How to Become a Merchant Navy Engineering Officer

Navy Engineering Officer

Merchant navy engineering officers maintain a ship’s computer-driven electrical and mechanical machinery and instruments. They use engine management systems to monitor the machinery and identify any malfunctions. Since there are no garages along sea ways, merchant navy engineering officers must possess strong technical and practical skills to solve any engineering problems that might arise during a voyage.

The work

Merchant navy engineering officers work in a range of water vessels, including ferries, cruise liners, container ships, tankers and the royal navy ships. They monitor the vessel’s engine, ventilation systems, cranes, communication systems and other fittings.

Other duties include:

  • Running regular checks on the machinery systems
  • Repairing faulty machinery below and above the deck
  • Keeping management systems records up to date
  • Monitoring fuel levels and keeping stock of spare parts
  • Training and monitoring new engineers.

It is important to note that large water vessels typically have a team of merchant navy engineering officers. In this setting, responsibilities are usually allocated according to qualifications and merit as highlighted below;

  • Chief engineer - plans engineering tasks and allocates duties to junior staff
  • Second engineer - supervises day-to-day activities and the engine crew
  • Third engineer - works on electrical systems and helps the second engineer to supervise activities
  • Junior engineer - conducts general machinery maintenance.

Work environment

Merchant navy engineering officers spend their time in water vessels where they work in shifts. Although the length of shifts depends on the size of the ship, officers in large vessels work four hours followed by an eight-hour off. Their time at sea is determined by the type of vessel they work in; some vessels take weeks and others months to reach their destinations.

Merchant navy engineering officers are based in the control room or engine chambers of a water vessel. While working, they often wear special gear, such as boots and overalls to minimize exposure to dirt and avoid workplace injuries. At times, they may need to work in refrigerated and confined spaces. 


The salaries for merchant navy engineering officers increase as they move up the ladder. The following table highlights this information;

Job grade

Annual pay

Junior engineers

£8,000 - £12,000

Third engineers


Second engineers

£25,000 - £50,000.

Chief engineers

£32,000 - £65,000.

Source: The National Careers Service

Entry requirements

To become a merchant navy engineering officer, you need;

  • A foundation degree, HND or bachelor’s degree in mechanical or marine engineering– To obtain any of these qualifications, you must be sponsored by a shipping or marine engineering company to pursue the relevant training. Training providers typically admit applicants with GCSEs (A-C) in English, math and physics, at least one A level and in good medical condition.
  • Certificate of Competency

If you have previous experience working as a mechanical engineer, you could be exempted from some of the training merchant navy engineers undergo. You will, however, need a sponsoring company to apply for training.

For more information on training colleges and sponsoring companies, visit Careers at Sea.

Important skills and abilities

To be a successful merchant navy engineering office you need;

  • Excellent practical skills
  • Vast knowledge in math, technology, science and IT
  • Good communication skills
  • Good organizational and planning skills
  • Confidence to make critical decisions in complex situations
  • Good eye-hand coordination
  • The willingness to work away from home
  • The ability to adapt to changing sea conditions.

Training and development

You will spend between two to four years in training. The training will cover the following topics;

  • Electrical systems
  • Hydraulics
  • Instrumentation and control
  • Diesel propulsion and turbines
  • Health and safety procedures

After completing your training, you will need to obtain a certificate of competency – also known as Officer of the Watch certificate –, which is issued by the Maritime Agency and Coastguard Agency.

To be promoted into a higher rank, you must obtain the certificate of competency for that rank.

To enhance your career progression prospects, you can join professional organizations, such as the Maritime Society and Sea Cadets. It offers professional development courses, which you can pursue via distance learning.

Job opportunities

Although local and foreign shipping companies are the main employers for merchant navy engineering officers, you can also work in related areas, such as;

  • Shipping and port operations
  • Marine law and insurance

Useful links

Finally, becoming a merchant navy engineering officer not only affords you the opportunity to enjoy sea travel, but also help passengers reach their destinations safely. Remember, a good work record and certificates of competency should be central to your career progression strategy. Good luck!