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Ship and Watercraft Maintenance Technology

The complexity of a water vessel's propulsion and engine systems require skilled technicians who can execute accurate and efficient maintenance techniques. Read on for more information about career options, degree requirements and credentials for professionals in this highly specialized field.

Is Ship and Watercraft Maintenance Technology for Me?

Career Overview

The vessels used in the ship and watercraft industry utilize complex electrical and mechanical devices for everything from propulsion to power distribution. Increasingly, these complex vessels integrate evolving technologies into onboard systems, such as navigation controls. Shipbuilding companies and other organizations employ individuals trained in ship and watercraft maintenance technology for the installation, maintenance and repair of various components on boats and other watercraft.

Career Options

The ship and watercraft maintenance technology field offers several career opportunities. You may find work in the commercial shipping industry or merchant marine sector, which includes cruise and cargo ships, or the personal watercraft industry. For example, you might hold a position as a ship or marine engineer, boat mechanic or personal watercraft mechanic. You may also be qualified for a job in small engine technologies.

Job Duties

As a ship engineer, you'll be responsible for a range of duties, including the supervision of a ship's crew. For instance, you might coordinate the activities of personnel who maintain and repair engines, electrical components and other machinery. You'll also monitor and diagnose malfunctions while the ship is underway, reporting them as necessary to the appropriate individual.

Motorboat and personal watercraft mechanics work on consumer equipment, such as water jet skis. In your position as a mechanic, you may monitor equipment for impending malfunctions, repair engine components and perform operative tasks, such as troubleshooting a boat.

Employment and Salary Information

According to O*NET OnLine, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of motorboat mechanics and service technicians was projected to increase by 3%-7%, or slower than average, between 2012 and 2022 (www.onetonline.org). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that overall, water transportation occupations would grow by 13% from 2012-2022, which is about average, with an 8% growth in jobs expected for ship engineers in particular. According to the BLS in May 2013, the median annual salary for ship engineers was $69,660, while motorboat mechanics and service technicians earned $36,090 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Ship and Watercraft Maintenance Technology?

Education Options and Requirements

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regulates many entry-level water transportation jobs, according to the BLS. Relevant fields of study include marine engineering or marine technology. You can also attend one of seven maritime academies located in California, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. Private-industry positions, such as motorboat technician, may require an associate's degree.

Diploma and Associate Degree Programs

In an associate degree program in marine technology, you'll learn about outboard and inboard engines, marina and service operations and mathematics; you'll also study electricity and electronics. Personal watercraft programs emphasize the maintenance and repair of 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines. If you pursue a diploma in power sports technology, you'll take courses in fuel and electrical systems, engine performance and hydraulics. You can apply the skills gained in an associate's degree or diploma program to a career in the off-road maintenance industry.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Bachelor's degree programs in marine engineering, such as those offered at the U.S. maritime academies, provide the foundation for the design, operation and repair of marine power systems. You can expect to take courses in applied mechanics, power electronics and electrical systems. Programs at this level may require that you participate in an 'at sea' term. Many programs also prepare you for USCG licensing.

Required Skills

A feel for customer service and the ability to function as a member of a team are some of the skills you'll need to work in ship and watercraft maintenance. You should also enjoy working with your hands and be able to understand fundamental marine vessel concepts, such as those associated with electrical systems, hydraulics and marine charging systems.

Credentials and Licenses

Depending on your position, you may need a Merchant Mariner's Credential (MMC) from the USCG. To obtain your credential, you must be at least 16 years of age, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and have a valid social security number. Additionally, you must be in good physical condition, possess a valid driver's license and successfully pass a written examination. Some positions, such as ship engineer, require a license from the USCG.