Career in Naval Architecture

Discussion in 'Education' started by cme, Mar 12, 2013.

  1. cme
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    cme Junior Member

    Hi all, first post!

    I wasn't sure where to post this so I thought this section fitted best.

    I'm a Naval Architect first qualifying with a BEng from the UO Southampton and then completing my MSc in 2008. I've worked for around 7 years for various consultancies in the UK and Australia.

    I know there are some NA's on this forum and i wanted to get their thoughts on what NA is like as a career. For me I started out wanting to be involved in the design and contruction of ships. I the 7 years so far I have had a role in one new build which was a fantastic experience but in general its been a disappointing series of boring and unfulfiling small projects constantly hoping the 'big one' will arrive, but alas it never has.

    A each year goes by i think more and more of getting into ship management so i can get involved in new builds from a management side (ie Carnival CL for example) and giving up on the dream I worked 5 years at uni to achieve, logic says there are ships being built around the world all the time so why is it that I or whoever i'm working for never seem to be involved.

    My reason for posting is i'd love to hear from somebody that had a slow start to their career but made a decision to do something about it - what did you do. Do I need to move country to achieve my dreams?
     
  2. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    Cme

    Well come to the forum.

    Your career, like any, is a mix of what is available and also your own choosing. The choosing part is often the hardest, since if you have a specific goal in mind, you shall have to make many compromises in order to achieve your desired goal.

    I would say, unless you are very very lucky to start at your dream job/company from the start, the best way is to work for a “larger” company. There you shall get basic training of what to do, how to do it and why you do it. You, hopefully, shall also be exposed to real design and production.

    Once you have several years under you, you will 1) be more employable and 2) will also know, if you didn’t’ already to begin with, areas that you prefer and also 3) areas that you have more of a ‘gift’ for too.

    So you can’t expect to hit the ground running. A career is a long slow process , but preferably with an objective, for the long term. Not short term.

    Don’t give up…just refocus on what it is YOU want out of a job and then select the best course/route for you to eventually get to that position. If it means moving country and into different sectors, then do so, always reminding yourself it is the long term gaol, not quick short fix. That is what I did in the eraly 90s.

    Many come on this site thinking that to be a NA is like cutting and pasting, from a website; quick, easy and anyone can do it. Pressing a few buttons on free or cheap software, hell, it’s easy; what’s the fuss about?? Well, after graduation you need around a further 5-10years to be a fully qualified NA and chartered engineer, which comes from on-the-job training. And...you never stop learning!
     
  3. Alik
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    Alik Senior Member

    Even for leading engineer/designer, 90% of job he does is boring routine.
    Other 10% is something that can be called creative. This is life.
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. cme
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    cme Junior Member

    Hi, thanks for the replies.

    I'm already MRINA and eligible for CEng (but haven't kept it up since im currently in Australia) so beyond graduate training schemes and the like, agree though we never stop learning.

    I like the suggestion of a big company, but i was worried i'd be lost as drone number ### amongst the crowd. I've always worked for smaller consultancies where projects are boring and unchallenging I guess I just hoped one day the big design job would come in and i'd be set.

    Essentially what I wanted to know is do people think NA is a boring career? Is it possible to work on the design and construction of ships without moving to China or Japan and working in a shipyard. I have limited experience of shipyard work but i did work on a project for 2 months at FSG shipyard in Flensburg and, in support of what Alik said, the jobs being done were pretty routine for almost all the staff!

    What do people think about looking at consultancies or yards which have already secured big projects and working there short term so you are morally allowed to up and leave when the work gets boring after the project has finished

    I know i'm negative but i'm sat at a desk in a job where all we do is fire control plans and stability work and I'd love to have something to work towards, something to achieve so to speak.

    advice from the likes of Ad Hoc who have been there and done it is really helpful - thank you
     
  5. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    If you really want to be a good and proactive NA, the simple answer is no. No so much the location part, but working in a shipyard.

