Merchant navy engineering officer

Merchant navy engineering officers maintain the mechanical and electrical machinery and instruments

What does a merchant navy engineering officer do?

As a merchant navy engineering officer, you would operate and maintain the machinery and support systems on a ship, both above and below deck. You would work with the engines, ventilation systems, navigation and communications equipment, and deck fittings such as cranes, hoists and landing craft.

Your job would be graded according to your experience and qualifications, with each grade having slightly different responsibilities:

  • Chief Engineer – overall authority for planning engineering tasks and allocating staff
  • Second Engineer – supervising the day-to-day duties of staff and engine crew
  • Third Engineer – assisting the second officer and looking after electrical systems and machinery
  • Junior/Fourth Engineer – carrying out general machinery maintenance. This is often the first posting for an officer trainee


Whatever your engineering grade, your duties would include:


  • running scheduled maintenance checks on machinery and systems
  • responding to equipment failure alerts and repairing faults
  • maintaining fuel levels and stocks of spare parts
  • updating record management systems
  • mentoring and supporting trainees

In the merchant navy, you could work on passenger ferries, cruise liners, container ships, bulk carriers, tankers, and salvage and supply vessels. In the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (civilian-crewed ships that support the Royal Navy), you could have responsibility for weapons maintenance.

What do I need to do to become a merchant navy engineering officer?

To become an engineering officer, you would need to apply to a marine engineering or shipping company to be sponsored through training.

The training would lead to a qualification, like a foundation degree, HND or degree in marine or mechanical engineering. It would also include the Certificate of Competency, which you need to work at sea.

The training route you take would depend on the qualifications you have already and any experience.

To get onto a training course, you would normally need GCSEs (grades A-C) including maths, English and a science (preferably physics), and possibly one or two A levels or equivalent qualifications. You would also be expected to pass a medical, including an eyesight test, before being accepted on to a training course. Check with training providers for exact entry requirements.

If you have experience and qualifications gained from working as a mechanical engineer elsewhere, for example in the fishing industry or the Royal Navy, you may be exempt from some of the training to become a merchant navy engineer. You will still need to find a sponsoring company to apply for training. 

Related skills

  • Communication
  • IT
  • Mechanical knowledge
  • People management
  • Teamwork
  • Technical ability

Essential qualifications

  • GCSEs (grades A-C) including maths, English and a science (preferably physics), and possibly one or two A levels or equivalent qualifications.

Where to find out more

Marine Society & Sea Cadets 

Merchant Navy Training Board 

A Career at Sea 

International Shipping Federation (ISF) 

Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST)

British Marine Federation 

WISE Campaign


Where could I be working?

You could find work with UK and overseas shipping companies. You could also use your technical and managerial skills to move to shore-based jobs in areas such as shipping and port operations, maritime law and insurance, shipbroking or other engineering industries. 

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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