The Marine Team

1.0 Introduction

How many engineers does it take to build a ship?  It may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but in reality, ships require extensive engineering from a range of disciplines.  For example, a modern cruise ship incorporates all the demands of a floating city, jumbo jet, and skyscraper.  That is too much knowledge for any one person.  Ships evolved to require a combination of expertise from highly specialized disciplines.  We can’t just assume one person meets all requirements.  If you want a modern vessel, expect a modern team of experts.  So let’s meet all the different roles and learn who it takes to create a modern ship.

2.0 Design Team

The design team starts with the foggy notion of a ship, defined by the owner, and etches that into a clear vision.  If you wanted a custom house, you would first ask an architect to convert your napkin sketches into something a contractor could build.  Similarly, the design team develops your ideas into a buildable ship plan.

2.1 Naval Architect

The naval architect handles everything on the outside of the ship:  structures and how the ship interacts with the ocean.  In some ways, they are the engineering twin to a deck officer.  The naval architect ensures that the ship will keep you safe and handle in the ocean correctly.  A naval architect handles many aspects of your ship design:

  1. Hull shape design
    1. Seakeeping capability
    1. Resistance and powering
    1. Top ship speed
  2. Stability analysis
    1. Risk of capsize
    1. Regulatory requirements
    1. Flooding protection
  3. Economic analysis
    1. Is the ship profitable
  4. Environmental load factors
    1. What is the force of a wave impact
    1. How large are the thrusters to handle a wind when docking?
    1. Size the mooring lines
  5. Structural design
    1. Design the entire ship’s hull
    1. Install a crane
  6. Systems integration

2.2 Marine Engineer

If a naval architect designs the exterior of the ship, a marine engineer focuses on everything that goes inside the ship.  They handle all the machinery design, systems design, and safety systems for the ship.

  1. Structural design
    1. Design the entire ship’s hull
    1. Install an engine
    1. Fire protection
  2. Piping system design
    1. Fire protection systems
  3. HVAC system design
    1. Thermal comfort
  4. Systems integration
  5. Economic analysis
    1. How much does it all cost?

2.3 Marine Electrical Engineer

The modern ship requires a combination of power distribution equivalent to a city, a computer network to support a modern office building, plus the control systems of an industrial plant.  These wires form the nervous system for your ship, and they don’t come together on their own. You need someone to size all the wiring, specify breakers to protect the equipment, plan out circuits, and a host of other safety checks.  You need an electrical engineer.

2.4 Designer / Drafter

Designers and drafters share the same role; they primarily generate drawings.  But that sells a designer short.  The designer is detail oriented, capable of working systematically and rigorously checking all items until completed.  If a ship needs 500 doors checked, you can rely on a designer to check every single door, ensuring it complies with code.  Engineers and designers complement each other.  I like to say that engineers define the rules for a project, but designers ensure the ship follows those rules.

3.0 Ship Personnel

The ship crew and owner form a critical part of the team.  We rely on them to state preferences, but also to provide the intimate knowledge from working daily with this equipment.

The crew know their ship.  They know which brands of equipment have the best track records for maintenance.  They know their preferences for bridge layouts, accommodations, and 1000 other little details from working daily on the ship.  A ship’s crew are the best resource for practical design knowledge.

The owner ultimately understands the mission of the vessel.  (In larger fleets, each ship gets a port engineer, who takes on the role of the owner.)  They know the economics for their service region.  They have the final say over everything that goes into the vessel.  The engineering team follows the owner’s decision.

4.0 Regulators

You can’t fight the government.  A large part of ship design focuses on compliance with regulations.  These regulations grew to become so extensive and complicated, that any new vessel design faces an entire review team checking the design team.  We need to work with that review team.

4.1 Coast Guard

In the USA, this review team is the US Coast Guard.  They are the government authority who sets minimum requirements for vessel safety.  Their name may change from one country to another, but the purpose is always the same.  They are the government authority, and you can’t fight the government. 

