Naval Engineering


Naval engineering is a rewarding career that offers challenge, excitement and satisfaction. It is an opportunity to enjoy your proficiency in mathematics and science in a career both steeped in tradition and at the cutting edge of technology. You can be a recognized professional serving one of America's most honored and historic industries, in a technical field where you can see and take pride in the product of your effort. As a naval engineer, you can design, build, operate or maintain ships as diverse as Navy aircraft carriers and submarines, Coast Guard cutters, or commercial passenger and cargo vessels. A choice to become a naval engineer will lead you to a broad variety of engineering and physical science skills. Naval engineering combines the two interrelated fields of naval architecture and marine engineering, and includes other engineering disciplines such as mechanical, civil, electrical, and ocean engineering, as they relate to the needs of the maritime industry.

Naval architects must have a general understanding of all engineering disciplines because they generally start the process of designing a ship. After they determine its basic size and shape, they address hull form and resistance, propulsion power requirements, ship structure, weight distribution, stability, and the efficient location of the many compartments throughout the ship.

Marine engineers are responsible for designing mechanical systems for propulsion and auxiliary services, and selecting the associated equipment such as steam boilers and turbines, diesel and gas turbine internal combustion engines, gears, propellers, as well as their controls. Many marine engineers have served as officers aboard ship operating the power plant and generating vital services such as electricity and fresh water.

Mechanical engineers design specific items of machinery like cranes, hoists, elevators, and equipment for anchoring, steering, controlling submarine depth, or moving weapons and other supplies within the ship as well as between ships at sea. A knowledge of fluid systems is required for designing fuel, lubrication and water installations, as well as firefighting, compressed air, and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning.

Civil engineers specify the actual structure of the ship including framing, shell, decks, bulkheads and equipment foundations. They ensure that the ship can withstand the weight of cargo loading and the impact of waves. Combat ships must be able to withstand battle damage from weapons such as missiles, torpedoes and underwater mines.

Electrical engineers provide for the generation and distribution of electricity throughout the ship for lighting, power, system controls and various other ship's services. Today's ships also require a multitude of electronic navigation, communication, and combat systems.

Ocean engineers concern themselves with work both on and below the surface of the sea and study ocean movements and their effect on ships and craft both on the surface and submerged. An ocean engineer may design small sub-surface vehicles and devices intended for deep submergence that perform ocean bottom scanning, salvage operations, object recovery and submarine rescue. The work includes structural, propulsion, and hull form design for resisting deep ocean pressure, and selection of materials for this hostile environment.


The first job is a critical choice for a recent college graduate since it often determines the path taken throughout a career. The decision should be made after careful investigation of all opportunities available, and consultation with persons familiar with the industry. Student membership in a professional society such as the American Society of Naval Engineers can be of great value in both seeking employment options and in getting sound advice regarding choices. When a junior naval engineer enters an organization, there will normally be an indoctrination peri-od and assignment to a special field of interest such as propulsion engines. As the engineer grows in experience and demonstrates success in initial tasks, the assignments will become broader and more complex. As the engineer's development continues, so does progress in the organization. Demonstrated ability leads to promotion to senior engineer, and perhaps to branch supervisor or project manager. During this time there will be opportunities to seek one or more postgraduate degrees, perhaps in a different discipline such as business administration. The goals of a naval engineering career may include major program management, or a senior corporate position in commercial or military ship oriented design organizations. A senior position may also be sought in shipbuilding and repair facilities, commercial ship operations, professional societies, research laboratories or teaching. The people who make up the maritime industry reflect its commitment to employee diversity, and women and members of minority groups enjoy unlimited hiring and promotion opportunities.

Registration as a Professional Engineer is not required of a naval engineer; however, it is a respected indication of technical competence. Registration is generally accomplished in the state where you reside, and is specific to a particular discipline such as architecture or mechanical engineering. It requires possession of an ABET accredited degree and a term of employment in the applicable field, and involves two periods of rigorous written testing. The first examination determines overall engineering competency, and successful completion results in recognition as an Engineer-in-Training. After the EIT has worked for a period of time in his or her chosen area of engineering, the second exam is administered. This test covers only the knowledge needed to perform the engineering specialty for which registration is sought.

Special applications of your talent may be directed toward such fields as combat systems, shipbuilding, or research, development, test and evaluation, which all contribute to the collective expertise required in naval engineering. Specialized expertise is generally developed through on-the-job training and experience. The following descriptions of these potential areas of a naval engineering career may help you understand their particular challenges.

