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What does a Ship Engineer do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A ship engineer makes sure everything on the ship is in working order, from the rudder to the deck railing. The ship captain may steer the vessel, but the ship engineer oversees all ship maintenance, including mechanical, physical and safety operations. Without him, the boat’s systems may not be properly maintained or seaworthy.

Like most modes of transportation, a ship is a complex vehicle that requires all its systems to be operational for the unit as a whole to work. The engineer is responsible for the operation and maintenance of major components, such as engines and boilers as well as support systems, such as electrical, sanitation and refrigeration equipment. He may also employ and direct a crew of engineers. If parts need to be repaired or replaced, he must have the expertise and resourcefulness to build parts using onboard resources.

While the ship is at sea, the ship engineer constantly monitors gauges and indicators to ensure everything is working properly. He checks fuel and engine oil levels and keeps an eye on performance levels of engine revolutions and knots per hour. If inconsistencies or problems are discovered, he is expected to have the knowledge and resources to remedy the situation. To prevent equipment failure and sailing problems, he regularly maintains decks, checks for leaks throughout the vessel and performs other preventive maintenance tasks.

Good communication skills are essential to be a proficient in the job. Ship engineers train, supervise and monitor the performance of marine engine technicians and other technical support staff personnel. To make sure budgets are adhered to, schedules are maintained and safety guidelines are followed, the ship engineer acts as a liaison between shore employees and the ship captain. Identifying problems and resolving them with minimal disruption is a key part of the ship engineer’s duties.

Accurate and timely record keeping is important for a ship engineer; many domestic and foreign agencies require proof that the vessel is following maritime rules and regulations pertinent to the waters in which it is operating. These laws may pertain to environmental concerns regarding fuel and emissions, adherence to safety directives and maintenance of lifesaving and medical equipment. Failure to follow these regulations may incur fines and, in some cases, prevent the ship from leaving port or gaining admittance to its destination port.

On a daily basis, a ship engineer is required to perform a wide range of duties that require multiple talents and skills. Some engineering jobs are mainly technological in nature, but a ship engineer must utilize technical knowledge along with good communication skills to be successful. The ability to prioritize projects and creatively address and meet challenges is essential to succeed in this position.

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Discussion Comments

By anon123644 — On Nov 03, 2010

please tell me the difference between a marine engineer and ship engineer.

By anon83426 — On May 11, 2010

In the strictest terms a Marine engineer is somebody that designs either the vessels or systems used on the vessel.

A ship engineer is also known as a Chief Engineer or Assistant Engineer. Their are also QMEDS (Qualified Member of the Engine Dept). I am a chief on an ocean going tug. My job involves very little design work.

I ensure that the preventive maintenance is done properly and on time as well as keep all the records and logs that are required.

I am not an expert in any one thing, but I know a little bit about everything. Be it, pipefitting, diesel engines, electrical wiring, to fixing the sewage system and changing light bulbs. I have to be able to fix things, jury rig it or whatever works to get us back to the dock.

Offshore, we are the 911 as we are days away from help. So we are all trained in fire fighting, CPR and medical training as well as damage control. We have to think quickly and improvise a lot. Ships are lucky, they carry more parts as well as a machine shop to make the part. I don't have that luxury.

By anon76707 — On Apr 11, 2010

whats the difference between and marine engineer and a ship engineer?

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