California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Ship Engineers in San Diego County

May also be called: Deck Engineers; Deck Officers; Engineering Officers; Marine Engineers; Operating Engineers

What Would I Do?

Ship Engineers make sure that cargo and passenger vessels are mechanically sound. To do this, they operate, maintain, and repair engines, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery aboard both sea-going and inland water vessels. Four types of engineering officers are customarily found on merchant marine vessels: Chief Engineers and First, Second, and Third Assistant Engineers. In addition to their more specific duties, Assistant Engineers stand assigned watches, overseeing the safe operation of engines and machinery.

Chief Engineers are responsible for all the propulsion machineries, power generating equipment, and auxiliaries. They maintain documents pertaining to the working of the machinery as well as all repairs done. Chief Engineers keep logs of fuel consumption and fuel requirements.

First Assistant Engineers are responsible for the maintenance of lubricating systems, engine room auxiliaries, and electrical equipment.

Second Assistant Engineers are responsible for fuel and water supplies. They supervise fuel and water tank soundings and monitor boiler room equipment.

Third Assistant Engineers are responsible for the operation and upkeep of engine room auxiliaries.

Ship Engineers employ a wide variety of tools and equipment in the course of their duties, using control mechanisms, direct physical activity, or computers to operate machines or processes. They may operate auxiliary power plant equipment, lathes, power generation equipment, a variety of machine tools, acetylene welding/cutting torches, engine diagnostic equipment, hand or power tools, pneumatic tools, precision measuring devices in mechanical repair work, two-way radio or mobile phone, weighing or measuring devices in transportation.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Monitor the availability, use, and condition of lifesaving equipment and pollution preventatives, in order to ensure that international regulations are followed.Public Safety and Security
Maintain electrical power, heating, ventilation, refrigeration, water, and sewerage systems.Equipment Maintenance
Monitor engine, machinery, and equipment indicators when vessels are underway, and report abnormalities to appropriate shipboard staff.Operation Monitoring
Monitor and test operations of engines and other equipment so that malfunctions and their causes can be identified.Troubleshooting
Supervise the activities of marine engine technicians engaged in the maintenance and repair of mechanical and electrical marine vessels, and inspect their work to ensure that it is performed properly.Problem Sensitivity
Maintain and repair engines, electric motors, pumps, winches and other mechanical and electrical equipment, or assist other crew members with maintenance and repair duties.Mechanical
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Life aboard ship has been made more pleasant with air-conditioning and comfortable living quarters. The availability of e-mail service also helps to keep up morale aboard ship as Engineers are able to keep in touch with their families and friends during long voyages. However, Ship Engineers are away at sea or other waters for long periods of time and in all weather conditions.

Potential hazards associated with working on a ship include abandoning the ship in an emergency and working with machinery, heavy loads, and dangerous cargo. The implementation of uniform international regulations has raised shipping standards concerning safety, training, and working conditions, thus decreasing on-board injuries and fatalities.

Ship Engineers may work seven days a week especially on long voyages. They usually stand watch for 4 hours and are off for 8 hours. Workers on rivers, canals, and in harbors are likely to work year-round. Some work 8- or 12-hour shifts and go home every day. Others may work for a week or month and then have an extended period off. Their shifts are usually 6 or 12 hours, and then they are off for 6 or 12 hours.

Unionization of Ship Engineers is common, and they may belong to one of the following unions: American Maritime Officers, International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots, the Seafarers’ International Union of North America, or the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Ship Engineer may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve practical, hands-on problems and solutions and, to some extent, those who enjoy activities that involve leading people and making many decisions.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2016 for Ship Engineers in California is $64,659 annually, or $31.09 hourly. The median wage for Ship Engineers in San Diego County is $74,296 annually, or $35.72 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
San Diego County$51,161$74,296$86,714
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Because of widespread union membership, Ship Engineers enjoy a wide variey of benefits, including vacation leave pay; sick leave; pension plans; and medical, dental, and vision plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

Good job opportunities are expected for Ship Engineers. Increasing international trade will augment hiring centered in major port cities. The demands of the vacation cruise industry will also be a factor in job growth.

Projections of Employment

Annual Job Openings

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

There are basically two ways to gain the education and training needed to become a deck officer or Ship Engineer. Those considering the occupation must either build up thousands of hours of experience in the engine department of a ship, or graduate from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or another maritime academy. In either case, applicants must pass a written test. It is hard to pass the test without a great deal of formal schooling or independent study. The academies offer a four-year program leading to a bachelor-of-science degree, a license (issued only by the Coast Guard) as a third mate (deck officer) or Third Assistant Engineer (engineering officer), and (if the person chooses) a commission as ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Merchant Marine Reserve, or Coast Guard Reserve. With experience and additional training, third officers may qualify for higher rank. Generally, officers on deep water vessels are academy graduates and those in supply boats, inland waterways, and rivers rise to their positions through years of experience.

The only U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is located in Kings Point, New York. The California Maritime Academy, located in Vallejo, is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast.

The academies offer a four-year academic program leading to a bachelor of science degree, a license (issued only by the Coast Guard) as a Third Assistant Engineer, and, if the person is qualified, a commission as ensign in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Merchant Marine Reserve, or Coast Guard Reserve.

Federal regulations require that the job applicant pass a physical examination, a drug screening, and a National Driver Register Check before being considered for employment.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in this type of work should take coursework in mathematics, science, electronics, computer technology, language arts, machine shop, and auto shop. Students who are interested in water transportation occupations might consider participating in a local Sea Scouts troop. Sea Scouting is a part of the Venturing program that the Boy Scouts of America offers for young men and women. This organization teaches high school students (ages 14-20) basic sailing and shipboard tasks on working ships throughout California, including inland ports on rivers and lakes.


Workers on ocean-going or Great Lakes vessels need occupational specialty licenses, issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, to work as engineering officers, or deck officers. Those seeking licenses are required to obtain and carry a Transportation Worker Identification Card, for which applicants must be fingerprinted, provide proof of citizenship, and possess a valid Social Security number. Applicants must also undergo a physical exam and submit to a drug test.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Ship Engineers held 400 jobs in the Water Transportation industry and 200 in the Support For Water Activities industry in 2006. Several other industries, including Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools accounted for 11.5 percent of the employment total for Ship Engineers.

Finding a Job

Ship Engineers usually gain employment through union hiring halls typically found in major seaports. Contact information for local union halls is found through national union Web sites. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Ship Engineers.

  • Container Freight Service
  • Cruises
  • Freight Forwarding
  • Marine Contractors
  • Recruiting-Armed Forces
  • Ships & Ship Operation

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Ship Engineers usually start out as a Third Assistant Engineer and may promote to an engineering officer rank. With experience and additional education and training, Assistant Ship Engineers can advance to become Chief Engineers or Captains.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Ship Engineers with links to more information.

Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water VesselsGuide
Geological and Petroleum TechniciansProfile
Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and PlasticProfile
Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and TendersProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification53-5031
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Ship Engineers53-5031.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCE