Thinking about Changing My Career

Discussion in 'Education' started by AnthonyS, Mar 6, 2014.

  1. AnthonyS
    Joined: Mar 2014
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    AnthonyS Mechanical Designer

    Hi All,

    I have been a Mechanical Designer for over 20 years. Mainly in the water treatment industry and 2 years ago changed industries to food and beverage and now the piping designer for an engineering firm in California designing equipment layout and piping layout in large food/beverage plants. I have been doing all my work in CADWorx that plugs into Autocad 2012. i have taken Solidwork classes with certificates of completion in all available classes and a Certified Associate in Autodesk Inventor 2009 pro. 3D Cad is pretty much my preferred tool of use

    Recently I have been thinking about changing my career to boat/yacht design. I have always wanted to learn to sale and own a boat that I can use for weekend get away's, except finances have prevented this luxury from happening.

    I have a lot of design experience in process areas and was thinking about doing the Westlawn online program and get a job designing boats.

    I suppose my main question is, is this a good career move for someone who is 46, does it pay well/okay, I currently make around 70-75k. is there an industry demand for this career, is Westlawn a good and reputable school. Here is a link to the coarse I was thinking about persuing (

    Its all online which I do like, due to my current job that requires me to travel a lot and is hard to make time for classroom work. Based on the research I have already undertaken its hard to really establish if this is a good career change for someone of my age, I just love being around boats.

    After attending the San Diego 2014 boat show and browsing the interiors and exteriors I really wanted to become a live aboard and was thinking about purchasing a 40-60 ft boat to have as my home. Again time at this point made that idea in practical.

    Your thoughts on this career as a boat designer would be greatly appreciated.

  2. DavidJ
    Joined: Jun 2004
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    DavidJ Senior Member

    There are tons of posts about westlawn on this site. You should be able to find lots of opinions on the school.

    Honestly what you would most likely find is that a boat design career is a lot like your current one. There is lots of piping design in ships and boats. LOTS. My education is in naval architecture and I've ended up bumbling my way through many piping projects just because that's the jobs we had. Since you have piping experience it would be hard for you to get away from that. It would definitely help you get hired but most companies aren't likely to then pass off the interior or exterior styling to you. You'd be a piper. You could double your salary though if you got job doing piping for the oil rig companies or a big shipyard.

    I don't think age really has to be the thing standing in your way. If you really want to do it and work hard you're young enough still to have a long career at it. You'd have to take a pay cut if you were restarting your career. An entry level guy in the marine industry in North American would make between 40 and 55 grand depending on the industry and company. Yachts and small boat places usually pay at the lower end. If you're contracting you could get 30 to 35 an hour, plus OT and a per diem that could put you over what you make now but almost all of those jobs are related to oil in some way and not small boats.

    The big issue is that the boat design industry isn't really like what you probably imagine it to be. There are very few jobs for people to draw sexy boats. 99% of the jobs out there are for things like designing piping or structure. I really doubt it would be much different from your current career. The type of career you probably want to have is available to you but it's not really something you can just apply for. You'd most likely need to become an independent boat designer and that means lots of knowledge and luck. You need to be a salesman as much as anything. You need to be able to sell yourself and your work. Why would someone pick you to design their boat? You even spelled "sail" wrong so it's obvious you aren't a nautical person. A successful boat designer really needs to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk. You can do it if you really want to but getting the education is only 10% of the way there. You'll need to get out on boats as much as you can. Learn all the ins and outs of operating them and maintaining them. Hang around boat people. A job in the industry will let you see how things are done and you'll pick up some tidbits but it's very unlikely that you will be doing much hull design or arrangement working for someone else.
  3. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Westlawn may not be the best, because it mainly focuses on smaller boats. The openings are few and far in between. Without experience, you'll have to start at the bottom, which pays very little. Most likely you'll need a second job to pay the bills. If you think this is your vocation and money is not that important, go for it. Otherwise, you will be in your mid to late 50s before it becomes profitable, if at all. The other venue is to go two years to a Naval Architecture university course, like the one at NOU. There are some jobs in the industry, but they usually involve working on a small part of a project. It may take years before you can actually design or supervise a whole design.
  4. DCockey
    Joined: Oct 2009
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    DCockey Senior Member

    Read Eric Sponberg's article SO YOU WANT TO BE A BOAT DESIGNER...?

