Marine chief engineer

A marine chief engineer on USNS Mercy


Marine chief engineers are responsible for the entire technical operations of the vessel including engineering, electrical, and mechanical divisions. They are the head of the entire engine department aboard the ship. They have overall responsibility for all technical operations and equipment on-board the ship. Marine chief engineers collaborate on security, survival and health care on board, observe the national and international standards of application.

The duties of a marine chief engineer include, but are not limited to:

  • determining the quantities of oil, fuel and lube needed for a voyage
  • ensuring that those amounts are on board
  • maintaining standards in the engine room. They bear responsibilities in the even of an inspection by an authority such as the coastal guard
  • maintaining and repairing the electrical and mechanical systems on the vessel
  • performing audits and analysis
  • supervising engineers, technicians, and mechanics on repair jobs to ensure that work is performed properly and efficiently
  • maintaining the ship’s inventory and voyage logs
  • performing navigational calculations
  • operating mechanical equipment

Working conditions

Marine chief engineers work at least 8 hours per day, and at times in excess of 12 hours per day, 7 days per week when they are at sea. Their working time is irregular. They can be at sea for three to five months continuously. They live and work in cramped areas, and are very exposed to bad weather conditions and violent ship motion.

Marine chief engineers are often exposed to irritants such as fuels, solvents, cleaners, dust, fumes, smoke and gases. They are also exposed to noisy environment and vibrations, such as the engine room, and hazardous situations such as being at sea, climbing ladders, or moving parts and objects.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to marine chief engineer:

chief engineer
chief engineer of a ship
fisheries chief engineer
maritime chief engineer
chief engineering technician
chief ship engineer

Minimum qualifications

A bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, marine technology, or a related field is generally required to work as marine chief engineer. These programs typically include courses in marine propulsion, marine systems, marine mechanics, marine hydraulics, marine electronics and marine engineering design.

Many marine engineers also have an associate’s or a master’s degree in marine engineering or a related field.

In some countries, a license may be required to work aboard a vessel.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Marine chief engineer is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Marine chief engineer career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to marine chief engineer.

fisheries refrigeration engineer
fisheries observer
ship captain
ship duty engineer
ship assistant engineer

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of marine chief engineer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of marine chief engineer with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

marine engineer
aerodynamics engineer
naval architect
packing machinery engineer
fluid power engineer

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of marine chief engineer.

  • Physical parts of the vessel: Detailed knowledge of the different physical components of the vessel. Provide maintenance and care to ensure optimal operations.
  • International regulations for preventing collisions at sea: Fundamental aspects of the international regulations to prevent collisions at sea, such as the conduct of vessels in sight of one another, navigation lights and markers, major light and accoustic signals, maritime signalling and buoys.
  • Mechanical tools: Understand machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
  • Electrical systems used in transportation: Understand the functioning of electrical systems, their specifications, and application in operations and systems for the transportation of freight and people.
  • Principles of mechanical engineering: Understand principles of mechanical engineering, physics, and materials science.
  • Electronics principles: The study of electric energy, more specifically electron, control and its prominent principles regarding integrated circuits and electrical systems.
  • Electronics: The functioning of electronic circuit boards, processors, chips, and computer hardware and software, including programming and applications. Apply this knowledge to ensure electronic equipment runs smoothly.
  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships: The fundamental principals and requirements laid in the International Regulation for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL): Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Oil, Regulations for the Control of Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk, prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form, Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships, Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships, Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships.
  • Global Maritime Distress and Safety System: The internationally agreed-upon set of safety procedures, types of equipment and communication protocols used to increase safety and make it easier to rescue distressed ships, boats and aircraft.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of marine chief engineer.