    If you have no understanding of how a boat is built, the real day to day stuff, which is never taught at Uni, how will you know how to design one? I spent the best part of my first ten years on the shopfloor. Learning how and why and where theory and practice clash etc. You wont learn this stuff, well not quickly, sat in an aircon office day in day out.

    If you stay in a consultancy type of company, you will do small bits of design and bits of design that you’ll never see being made, rarely see the project through. Even a large project you’re exposure many still be limited, save for still learning under supervision. You really need to work for a shipyard preferably in the 100-300 employee size with a small to medium size DO. Whether it is GRP, Steel or Ally doesn’t matter, unless you have a preference.

    I have met many very good and experience NAs whom have spent most of their working lives at consultancy type of companies. They are very very good at what they do. But they do lack the hands on practical skills and it does show in their designs. But that is my personal opinion.

    The only way you will learn and quickly, is being in a shipyard, there is no substitute. There are many yards in Asia, all very busy, where I am sure you could apply….just send them your CV or visit them.

    But as Alik pointed out, being a NA is not always all singing and dancing….we still have to do the mundane and dull stuff, just like any other job.
     
  6. cme
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    cme Junior Member

    Ad Hoc,

    I think you are right, I learnt so much in the first 2-3 years of my career but for the past 3-4 years I can honestly say hand on heart I have learnt nothing whatsoever about naval architecture from doing t&s book after t&s book, dead-end concept after dead-end concept. I guess i need to decide whether or not i'm prepared to move to somewhere where they build ships or whether i chuck the towel in and try to learn about operating ships instead which the UK (I'm British) has a large industry in.

    I think its a common problem, i graduated in 2002 and of the 45 or so graduates only 5 or 6 that i'm aware of actually work as a naval architect, scores of other work in other areas of the marine industry or became accountants!
     
  7. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    About the only employment in the marine industry right now is in heavy commercial ship building or in repair/renovations of similar sized ships. Even in good times the fun pleasure or racing yacht market is thin, in slow times it is non-existent.

    Best see where you have skills and look around at where they would be best used. As an engineer I have worked in aerospace both millitary and commercial aircraft, in consumer goods, automotive, and in land based constrution, with a small amount of marine engineering I picked up as a consulting engineer. I have desisgned and built a lot of small boats for fun, but I see no career in it. I have applied by skills across many different industries and have never been unemployed, but flexibility is the key to staying employed. It took only one to two years in each field to learn enough to master each postion, after that i was bored to tears.

    In all of those the majority of the work is tedious, repetitious number crunching, specifications, etc. Almost as bad as what accountants do. But at least they all are relevant to something that is being built.

    good luck.
     
  8. cme
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    cme Junior Member

    well yes except that if nothing you do gets built you are an accountant!
     
  9. DavidJ
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    DavidJ Senior Member

    Man this actually cracks me up. I'm always talking about this exact thing with the friends I graduated with 5 years ago. None of us know where the really interesting jobs are either. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one of the 15ish people I graduated with who actually works as a naval architect. The rest have either gone onto different engineering fields or they have become structural designers. There is lots of money available for young guys working as contract structural designers. A couple work for a class society. One doing plan review and the other as a surveyor.

    I did a coop term at a ship consultancy and then three years at a yacht design firm. The yacht firm was no more exciting that the ship place. Horribly boring actually. The yachts were amazing and beautiful but the design challenges were minimal. Just fancy boxes for carrying around stuff. I've done new builds and refits. Ships and yachts. Surveys, design, drafting, 3D modeling, systems, structure, stability and more. All lots of boring.

    My current job is not exactly fun or exciting but it is decent. I'm maybe not "happy" but I'm not super bored (which I was at the yacht place). Some days are fairly interesting. I think the key, at least for me, is variety. We do a wide variety of work on mostly small projects. So one week I'm doing stability work and the next I'm designing a piping system. Sometimes I'm writing a report or going out to do a condition survey. I'll do lots of drafting for a month and then never turn on CAD for 3 months. The problem is that it is hard to become an expert when you are always doing something different, but I do find it much more enjoyable than the yacht projects that I used to work on that dragged on and on.