    How much knowledge of boats do you have? Assuming you complete the Westlawn course why would someone want to hire you rather than any of the other recent Westlawn graduates who are looking for a job?
  5. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    I recommend therapy, lots of on the couch time may release your obvious needs. Do some research and see what the NA and yacht design market consists of. With this and a few hundred hours of therapy on hand, you'll come back to your senses pretty quickly.
  6. AnthonyS
    Joined: Mar 2014
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    AnthonyS Mechanical Designer

    Wow I cant thank you guys more. Extremely valuable advice, oh ye my spelling is bad sorry. Based on the responses you are all right, boat design is probably not for me. I think I just need to evaluate my current skills as a piping designer and computer guy and see where I can utilize those skills in a better career. I love designing in 3D, i just don't feel satisfied in my current career. There has to be something out there that can utilize my skills in a way that will satisfy me more. Oh just in case my website is Again thanks all for the great input and the quick responses.

  7. Petros
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Petros Senior Member

    This I think would be big mistake; most experienced yacht designers and licensed navel architects who specialize in yacht design their whole careers have to have other jobs to support themselves between the profitable yacht design jobs. There is not that much demand for small boat or yacht designers, not now, and not a lot better even in prosperous times. The demand for recreational boats in general tends to go up and down with the general economy, when the future looks uncertain most affluent clients put off the purchase decision. The chance someone would want to trust a custom build to an inexperienced newbie that just got a design certificate is almost zero. As stated above, you would have to start at the bottom (at a little above minimum wage) as a newbie draftsman in a larger design firm, and be the general office go-fur for a year or more before you can demonstrate that you can do more than just put lines on a screen.

    You have marketable skills and if you do not care for your current job, look for another one and stay with what you do best. You might consider working for a company that builds commercial ships, large cargo vessels and passenger cruise ships, these are larger companies with long term contract so they have more steady employment and will get you into one end of the marine design industry. At this point at your age, it would take you about as much time to develop the knowledge, skills and experience to do yacht design at about the time most people are considering retirement.

    You need to separate your income earning potential with your desire to do something more fun with your skills. Find a better job in your field that you enjoy more, and than take up recreational sailing and boat building as hobby or avocation. You must learn something about sailing before you can design a sailboat, go take some classes at a local club or parks and recreation department program. Get to know people at the local yacht club where they do weekend racing and volunteer to crew for them (consider yourself their "slave" on deck, and you will not be disappointed while you learn something about sailing). Study as many plans as you can, buy plans books and study them, read books on sailboat and yacht design, and than either buy some plans for a small dingy or day sailor (I suggest something small and inexpensive to build, like 14' or less, pick a popular design), and build it yourself in your spare time. This will get you familiar with how plans are used, building methods, materials, etc, and give you something to go out and sail in on your own. You can do your own design but for your first build I suggest staying with something proven. this dingy can also be used as a tender for the larger live-aboard you want to get later. If you decide this is not for you, than you have not spent too much money and you can sell it (that is why you want to stay with a popular and proven design).

    You can eventually perhaps develop some of your own designs and than make them available through and internet site. Eventually you may build up a small catalog of boat plans, but do not expect to make a lot of income this way. But it will be fun, give you a creative outlet and generate some side income, and perhaps give you a nice "retirement" business when your are done with your regular career. It you develop those design skills this way, you could become successful with it eventually and not risk diverting your considerable talents you use now to make yourself a living wage, for a long shot career at best.

    I am not trying to be critical of you, just realistic. Keep your current job and take it one step at a time. You can not really afford to start over right now, particularly in a low demand career field.

    Good luck.
  8. JSL
    Joined: Nov 2012
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    JSL Senior Member

    After 40+ years in the Naval Architecture business I would say Gonzo's & Petros' advice is right on. Many can make a decent living.... few get rich. Most important, enjoy your work... money is not the only reward.
  9. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Thanks to David Cockey for referring you to my article--it is a must read. Much of the other advice is spot on.

    One thing to remember, too, is that the recreational boat industry is still not fully recovered from the 2008 recession. According to a seminar at IBEX last year, the recreational boat industry is only 1/10th the size it was in 2000. So there are a lot fewer boats being built out there, a lot fewer jobs, and the recovery is very, very, slooooooooow!

    However, there may be a slim chance of hope for you, which is better than no chance. You mentioned you like modelling in 3D--this industry is going more and more to 3D modelling all the time. Also, the building of commercial boats and ships seems to be healthier than the recreational market, and there may be more opportunities in that end of the marine field.

    If Westlawn suits your psyche and wallet, then try it out--see how much work it is, and really get to know the terminology and the science of boats. And, maximize your skills in 2D architectural drafting and 3D modelling--that's where the industry is going.

    Personally, I think the art of good 2D drafting has suffered terribly with the advent of computers. It's not the computer's fault, which is an extremely powerful tool. Rather it is the fault of all the users who have never had any good drafting courses--they think they can draw, but they are horribly under-skilled. But that's a topic for another thread....

    Good luck,

  10. WestVanHan
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    WestVanHan Not a Senior Member

    I'm nowhere near even being able to sketch a boat,much less design one. However I am very practical,some may say too much so.