  • Communicate verbal instructions: Communicate transparent instructions. Ensure that messages are understood and followed correctly.
  • Manage staff: Manage employees and subordinates, working in a team or individually, to maximise their performance and contribution. Schedule their work and activities, give instructions, motivate and direct the workers to meet the company objectives. Monitor and measure how an employee undertakes their responsibilities and how well these activities are executed. Identify areas for improvement and make suggestions to achieve this. Lead a group of people to help them achieve goals and maintain an effective working relationship among staff.
  • Carry out navigational calculations: Solve mathematical problems to achieve safe navigation.
  • Operate vessel engine room: Operate and maintain the engine room of vessels. Operate the main engine room where the engine and propulsion machinery are located.
  • Repair vessel mechanical systems: Repair mechanical systems of vessels while on-board. Ensure that vessel malfunctions are repaired without affecting the voyage in progress.
  • Conduct financial audits: Evaluate and monitor the financial health, the operations and financial movements expressed in the financial statements of the company. Revise the financial records to ensure stewardship and governability.
  • Maintain vessel inventory: Keep an up-to-date inventory for a vessel, including information on spare components, oil and fuel. Determine the amount of fuel that will be needed for a voyage; ensure that sufficient amounts of fuel are on board at all times.
  • Repair vessel electrical systems: Execute on board repairs of vessel electrical systems. Resolve malfunctions without affecting the course of the journey.
  • Use maritime English: Communicate in English employing language used in actual situations on board ships, in ports and elsewhere in the shipping chain.
  • Perform quality audits: Execute regular, systematic and documented examinations of a quality system for verifying conformity with a standard based on objective evidence such as the implementation of processes, effectiveness in achieving quality goals and reduction and elimination of quality problems.
  • Maintain vessel engine room: Maintain the engines and engine room equipment of a vessel. Conduct pre-checks prior to departure and ongoing examinations during the voyage.
  • Maintain voyage logs: Maintain a written records of events during a ship or aeroplane voyage.
  • Operate mechanical equipment of ships: Operate mechanical equipment on vessels; communicate with engineers if failures occur or should repairs be required during a voyage.
  • Analyse work-related written reports: Read and comprehend job-related reports, analyse the content of reports and apply findings to daily work operations.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of marine chief engineer. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Ship related legislative requirements: Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) concerning safety of life at sea, security and protection of the marine environment.
  • Engineering principles: The engineering elements like functionality, replicability, and costs in relation to the design and how they are applied in the completion of engineering projects.
  • Mechanics of vessels: The mechanics involved in boats and ships. Understand the technicalities and participate in discussions over related topics in order to solve problems related to the mechanics.
  • Mathematics: Mathematics is the study of topics such as quantity, structure, space, and change. It involves the identification of patterns and formulating new conjectures based on them. Mathematicians strive to prove the truth or falsity of these conjectures. There are many fields of mathematics, some of which are widely used for practical applications.
  • Engineering processes: The systematic approach to the development and maintenance of engineering systems.
  • Pollution prevention: The processes used to prevent pollution: precautions to pollution of the environment, procedures to counter pollution and associated equipment, and possible measures to protect the environment.
  • Mechanical engineering: Discipline that applies principles of physics, engineering and materials science to design, analyse, manufacture and maintain mechanical systems.
  • Fire-fighting systems: The devices and systems used to extinguish fires; the classes and chemistry of fire.
  • Fishing vessels: Denomination of the different elements and equipment of fishing vessels.
  • Risks associated with undertaking fishing operations: General risks occuring when working on fishing boats and specific risks occurring only in some fishing modalities. Prevention of threats and accidents.
  • Mechanics: Theoretical and practical applications of the science studying the action of displacements and forces on physical bodies to the development of machinery and mechanical devices.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of marine chief engineer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Ensure compliance with environmental legislation: Monitor activities and perform tasks ensuring compliance with standards involving environmental protection and sustainability, and amend activities in the case of changes in environmental legislation. Ensure that the processes are compliant with environment regulations and best practices.
  • Manage the operation of propulsion plant machinery: Manage the operative mechanism of the marine diesel engines, steam turbines, gas turbines, and steam boilers.
  • Follow ethical code of conduct in transport services: Carry out transport services according to accepted principles of right and wrong. This includes principles of fairness, transparency, and impartiality.
  • Prevent fires on board: Organise fire drills on board. Make sure that appliances for fire prevention fire-fighting are in working order. Take the appropriate action in case of fire, including fires involving oil systems.
  • Lead a team in fishery services: Direct a fishery or aquaculture team and guide them towards the common goal of completing a variety of fishery related assignments or tasks.
  • Act reliably: Proceed in a way that one can be relied on or depended on.
  • Maintain shipboard machinery: Take care of the repair and maintenance of shipboard machinery, including the safe isolation of such machinery or equipment before personnel are permitted to work on it. Dismantle, adjust and reassemble machinery and equipment with the right tools and measuring instruments. Interpret machinery drawings and handbooks and diagrams of piping, hydraulic and pneumatic systems.
