Being a Marine Engineer is very much a rewarding career if you are willing to put up with the difficulties! Of course, the life onboard can be vastly different depending on the vessel you sail on (try comparing the life on a North Sea supply boat to one of the largest cruise ships) but they all have a few things in common.
Your five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) are all vital to the job, the one you may find yourself using most is the lesser known sixth sense, your gut. It takes years of training to have the ability to bring these all together with you prior study and knowledge to successfully prevent, diagnose, or fix any technical problems.
The position of Junior Engineer is where you will develop your senses and skills, it is very much a practical job. You will spend your day to day in the hot engine room on your feet dismantling, assessing, repairing, and reassembling equipment whether it is part of the planned maintenance programme or it has broken down. You may feel that you do not know enough yet but do not worry, teamwork is very much a core part of life onboard, never be afraid to ask for help. You may get teased and made fun of at first, but you will be respected more for having the confidence to ask for help.
Although you are one of the junior-most officers, your experience is still vital to shipboard operations. You are required to be extremely familiar with your engine room and its procedures, even if after only a short time onboard. Being familiar with your engine room is one of the best ways to prevent emergencies or to prevent them worsening. During an emergency you will be expected to know how to shut off fuel valves, operate emergency bilge pumping, shut off ventilation, etc. Just because they may not be your duties on the muster list does not mean you should not know; you will be asked!
Being a Marine Engineer is a long-term investment, if you are looking for short term fulfillment it is not a career for you. Even after spending years as a cadet studying, learning, and training followed by years as a junior engineer again, studying, learning, and training it is not over yet. You may come to know a lot and have plenty of experience, but you will never know everything. There will always be someone who has different experiences to you, the importance is being able to combine this knowledge to solve a common problem. The industry too is also always changing, adapting and updating to the latest regulation and legislations that you are always on your toes, this is what makes this career so rewarding, if you have an appetite for learning this is a career that should be considered.
The best advice to be given to any current or aspiring marine engineers is to never become complacent, it is very easy to fall down that hole. You may be able to carry out 90% of your current day to day tasks with your prior knowledge and experience but it that last 10% you need to focus on and develop. The last 10% is what makes you the person people come to for help and advice versus the one who is always going to others for help.
Always stay safe and always learn more!
Blair is a Third Engineer onboard offshore vessels since 2018 having been on container vessels as Fourth Engineer after graduating in 2016. He is currently working while studying in preparation for his Second Engineer Unlimited (III/2) licence. When not at sea he enjoys winter sports and language learning.