such as pumps, compressors, and purifiers. He also acts as the assistant to Chief Engineer during critical operations such as bunkering (HFO, DO and Lub oil), sludge and bilge discharge.

A 4th Engineer also carries out soundings of all fuel and lube oil tanks on a regular basis and maintains records for the same. He also assists the Chief and the 2nd Engineer in preventive as well as breakdown maintenance as necessary.

Trainee marine engineer (Also known as 5th engineer or junior engineer)

A trainee marine engineer works on merchant vessels as part of his learning process. He does not yet hold a valid Certificate of Competency (COC) and as such is not assigned any critical jobs.

The job responsibilities of a Trainee Marine Engineer onboard include taking daily soundings of bilge and sludge tanks and assisting senior engineers with watchkeeping and maintenance of the marine equipment.

He also assists the Chief Engineer and the 2nd Engineer with paperwork duties and operational activities such as bunkering, maneuvring, incineration, engine performance, and so on. He may also be assigned housekeeping duties.

Apart from the abovementioned ranks, a marine engineer may go a step further from Chief Engineer and work ashore as a technical superintendent in ship owner and ship management companies.

2. Shipbuilding and ship repair

A marine engineer may also work in shipbuilding and repair yards in many different departments. Marine engineers and naval architects work together in the design, construction, sales, service, compliance, manufacturing, QA, testing, maintenance, and safety departments when building new vessels.

The pay range depends on various factors such as seniority, department, location, and organization.

3. Government and Military

A marine engineer may also find opportunities in government regulatory authorities. These organizations implement shipping policies and legislation to ensure compliance with international conventions such as SOLAS and MARPOL.

They also encourage maritime education, training, employment and other important aspects of the shipping industry.

Military watercrafts by marine engineers

A marine engineer may also apply marine engineering principles for a country’s armed forces and build military watercrafts such as aircraft carriers and submarines. The job description is similar to working in a shipyard in this case.

4. Other industries

Other industries such as hotels, commercial complexes, manufacturing, education, oil rigs, and port management also employ marine engineering professionals.

In hotels, for instance, they may be responsible for all the preventive, routine, and emergency maintenance of equipment such as generators, boiler plants, chilled water plants, air handling units, pumps, motors, refrigeration, electrical and safety systems.

It is also very common to see retired marine engineering professionals working as instructors in maritime training institutes.


Marine Engineer Qualifications

As an engineer on ships, you work in the engine department. There are two types of engineers on board: Marine engineers and Electrical engineers.

To become a marine engineer, the easiest way is to go for a degree in marine engineering. Another way is to have a mechanical engineering degree and do a 1-year bridge course that introduces you to marine engineering. In India, this bridge course is known as graduate marine engineering (GME).

Once onboard, the marine engineer must gain relevant sailing experience and pass Class IV, Class II, and Class I exams to get promoted to Chief Engineer on board.

To be an electrical engineer on board ships, you must have a degree in electrical engineering/marine engineering and then do a 4-month bridge course of Electro Technical Officer (ETO) to be eligible for sailing.


Marine Engineer Salary

Marine engineer salary

The salary for marine engineers working at sea is significantly more than those working ashore. This is because of the considerable amount of risk that they are exposed to as well as the importance and rarity of skills they hold.

Marine engineer salaries have remained somewhat constant in the last decade but market fluctuations and the demand-supply gap can affect them.

The salary for marine engineers depends on the following factors:

  • Vessel Size (Big ships = higher salaries)
  • Vessel Type (LNG, Oil and Chemical carriers give better salaries than dry cargo fleets such as bulk carriers, container vessels, etc.)
  • Ownership Company (Different companies have different salary bands for marine engineers. 3rd party ship management companies may provide relatively lower salaries compared to ownership companies)
  • Vessel Route (Marine engineers get bonuses when sailing through high-risk areas such as war and piracy zones)
  • Nationality (A seafarer’s home country can sometimes dictate their salaries)
  • Experience (Higher experience leads to higher salaries)


Due to the above factors, we cannot provide exact salaries for different ranks on a ship. We can, however, provide you with a range between which salaries for all ranks will lie. They are as follows:

  1. Trainee Marine Engineer salary (5th Engineer or Junior Engineer): USD 300 – 800 per month
  2. Fourth Engineer salary (3rd Assistant Engineer): USD 2000-4400 per month
  3. Third Engineer salary (2nd Assistant Engineer): USD 2500-5000 per month
  4. Second Engineer salary (1st Assistant Engineer): USD 5000-12000 per month
  5. Chief Engineer salary (1st Engineer): USD 8000-16000 per month


It is worth mentioning here that many countries allow seafarers that spend more than 182 days in a year working on ships to not have any income tax liability. This means you pay zero dollars in income taxes in your home country if you spend more than half a financial year working on a ship.


Frequently Asked Questions in Marine Engineering

Is marine engineering a good career?

Marine engineering can be an excellent career if you like challenging work. A lot of time is spent troubleshooting problems and solving them. You will have to open up machinery, fix them and box them up almost every day. You also travel a lot and earn a lot more than your peers with hardly any expenses onboard. As a result, marine engineers can achieve financial stability pretty early in their careers.

Is marine engineering a difficult career?

Being a marine engineer is not an easy job. You must have superior practical skills besides technical knowledge and must be able to work under difficult circumstances day in and out away from home for months at a time. The engine room temperatures can reach a better part of 50 degrees even when the outside weather is very pleasant. You must also be able to form friendships and work as part of a team to achieve personal and collective goals laid down for your rank.

Do marine engineers spend six months onboard and six months at home?

It is a rumor that marine engineers must spend 6 months onboard and 6 months at home. Nowadays, many companies offer shorter contracts (even three months in some cases). It is true that you must spend 182 days on board to save taxes but these days can be accumulated over several contracts instead of doing it in one shot.

Even if you were to spend more than 6 months onboard, communication with families is much easier than it used to be. Many ships now offer free high-speed internet to their crew which helps them stay in touch with home.

Do marine engineers use math?

When working on vessels, basic mathematical skills (sum, difference, product and division) are enough to handle most tasks. However, if you are working in shipbuilding, you may have to work on advanced mathematical models for the design and mechanical analysis of structures.


We hope that we were able to answer some of your questions related to marine engineering with this article. If there is anything else you would like to know, feel free to reach out to us at our company media handle on LinkedIN or shoot us an email at [email protected].

If you would like to work with us as a marine engineer, you may forward your resume to [email protected].