A Career in Naval Architecture

Brought to you by: P. A. Wiedorn at Wilde Lake High


Naval Architecture (ship design) was investigated for a high school Engineering Design class. There are about 9,200 Naval Architects and they work in design offices and shipyards to create, supervise the maintenance and repairs to vessels from racing sailboats to aircraft carriers. Areas of specialization include hull form and structures. Related fields are Marine Engineers and Ocean Engineers. Undergraduate programs are available at U. of Michigan, USNA, Webb, Stevens Institute of Technology, U. of New Orleans, and other locations. Naval Architects earn between $45,000 and $110,000 per year.


What is Naval Architecture?

Naval Architects design ships. These range from Supertankers, Aircraft Carriers and containers ships to small boats and sailing yachts.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook…

Marine engineers and naval architects are involved in the design, construction, and maintenance of ships, boats, and related equipment. They design and supervise the construction of everything from aircraft carriers to submarines, and from sailboats to tankers. Naval architects work on the basic design of ships, including hull form and stability. Marine engineers work on the propulsion, steering, and other systems of ships. Marine engineers and naval architects apply knowledge from a range of fields to the entire design and production process of all water vehicles. Other workers who operate or supervise the operation of marine machinery on ships and other vessels sometimes may be called marine engineers or, more frequently, ship engineers, but they do different work and are covered under water transportation occupations elsewhere in the Handbook.

What do Naval Architects do?

Naval Architects work in two general areas: Hull form and structures.

Some Naval Architects determine the optimum shape for the hull. The next step is to find out how big an engine needs to be installed (actual selection and design of the engine is done by Marine Engineers). Next is to determine the stability of ships. Will the ship stay upright in smooth water? At the dock? When being drydocked? In a storm?

Other Naval Architects determine the structural design of the hull. What scantlings are required to ensure that the ship stays intact in large waves? Watch an America’s Cup boat sink.

Related fields are Marine Engineers who design and operate propulsion plants for ship and Ocean Engineers who design structures (such as oil platforms) design to operate in the coastal or deep water environment. At least one institution refers to Naval Architects and Marine Engineers together as Naval Engineers.

The professional societies for the field are the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) and the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE). SNAME tends to concentrate on commercial and pleasure craft, where ASNE tends to concentrate on naval or government vessels.

Will I be able to find a job in Naval Architecture?

In 2006 Engineers held about 1.5 million jobs of which 9,200 were in Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture. Overall Engineering is expected to grow 11% over the next 10 years. The growth in Naval Architecture is expected to be about average. The increase in demand for recreational small-craft and navy ships should be more than the expected decline in large ocean-going vessels made or designed in the US. The limited number of new students each year can easily be absorbed by the number of naval architects retiring or changing professions. Where this type of engineer might workJobs in this field tend to be on the coasts. The Norfolk/Virginia Beach area has the most jobs, followed by the DC area (because of government jobs), Houston, Honolulu and New Orleans.

Where do Naval Architects work?

In Shipyards, design offices, consulting firms, and education.Most small firms design pleasure craft and racing boats. Larger firms design commercial vessels. Naval Architects are also employed in shipyards to supervise the construction and repair of vessels.

How much money would I make?

Naval Architects make an average annual salary of about $77K. The bottom 10% average $44K and the top 10% average $118K. According to the personal interviews, newly minted Naval Architects can expect to earn $40K to $50K. The top salaries are well above $100K, but mostly go to managers in large firms.

What colleges could I go to?

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor offers Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Master of Science in Engineering (M.S.E.) degrees in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

The U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis offers Naval Architecture and also Ocean Engineering as two of its majors. Of course, only undergraduate degrees are awarded there.

The Webb Institute in Glen Cove New York on Long Island sound is unique in the U.S. in that it is an “Honor Code college offering every enrolled student a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to come live in a mansion on the water and immerse themselves in an undergraduate education focused on the complex, challenging, and rewarding field of ship design engineering.” All 90 students at Webb are on full scholarship.

The Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken New Jersey offers a Bachelor of Engineering in Naval Engineering, a Masters of Engineering and Ph. D in Ocean Engineering. Students in the graduate program can specialize in Coastal Engineering, Hydrodynamics, Naval Architecture, or Oceanography.

The University of New Orleans offers a Bachelor of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

The University of California-Berkeley has disestablished Naval Architecture and Offshore Engineering degrees and created an undergraduate program in Ocean Engineering within the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Here is a summary of the courses required for the University of Michigan.

Freshman Year

Sophomore Year

Junior Year

Senior Year

What courses should I take in high school?

University of Michigan School of Engineering Recommends

According to some interviews, here is what Naval Architects do:

Naval Architects do a great number of things. Basically, NavArchs are a combination of Mechanical and Civil Engineers. Our work can be anything from designing a crane foundation for a boat, figuring out why some structure is cracking, or crawling through oily double bottoms to find out if anything was damaged because the boat "bumped" a rock. Or another fun job is measuring up a fish hold that still has rotting fish in it - yum! Different companies have different focus on where they work, but we do a lot of work with the fishing fleet up in Alaska, so the staff does get to go to exotic places like Dutch Harbor in February. My favorite trip was to Pearl Harbor to do a stability test on a WWII fleet submarine that someone was using in a TV series, and they wanted to be sure if would be safe to tow out in the ocean for filming. Got to see the film crew setting up the guns to fire (with propane), as well as set up a target ship with fake charges and panels to show damage after the attack.

Our particular company works in the fishing industry, design many tugboats for operations around the US, works with the Army Corps of Engineers designing some of their barges and pushboats, and supports Crowley with their various projects. One of the biggest projects this summer was loading two barges with modules to construct the largest shoreside drilling rig in the world that BP will operate on the North Slope. Some of these modules weighted more than 2,000,000 pounds. We did ship motions predictions, designed the fasteners that should keep the modules on the barge during the trip, and assisted in loading the modules onto the barges. One of our staff will attend the off-load in Prudhoe Bay in August. We have also designed several Seattle Fire boats and Patrol Boats for the Seattle Police Department.

Another very important task that we perform is doing stability tests on various boats. After we do the tests, we then consult with the operators to make sure we can set up operating instructions that allow the vessel to be loaded and operated safely. Some of the boats yo see on the show "The Deadliest Catch" are boats that we have either designed or have done stability on.

Another interviewee says that:

Naval Architecture is a broad discipline that covers a range of engineering concepts. Naval Architects work on everything from small dinghies, sailing boats, power boats, large commercial ships, naval vessels, submarines and even oil platforms. We develop the geometries, calculate how they float in different loading conditions, insure they are safe and predict how fast the vessels may travel, design propellers, complete the design of structural components in wood, aluminum, steel or advanced composites.