  • Operate marine machinery systems: Operate principles of marine machinery, including marine diesel engine, steam turbine, boiler, shafting installations, propeller, various auxiliaries, steering gear, automatic control systems, and deck machinery. Follow safety and emergency procedures for operation of propulsion plant machinery, including control systems. Prepare, operate, and maintain the following machinery items and control systems: main engine and steam boiler and their associated auxiliaries and steam systems, auxiliary prime movers and associated systems and other auxiliaries like refrigeration, air-conditioning and ventilation systems. Take necessary measures to prevent damage to these systems.
  • Manage engine-room resources: Allocate, assign, and prioritise engine-room resources. Communicate effectively, showing assertiveness and leadership. Obtain and maintain situational awareness, considering of team experience.
  • Extinguish fires: Choose the adequate substances and methods to extinguish fires depending on their size, such as water and various chemical agents. Use a breathing apparatus.
  • Execute analytical mathematical calculations: Apply mathematical methods and make use of calculation technologies in order to perform analyses and devise solutions to specific problems.
  • Maintain electrical equipment: Test electrical equipment for malfunctions. Take safety measures, company guidelines, and legislation concerning electrical equipment into account. Clean, repair and replace parts and connections as required.
  • Adjust engineering designs: Adjust designs of products or parts of products so that they meet requirements.
  • Perform small vessel safety measures: Organise and monitor safety, applying the regulations for risk prevention at work. Organise and manage emergency operations such as flooding, abandoning ship, survival at sea, search and rescue of shipwrecked, according to the ship’s emergency plans, to ensure safety. Organise and direct the operations of fire fighting and prevention, according to the ship’s emergency plans to ensure safety.
  • Perform small vessel safety procedures: Implement emergency measures of health care to sick and injured on board, according to established procedures to minimise potential injuries or illnesses.
  • Pollution at sea prevention: Organize and monitor environment protection applying the regulations for pollution prevention at sea.
  • Operate control systems: Configure and operate electrical, electronic and control equipment. Maintain, monitor and control operations on a control system to ensure major risks are controlled and prevented.
  • Coordinate fire fighting: Organize and direct the operations of fire fighting, according to the ship’s emergency plans to ensure safety.
  • Apply transportation management concepts: Apply transport industry management concepts in order to improve transportation processes, reduce waste, increase efficiency, and improve schedule preparation.
  • Manage ship emergency plans: Organize and manage emergency operations, flooding, abandoning ship, survival at sea, search and rescue of shipwrecked, according to the ship’s emergency plans, to ensure the safety
  • Supervise crew: Supervise and observe the behaviour of employees.
  • Ensure vessel compliance with regulations: Inspect vessels, vessel components, and equipment; ensure compliance with standards and specifications.
  • Manage safety standards for maritime water transport: Manage and maintain safety standards and procedures for maritime transport. Ensure that before dispatching any vessel, all regulations and standards are met. May also be required to operate as a member of an Emergency Response Team.
  • Operate pumping systems: Operate pumps and piping systems, including control systems. Perform routine pumping operations. Operate the bilge, ballast and cargo pumping systems. Be familiar with oily-water separators (or-similar equipment).
  • Maintain electronic equipment: Check and repair electronic equipment. Detect malfunction, locate faults and take measures to prevent damage.
  • Operate life-saving appliances: Operate survival craft and their launching appliances and arrangements. Operate life-saving instruments like radio life-saving appliances, satellite EPIRBs, SARTs, immersion suits and thermal protective aids.
  • Have computer literacy: Utilise computers, IT equipment and modern day technology in an efficient way.
  • Maintain safe engineering watches: Observe principles in keeping an engineering watch. Take over, accept and hand over a watch. Perform routine duties undertaken during a watch. Maintain the machinery space logs and the significance of the readings taken. Observe safety and emergency procedures. Observe safety precautions during a watch and take immediate actions in the event of fire or accident, with particular reference to oil systems.
  • Provide training: Provide training and orientation to new team members, or assign this task to an appropriately experienced team member.
  • Swim: Move through water by means of the limbs.
  • Approve engineering design: Give consent to the finished engineering design to go over to the actual manufacturing and assembly of the product.
  • Operate ship propulsion system: Perform start-up and subsequent observation of the working parameters of the ship’s propulsion system. Check the operating parameters of electric generators in the switchboard, power sources and electrical and electronic equipment and navigation lights. Verify that the operating parameters of pneumatic and hydraulic systems are within the values. Perform simple maintenance procedures, repair and replacement of damaged items.
  • Operate ship rescue machinery: Operate rescue boats and survival craft. Launch the boats as required and operate their equipment. Take care of survivors and survival craft after abandoning ship. Use electronic devices to track and communicate location, including communications and signalling apparatus and pyrotechnics.

ISCO group and title

3151 – Ships’ engineers

  1. ESCO
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Marine Chief Engineer Job Description – ClimbTheLadder
  4. Marine Working Conditions – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  5. Everything you need to know about chief marine engineer jobs – Martide
  6. Featured image: By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class A. Nick De La Cruz
Last updated on January 17, 2023

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