    The problem with the yacht company that I worked at was that the projects were exciting in the beginning but then it would be redesigned over and over and over. The first time I laid out the structure and calculated the scantlings I was excited at solving this logic problem. Then I'd make models and drawings. Then after several weeks of work the owner would decide he wanted a bulkhead to be moved someplace else and I'd have to go back to step 1. No, I think I want it 20 feet longer. Oh maybe I can't afford that big a boat lets make it smaller. After six months on the same project with little signs of real progress all motivation would be sucked dry and I'd welcome the sweet embrace of death (sorry for the melodrama - just having fun).

    The other problem with yachts is that "designers" often get to do the actual design. Then they give their crappy design model to the engineer and ask him to make it work. So they take a couple of days to produce an unrealistic rendering that has little chance of actually working and then they give it to the engineer who has to spend a month working out details to make the thing actually buildable. Then who gets the credit when it works? Why the brilliant concept designer of course. By contrast in commercial ships the engineer gets to work on the whole project from brainstorming the concepts to completion. I find it's always more enjoyable to work on a project if it is my idea as opposed to making somebody else's idea work. I have no vested interest in making somebody else's solution a reality.
     
  10. rxcomposite
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    rxcomposite Senior Member

    The question is do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a smalll fish in a big pond?

    The big fish is the leader, coordinating, meeting head on the design challenges, and charting where the company goes.

    The small fish is the team player, accepting odd jobs that is within the limits of his/her capability, getting stuck in a position that is boring and goes on and on for months because there are too many "fishes" around.

    Now when the big fish has outgrown the pond, he transfer into the big ocean. The cycle starts all over again.
     
  11. peter radclyffe
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member



    The problem with the yacht company that I worked at was that the projects were exciting in the beginning but then it would be redesigned over and over and over. The first time I laid out the structure and calculated the scantlings I was excited at solving this logic problem. Then I'd make models and drawings. Then after several weeks of work the owner would decide he wanted a bulkhead to be moved someplace else and I'd have to go back to step 1. No, I think I want it 20 feet longer. Oh maybe I can't afford that big a boat lets make it smaller. After six months on the same project with little signs of real progress all motivation would be sucked dry
     
  12. peter radclyffe
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    The other problem with yachts is that "designers" often get to do the actual design. Then they give their crappy design model to the engineer and ask him to make it work. So they take a couple of days to produce an unrealistic rendering that has little chance of actually working and then they give it to the engineer who has to spend a month working out details to make the thing actually buildable. Then who gets the credit when it works? Why the brilliant concept designer of course. By contrast in commercial ships the engineer gets to work on the whole project from brainstorming the concepts to completion. I find it's always more enjoyable to work on a project if it is my idea as opposed to making somebody else's idea work.



    thank you for saying this,

    this is so true
     
  13. Alik
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    Alik Senior Member

    "You change - we charge" (c) Albatross Marine Design
     
  14. Alik
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    Alik Senior Member

    My approach is: why we, boat design professionals who spent decades on boats and years studying to design them, should make those crappy designers competitive? Normally we will not involve in something drawn by 'designer', or charge them triple to give a lesson.
     

  15. DavidJ
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    DavidJ Senior Member

    I always appreciate your opinions on this topic Alik. However, the reality is often quite different. Your company must be in the enviable position of being able to turn away work or potentially upset customers. The company I was at would often talk tough at the start of a project about change orders. We'd plan to charge for this or that but then the customer would get mad. They'd complain that their original wishes weren't being listened to, they'd threaten to go to a different designer, and then we'd relent and do the change for free. Same with using "name" designers. If the customer wants that designer you either accept that or they go to a different naval architect who will. Maintaining a reputation. Making the customers happy. Making sure the customers have fun and enjoy the process. These type of things often drive the projects more than sensible engineering decisions.

    The other problem is that of motivation. It isn't always about money. Even when the customer is paying for the changes it can be mentally challenging to stay focused when you feel like you have done the same thing over and over. With each revision the staff becomes more bored, they lose focus, and the quality of the work goes down.
     
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