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Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering: What We Do



If you’ve been following along you probably know that I am an engineer by now. More specifically I graduated from the Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering (ONAE) program at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Almost everybody, apart from those in or teaching the program, will ask ‘So what do you do?’ And I’m here to tell you all about it!

First off, yes, the ONAE program is a degree and it is accredited the same as your basic mechanical and civil engineering degrees. In my personal opinion it is one of the hardest programs because we are not just dealing with static structures and we don’t just deal with moving systems we have to combine it all and then look at the systems in a very hard environment…the ocean. ONAE’s deal with all ocean-going systems. This includes and is not limited to underwater vehicles, floating offshore structures, ships and offshore platforms. You can imagine the amount of math, physics, and science the goes into these systems!

Memorial University of Newfoundland is the only university in Canada that offers this program as a mandatory coop undergraduate degree. It is a top rated program in North America, and yet the class size is usually only 25-40 people each year. Because of this small class size we get almost one-on-one knowledge from our professors that happen to be, arguably, the best in the world. In their professions they have worked on globally recognized ocean and naval research and have participated in well-known documentaries on TV, high profile cases such as the Concordia, and have owned and operated well known ocean and naval companies. This small and intimate discipline goes beyond your university years! The profession produces only a small number of professionals making you, the ONAE professional, highly sought after. The jobs are plentiful and easy to come by, the pay is excellent and the community is even better. We have organizations such as SNAME (Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers) where all of us can interact in a fun and/or educational setting, help is never far when you have the best, newest, oldest, greatest and most driven engineers in your contact list.

ONAE education is similar to other disciplines and like others branch off as you become more advanced in your schooling to be more refined to your discipline. Our courses include Physical Oceanography, Advanced Marine Dynamics, Floating Offshore Structures, Ocean Structures, etc. We get our hands dirty with EVERYTHING ocean system including the mechanical and electrical systems, NOT just structural and its important to be aware of these systems because these systems in the ocean are not the same on land and hiring an electrical and mechanical engineer to do them requires tedious ‘supervision’ by the nav arch. On the that note, building offshore systems is a huge undertaking and much of our schooling focuses on project management and execution order.

Finally what do we do at work? Iv talked a lot about what and where be learn. In Canada and around the world nav archs are employed by shipyards, military/Coast Guard (i.e. Government), privately owned builders, universities, oil and gas companies and finally the support companies (design companies, research and development, testing, etc).

1.      Shipyards: Here you have a good chance of being out in the field a lot. Building new ships requires material sourcing, calculations, drawings, putting out a rising issue, choosing the right paint to reduce friction in water, making sure the deck is graded properly so ice doesn’t form, etc. Not only new builds, Nav Arc’s at shipyards are also doing weight control, stability analysis (will the ship roll over? How many people can we fit on there?) and structural testing on existing ships that come in to ports (how much ice can I plow through without poking a hole in me ship?).

2.      Military/Coast Guard: Here we are a ‘client’ type environment. Often Nav Arch’s employed by government will write proposals, statements of work, and requests for work for their existing fleet. Often we source new systems to put on ships to keep them operating and keep their systems current. Cost controlling and estimating are also important roles. You can be employed on the ship as an engineer to do structural and system assessment while at sea.

3.      Universities: There is a ton of Ocean and Naval Research going on in Canada right now. Ice interaction, energy absorption and use from waves, underwater robotics, environmental ocean response, oil spill rescue, etc. Nav Arc’s have knowledge and education to be a part of and conduct a lot of this research.

4.      Oil and Gas Companies: Nav Arc’s have recently started to be a commodity for offshore oil and gas companies. With the ocean structures that are required to be used the knowledge ONAE’s have of the ocean and structural interaction with the ocean at sea these offshore companies are hiring more and more of the class over time.

5.      Support Companies: Usually privately owned, these support companies usually obtain work from governments and clients around the world. They will do stability assessment, drawing fabrication, design work, and basically do anything the client wants. These companies have the most diverse work, they design cargo ships, cruise ships, fishing vessels, oil platforms, luxury yachts, that party catamaran you were on in the Dominican…..it’s crazy!!

In Conclusion, I really enjoy the work that I do as a ONAE and I hope in your search for schools, disciplines, etc you would consider this discipline! It is very rewarding and it is very important work. There are a small number of important engineers keeping the oceans systems going and we all know how important they are to humanity!

NEXT UP: My up and coming posts will include:

    Why I am currently looking at applying to medschool

    Preparing to apply to medschool

    Choosing schools to apply for

   Cover Letter, Resume, Interview!


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