Engineering officers in the Merchant Navy are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the ship's propulsion systems, power generation and distribution, fuel supplies, water and sewerage systems, ventilation and refrigeration, computer-controlled management equipment, navigation and communications systems. They are also responsible for ensuring the ship's hull and deck fittings (cranes, hoists and landing equipment) are in sound condition.
Engineering officers work on passenger ferries, cruise liners, dry bulk carriers and container vessels, tankers, salvage ships, and marine mining and research vessels. They work at sea and in port.
The engineering role is divided into four levels:
Chief engineer – has overall responsibility for planning engineering tasks and detailing staff.
Second engineering officer – is responsible for the day-to-day supervision of engineering staff and engine crew. Main duties include the upkeep of the engines.
Third engineering officer – assists the second officer and also supervises the maintenance of electrical plant.
Fourth engineering officer - works in all aspects of machinery maintenance.
Engineers are also responsible for the maintenance of electrical and electronic equipment on board the ship, such as communications and navigation systems. This role falls to an electrical specialist – the electro-technical officer – or forms part of the main duties of the third officer.
Generic duties include carrying out scheduled maintenance checks on machinery and systems; responding to equipment failure alerts; diagnosing and repairing faulty equipment; ensuring fuel levels and stocks of spare parts are adequately maintained; updating record management systems; and providing training and support for trainee cadets.
In the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (civilian-crewed ships that support the Royal Navy), engineering officers are also responsible for weapons maintenance.
Engineering officers work shifts, known as ‘watches’, which may vary according to the size of the ship. On a large vessel they may work four hours on duty followed by eight hours off duty. Working patterns vary between a few weeks and several months, depending on the type of ship and its purpose. Periods of leave in between voyages also vary.
Most of the time will be spent in the engine control room and the engine room, which can be noisy and hot. Sometimes engineering officers have to work in uncomfortable conditions, such as confined spaces or refrigerated areas. Officers in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary may have to work in conflict zones.
To be a Merchant Navy engineering officer you should:
Opportunities in the Merchant Navy are good as forecasts for seaborne trade expect it to double over the next 10 years, with UK companies well placed to take advantage. Opportunities also exist with overseas companies.
Consideration for promotion is based on length of service and on merit, together with possession of the relevant MCA Competency Certificate. Experienced engineering officers are in demand for both on-shore and off-shore positions, with production and process plants, shipping companies and nautical colleges.
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