    But I can't add anything to what the guys have said above but for one thing-I knew a guy who took all the courses,got all the letters behind his name and struggled for years,sold a few plans,etc and even in the good times had extra jobs to make ends meet.

    One day when he was very depressed and almost bankrupt,I suggested he ditch the yacht crap and sell the stunning model boats he made as a hobby-beautiful and brilliant perfection.

    He made literally 20 times more money doing that than what he ever did as a designer.

    Who'd have thought???
  11. Wayne Grabow
    Joined: Aug 2003
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    Wayne Grabow Senior Member

    The advice shared here is fantastic; so many people taking time to write thoughtful responses. Eric's "SO YOU WANT TO BE A BOAT DESIGNER" says it all. I was fortunate to get advice early, just after I received my Mech. Engineering degree. I had done my senior research project in hull design and then stopped by U.C. Berkeley to inquire about their Naval Architect program. I was told that the USA is a shipbuilding backwater; that even in the ship industry most jobs are in the plumbing, HVAC, propulsion, and similar fields rather than designing hulls. I elected to look at other options.

    I have always felt that being a professional is not about what you do but about your attitude toward your work. I looked at getting an MBA and going into management; I spent a year as a engineering management trainee and discovered my dislike for the atmosphere of corporate politics. I considered going back for a PhD in engineering and going into teaching. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of cutting edge engineering, but most engineering jobs are not at the cutting edge. I considered going to medical school and becoming a physician. Two of my uncles were physicians and enjoyed respect and a good income. But my wife (by then) worked in a hospital and discouraged the idea. For her, she saw the long hours and high divorce rate of physicians.

    So what did I do? I became a dentist. Those drafting courses I took in high school (given two views of an object, draw the third view) helped me pass the entrance test. Dentistry is a 3-Dimensional discipline. Teeth are like finger prints; each set of teeth is different. Restoring teeth is engineering: strength of materials, stress distributions, occlusal harmony. Creating the proper shape is sculpture. The most interesting part is understanding, educating, and motivating people, my patients.

    Too bad we can't clone ourselves and pursue several paths through life simultaneously to see the variety of experiences they each bring. I am sure that many other paths could have been equally rewarding. If you find life boring, perhaps you need to look at yourself. The challenges are there.

    But what about boat designing? As a hobby, you can do whatever you want. Thus far, I have built eight boats all of my own design and on my own schedule. I read the comments of more experienced members of this forum and try to learn from them as well as my own limited efforts. Life is good.
    1 person likes this.
  12. mudsailor
    Joined: Mar 2013
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    mudsailor Junior Member

    Changing market


    Right now Naval Architects are in high demand....why?
    Oil and gas in Houston is sucking up people and paying big dollars to recent NA grads.
    Plenty of good people left the industry in 2008/2009
    There are very few schools graduating NAs (Webb class this year is 17 people)
    The non recreation market is busy and hiring in all sectors.
    Right now the market pay rate for a graduate NA with 2-3 years experience is ~$80,000, with 10years experience ~$120,000 is not unusual.

    A mechanical engineer with Westlawn would be a good hire for many companies, especially with a boating background.
    1 person likes this.
  13. CDBarry
    Joined: Nov 2002
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    CDBarry Senior Member

    Just as a note re alternative fields for engineers: The patent office hires mostly engineers, and most patent attorneys are engineers (chemical mostly, it seems). You can take the patent bar if you are an engineer, a scientist, or a lawyer, which makes you a patent agent, and when you pass a state bar as well, you are a patent attorney.

    One route is thru the patent office; they will not only get you thru the patent bar, but also put you thru law school, then when you have worked long enough after that, you can go into private practice and make serious money in a very interestig field.
  14. evgen1403
    Joined: Mar 2014
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    evgen1403 New Member

    Hi, every one. I am new on this forum. Currently I am working on board of seismic research vessel as a Maritime Officer, and the most important operations on board are connected with "small boats": Fast Rescue boats and Work boats. Could you recommend me any program to get some knowledge about small boats design, may be some training courses? I would like to develop my career towards small boats design, construction, maintenance and operation.

  15. JSL
    Joined: Nov 2012
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    JSL Senior Member

    There are some home study programs like Westlawn. I think they have a 'light' version you could start with and then go the full version or another school if you like it.
    I would also recommend that you get any and all types of boat experience you can... Even washing a boat can be a good learning experience. As a designer (naval architect) the last thing you need to 'create' is an "Architect's Dream": essentially, an unbuildable boat or if buildable, a maintenance nightmare.
    In the meantime, there are lots of good books to start like Dave Gerr's' Nature of Boats' & other publications.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014
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