What’s it like working as a Engineering Officer?
As key crew members within the Engineering Department on-board a ship, Engineering Officers aid the Chief Engineer in maintaining and operating all mechanical and electrical equipment on board. This includes control of the ship’s engines, pumps and fuel systems, cargo handling equipment, lifts, computer-controlled engine management systems, refrigeration and ventilation systems, and sewage treatment and purifiers. Put simply, ships cannot function without the important work of the engineering department.
Engineering Officers bring a number of skills to their roles, including problem-solving to diagnose faults in equipment, managing, monitoring, maintaining and adjusting equipment, and dismantling, repairing and reassembling equipment. While most of the working day is spent in the engine control room, Engineering Officers are also required to work in the engine room of the ship which may be noisy, hot and claustrophobic.
Shift patterns apply to Engineering Officers, so that 24 hour maintenance coverage is available on-board; working patterns vary according to the type of ship.
What kind of work can I do?
The work expected of Engineering Officers varies depending on the rank of the officer. For example, a 2nd Engineer Officer might be expected to manage the engine room and the engine room maintenance team, and oversee the training of engineers, while a 3rd Engineer Officer might be responsible for a certain piece of equipment, such as auxiliary generators.
Some Engineering Officers specialise in maintaining and repairing navigation, communication and computer systems and are known as systems engineering or electro-technical officers.
Where can I work?
Engineering Officers are in demand for a range of vessels, from tankers to container-ships, while shore-based opportunities also exist in ship yards, ship management, surveying, the ports sector, the yachting industry and the Royal Navy. Typical employers include shipping companies, cruise companies, port authorities and ship agencies, and the work is, by its very nature, truly international. However with no central recruitment agency, applicants need to approach individual shipping companies and training organisations directly to find a sponsored training opportunity.
Starting a career as an Engineering Officer is a technically-challenging role that will put problem-solving skills to good use.
What are the shore-based opportunities when I am ready to leave the sea?
There are many opportunities for people with seafaring experience in ship management and other maritime-related occupations ashore:
- Ship management and fleet operations
- Surveying ships to check seaworthiness, for repair and maintenance purposes, to check cargo details
- Ports and harbour work
- Training the seafarers of the future
- Ship repair, marine equipment production
- Marine insurance, ship classification, maritime law and arbitration
There is a great demand for those with seafaring skills and experience!
How big is this sector?
The 50,000+ strong merchant trading fleet provides a sizable employment pool for Engineering Officers, and this fleet is expected to grow over the next decade.
What are the shore-based opportunities when I am ready to leave the sea?
Opportunities for Engineering Officers continue beyond seafaring, as experienced Officers can easily adapt their managerial skills to fit in onshore maritime and non-maritime companies alike.
Joanne Rydzewski is from Floral Park, NY and currently works as a Third Assistant Marine Engineer for a major drilling contractor. She graduated from State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime, and holds a Second Assistant Engineer’s License for working on steam and motor vessels of unlimited tonnage. We sat down with Joanne to discuss her successful career, powering large vessels, over the past 7 years:
Joanne, what inspired you to work offshore?
“My mom worked at Navy Federal Credit Union located at the Merchant Marine Academy for over fifteen years. When I was looking at colleges, a maritime college was the furthest thing from my mind. My mom asked me to attend the open house at SUNY Maritime, just to see how it differed from MMA. The training ship and the idea of traveling to Europe every summer with all my classmates caught my attention. I applied to Maritime as a backup option to my first choice college, which I was dead set on attending. Maritime was the first school I was accepted to. On a whim, I decided I would attend my freshman year there and change schools if it wasn’t for me. Needless to say, through all of the ups and downs, I never transferred out.”
What has been your favorite experience during your career so far?
“It’s hard to name just one favorite thing! Being able to see the internal workings of machinery through overhauls and shipyard periods is something that never gets old. On a few occasions, I had the opportunities to climb inside water tube and fire tube boilers to examine the internals, firsthand. I love being able to see what manuals and textbook try to describe in real-life applications. Another favorite moment was having the opportunity to travel the world and enjoy the destinations, whether it was for a few days or a few months at a time. Experiencing sea life in their natural habitat is always an added bonus, as well!”
If working offshore is a long-term career for you, what motivates you to continue to work offshore?
“In addition to my favorite things mentioned in the previous question, I am motivated by the extended time off, which allows me to enjoy my passion for traveling. Also, working with people that feel like a second family, makes it easy to comeback to work. It isn’t always easy to spend so many days away from home, but having a strong support system at work helps make the days enjoyable, throughout all the challenges of offshore life.”
What challenges have you faced in your career while working offshore?
“Unfortunately, working in this profession comes with gender-related challenges. The biggest hardship I’ve faced has been sexism. On one occasion a coworker wouldn’t even shake my hand when I met him. I’ve experienced situations where I’ve been treated much harsher compared to my coworkers as if I was being challenged to prove myself more. In another situation, I had a supervisor that was so overly sensitive towards me that he felt he needed to do my jobs that required heavy lifting. I was more than capable of these jobs, but my supervisor insisted I reminded him too much of his daughter and insinuated that the job was something he would not expect her to do. Luckily, these situations have been few and far between, but they have, unfortunately, happened.”
What do you think can be done by your industry to encourage more women to work offshore?
“Our industry needs to show support for women that are already working for them. With support for those that are already present, it will encourage those that may be interested in this field. Communities like WomenOffshore support women in our field. If an employer strives to do something similar, this could be a potentially helpful way to encourage more females to work offshore.”
What words of advice would you give someone starting out in your industry?
“My best advice would be to always keep your head up and stay strong. Don’t let words get you down. Never be afraid to speak up if something isn’t right. Always treat others the way you would like to be treated. Learn as much as you can. Use every experience to try to help you grow.”
For more Case Studies please visit: Women Offshore