Combat systems and technologies related to Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) constitute the most exciting, challenging, and rapidly changing fields in naval engineering. Weapons systems include guns, missiles, torpedoes, and the weapons carried by Navy aircraft. Their design includes place-ment in the ship and integration of equipment such as radar, sonar, periscopes, launchers, and missile control systems (including lasers and satellites). Weapons design, installation, and operation require a variety of disciplines including aeronautical engineering for air frames, chemical engineering for propulsion, electronics engineering for tracking, guiding and controlling, physics for acoustics and electro-optics, and mechanical engineering for loading, rotating and elevating weapons launchers.

Shipbuilding is the process of converting a design into steel. For the shipyard engineer, it involves planning, scheduling and industrial engi-neering for shop and welding procedures, and modern con-struction techniques. Each action in building the ship must be defined in detailed drawings and standard procedures. Every shipyard laborer must have direction as to what he must accomplish each day if the ship is to be delivered on time and at cost. Shipyards also do repair, conversion, and modernization, all of which require these same skills.

Research, development, test and evaluation offer the naval engineer a unique and creative opportunity to perform collaborative work with scientists. The process of developing an engineering concept begins with fundamental theories and ideas, and proceeds through scientific analyses, feasibility studies, collection and analysis of data, design, simulation and modeling, fabrication, model testing, evaluation at sea, and final adoption. RTD&E depends on the physical sciences such as physics, chemistry and metallurgy. This field of naval engineering spans the entire spectrum of engineering and scientific disciplines, and applies to issues such as advanced hull forms, behavior of ships at sea, and development of new materials and technical processes.


High school courses and activities that will prepare you for college work leading to a career in naval engineering should include as much as you can handle in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Mechanical drawing and shop courses will provide hands-on familiarization with practical aspects of the work. English courses prepare you to communicate your ideas to others in written reports and in oral presentations. A foreign language may be useful in a career that could involve traveling to other countries and working with international colleagues. As a complement to academic courses, part time or summer work in a technical environment can familiarize you with many aspects of a career in engineering.

Selecting a college should begin well before the start of your senior year of high school. Catalogues outlining courses of study and entrance requirements should be requested from the colleges you are considering attending. You should refer to these when selecting high school elective courses. Discussions with people practicing the profession and visits to their work sites, as well as your high school guidance counselor, are helpful and important in selecting both college and curriculum. It is important to understand that not all college curricula are accepted by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which is required for registration as a Professional Engineer. Lists of colleges and their curricula, including accreditation information, are available at school and public libraries. While there are many institutions of higher learning that offer courses of study specifically related to naval engineering, most practitioners enter these fields with other specific educational backgrounds.

Federal Academies include the Naval, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Academies, which all offer ABET accredited degrees in naval engineering disciplines. Attendance at these institutions includes time aboard ship for orientation to the environment and duties common to their organizations. Tuition, and other costs are free; however, you do incur a service obligation upon graduation. Excellent college opportunities are also available from the state maritime schools located in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. Students at these institutions may be eligible for substantial federal and state grants, which can offset much of the cost of a technical degree. Specific information regarding requirements should be requested from each of these institutions.

Other colleges and universities which offer appropriate courses of study for the potential naval engineer include:

Engineering with an emphasis in Naval Engineering

Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering

  • University of Michigan
  • University of New Orleans
  • Webb Institute

Naval Architecture and Offshore Engineering

  • University of California, Berkeley

Ocean Engineering

  • Florida Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of Rhode Island
  • Florida Atlantic University

Aerospace and Ocean Engineering

  • Virginia Tech

Many engineering degrees are applicable to one or more elements of the work of naval engineering, and will provide the basis of a successful career. Most employers have programs for assisting engineers in applying their individual academic background to the particular work involved. These programs include job rotation, field assignments, tours aboard ship, and shop liaison.

Sources of financial aid include the federal and state governments, the college itself, and various technical and fraternal societies. ASNE offers scholarship support at either the undergraduate and graduate levels. Indexes of such programs are available at school and public libraries, and the Internet can be a rich source of leads toward scholarship funding. The financial aid office at the colleges you are interested in attending may provide guidance in applying for such help. Cooperative programs and other work-study arrangements, including summer vacation work, can be extremely beneficial. They give you experience in preparing for work after graduation, and provide material for the resume you will write to help land that first job.

The American Society of Naval Engineers and its members hope our web page has been helpful to you, and wish you success in any endeavor which you undertake. If your choice is to be a naval engineer, we look forward to welcoming you to ASNE.

The Purposes of the
American Society of Naval Engineers

For more information about the Society or a career as a naval engineer, please contact:

1452 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3458

Grateful acknowledgment is made for photographs used in this page to the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, Wartsila NSD Corporation and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.