But the Coast Guard only checks minimum standards for safety.  That does not cover all the requirements for a good vessel design.  Beyond the Coast Guard, we also contend with the class societies.

4.2 Class Society

Originally, the class societies were created by insurance companies.  They were tasked to evaluate vessels and decide which ones were safe to insure.  Over the decades, class societies have grown into semi-governmental, semi-private organizations that compete for your business.  They evaluate the ship with a more comprehensive eye, focused on the durability and quality of the vessel, going beyond minimum standards. 

Class societies have the resources to compare across hundreds of different ships, conduct extensive research, and develop a scientific rationale for best design practices.  Think of them like the quality control department for your design team.  They provide an independent design review.

5.0 Shipyard

A ship on paper does nothing.  To forge those ideas into steel, you need a shipyard, and they add a new level to the design, focusing on details for production.  The design team designed every corridor on the ship, but the shipyard now needs to design every floor plate and welded connection.  The details just jumped by an order of magnitude.

Shipyards also understand the easy way to build a ship.  Easier construction details mean faster construction, less material wastage, and lower costs overall.  Just like any master craftsman learns little tricks for their trade, a shipyard knows how to piece a ship together for the best quality and fastest production.

5.1 Marine Surveyor / Owner’s Rep.

The marine surveyor works for the owner, but their office is a shipyard.  Marine surveyors work from a wealth of practical observation.  Your engineers may focus on drawings and double checking calculations.  Surveyors focus on the physical ship during construction and double check that details match the designs.      

During construction, problems will arise, and the surveyor works with the shipyard to develop the simplest practical solution.  The shipyard will naturally choose the fastest solution; they have a schedule to maintain.  The surveyor acts as the owner’s representative to argue for solution with the best quality.  They guard your interests to maintain quality during construction.

6.0 Crossing Disciplines

Avoid the trap of over-specialization.  So far, I noted all the different roles.  But don’t assume that a person is limited to their job title.  Most people cross-train to serve in multiple roles.  For example, the naval architect and marine engineer work together equally in system integration and structural design.  Or marine surveyors can be trained naval architects.  Your team depends less on the job title than on the expertise required in each skill set.

Depending on the size of your project, one person can easily fill multiple skill sets.  I only list out the disciplines as a checklist to ensure you cover each element.  A ship requires many different roles for a successful delivery, but the skills of people are not limited by their roles.

7.0 Conclusion

Successful projects start with picking the right people.  Modern ships require expertise from multiple skill sets.  A successful ship project needs to cover all the major skill sets.  Or your next ship project may suffer from unexpected surprises.

8.0 References

[1] R. Smith, “Liberty Ship Model (engine room detail),” Wikimedia Commons, 1 Mar 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 Dec 2019].
[2] Wikipedia Authors, “Norwegian Jade, Ship’s Bridge,” Wikimedia Commons, 09 Oct 2012. [Online]. Available:,_Ship%27s_Bridge.jpg. [Accessed 10 Dec 2019].
[3] Wikipedia Authors, “Coast Guard Cutter Tarpon (WPB 87310) -b,” Wikimedia Commons, 08 Sep 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 Dec 2019].
[4] G. Leggett, “SOCIBER floating drydock, VALPARAISO III with tugboat, PEQUEN – IMO 9253650 in the cradle being worked on, at Valparaiso, Chile on March 19, 2019,” Wikimedia Commons, 19 Mar 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 Dec 2019].
[5] Petty Officer 1st Class Henry G. Dunphy, “U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Chris Bosley, foreground, a marine inspector with Coast Guard Sector San Diego, checks a weld for watertight integrity aboard the Bay Breeze, a ferry from Alameda, in Chula 130801-G-JY570-040,” Wikimedia Commons, 1 Aug 2013. [Online]. Available:,_foreground,_a_marine_inspector_with_Coast_Guard_Sector_San_Diego,_checks_a_weld_for_watertight_integrity_aboard_the_Bay_Breeze,_a_ferry_from_Alameda,_in_Chula_130. [Accessed 10 Dec 2019].