Working day/week of a professional Naval Architect

Discussion in 'All Things Boats & Boating' started by anton_mr, Apr 5, 2012.

  1. anton_mr
    Joined: Dec 2011
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    Location: Sydney, Australia

    anton_mr Junior Member

    What is it like?
     
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  2. jehardiman
    Joined: Aug 2004
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    Location: Port Orchard, Washington, USA

    jehardiman Senior Member

    Depends on where you are and what you are doing...everything from schmoozing potential customers at cocktail parties, doing a small boat transfer in SS 5, crawling through an oil soaked bilge, giving congressional testimony, instructing a weldor on power settings, lots of stitting in economy seats on aircraft, climbing a mast, inspecting firebrick...etc... The job is what you make it.
     
  3. anton_mr
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    anton_mr Junior Member

    Well obviously it's what you make it I am just interested to hear from people who actually do it.
    What do you do mostly?
     
  4. Eric Sponberg
    Joined: Dec 2001
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    A lot of the work is mundane--doing deisgn and engineering calculations, drawing drawings, consulting on the phone with people who ask "Why is my boat broken?" or "How can I make my boat perform better?" Sometimes travel is involved for consultation on the road, like repairing broken boats or testifying for attorneys in court cases as an expert witness. I spend a lot of time just writing emails. I also spend a fair bit of time on this forum because I like helping people, and it actually brings me paying work. But I don't spend as much time on this site as some others do. I pick and choose where my comments will serve the best. There is lots of good advice provided by a lot of smart people on this forum.

    The workday will vary with the jobs at hand. For example, I am currently working on the third of three catamarans that the US Coast Guard has demanded be recalculated for stability, both intact and damaged. This is because Americans have gotten pretty fat, and the standard weight of a person on board has gone up from 160 lbs to 185 lbs. That is a significant change in weight for high-passenger-count boats, so the stability criteria all have to be re-calculated, and the USCG is being extra special careful on their review of calculations, all in the name of safety, of course.

    I am also designing a new rig for a Freedom 40 sailboat, and I am designing a whole new 66' aluminum cat ketch. In the meantime, there are daily, or at least weekly, inquiries regarding new boat and mast designs and consulting work that have to be attended to as they come in. A proposal for new work can take a few hours to sort out and complete. You take it all in stride and hope that at the end of the day, you have some chargeable hours to bill to clients. On designs, I usually work on fixed-price projects, so if I have under-estimated the amount of time it takes, or if I have quoted a time to make the job have a reasonable cost, I may not make as good an hourly rate as I intended. You try to keep track of this as time goes on so that you are not congenitally disadavantaged financially. We are in this business to make a living, after all.

    Sometimes you can go quite a few days or a week with no chargeable hours. For instance, just today I returned from a 3-day trip with my wife to do some promotion lectures on her latest novel (I am her "roadie"), so I was out of the office on her behalf for that time. I did find some time on the road to keep up with some of the on-going projects.

    Which reminds me, I really have to get back to work....

    Eric
     
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  5. Ad Hoc
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Japan

    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    Being a naval architect can come in many shapes and sizes. It generally depends upon whether you’re working for a large company or a small one, or whether commercial or leisure and if Govt, i.e. Military/defence side too.

    Any of these can be rewarding, but that is a subjective point of view, since what makes a NA happy designing say yachts may not make them happy designing brackets all day for engine rooms of Container ships or Aircraft carriers. As you can see already from the posts above, you can find your personal area of interest and then specialise in it, which is rewarding.

    But the key to being a good NA and more importantly enjoying it, is having a well rounded foundation in terms of education and experience. Having a chief naval architect at your first company to guide you teach you and show you what to do and what not to do, helps enormously in this regard. I was lucky to have one such person and eventually become a very dear and personal friend and we set up our own design company together too.

    As for me, the field I am in is commercial and generally all things high-speed. From design to hydrodynamics to structures etc etc. I get a lot of pleasure from general design, that is putting a design together from a base SOR and an equal amount of pleasure from going down onto the shopfloor sorting our errors and problems in fabrication.

    I also get a lot of pleasure from teaching/sharing and passing on knowledge; if “we” don’t train up the next generation of NA’s who will?. I used to teach local school kids how to design boats for their school science competition (when I lived in the UK). I Also occasionally lecture at universities too, when invited, this I also enjoy, or write articles for magazines.

    My working day is a myriad of that described by JEH, depends where in the world I am what kind of job I’m doing and what the client wants. Except that anything over 7hours flying is business class :D, like it or lump it. I’ve done my far share of flying 30hours non-stop arrive feeling like hell having to go directly to work in a dirty smelly bilge to find “what is going on”..and after 2 hours of review then fly straight back home, all economy class :(. So, there are some things you can pick and choose :p

    If you like a varied job, where no 2 days are the same and willing to be patient to learn the basics over a number of years, preferably with a good mentor, it is a very rewarding job. You get to see, what was once just in your mind, floating on the water, for real…doesn’t get any better than that!
     
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  6. anton_mr
    Joined: Dec 2011
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    Location: Sydney, Australia

    anton_mr Junior Member

    Thanks for your posts, it's really helpful. The fact that people take time to tell a future student about this makes me believe that i'm in the right industry.

    Would be nice to hear from someone from Australia.
     
  7. jehardiman
    Joined: Aug 2004
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    Location: Port Orchard, Washington, USA

    jehardiman Senior Member

    I am a Professional Naval Architect who for the last 27 years has worked for the US Navy in Deep Submergence & Adavance Development, and in I've done all the things I listed in my first post in those years. And what I do is very different than some solo NA with his own office like Eric. While many may start school thinking they are going to be a yacht designer, it is government and commericial offices who hire the majority of NAs (sad but true, yacht design is a hard row to hoe and many have passed through our office). I'm lucky in that I got my dream job early, but it will never make me rich.

    FWIW, after having gone to school at Webb and Michigan and broken in many grads since, I don't think classwork alone prepares the young Naval Architect for what the total job entails. Lately, some have come into the office thinking that they are going to sit in front of a computer doing modeling and simulations all day. They really dislike going down into the shops to work out fabrication problems, or out to sea for testing.

    Daily, as a senior NA in a government design office, what I do mostly is go to meetings to help keep the herd of cats in the box and moving ahead in the right direction (i.e. "fighting the good fight", which can be the hardest thing in the modern acqusition environment), develop technical soultions to requirements (i.e. the "design" work), write technical papers supporting or criticizing a given technical course of action, develop CONOPs for technical development, review trials and test data to see what improvements can be made, write Operational Guidance, check or review the design work/calculations of the engineers actually doing most the paperwork (you don't launch a ship until the paperwork equals the displacement). Somewhere in there I get a cup of tea and a conversation about yachts, canoes, plywood skiffs, propeller theory, nuclear propulsion, weapon theory and tactics, etc. Some days I go home feeling I've helped the country, and some days I wonder why I keep beating my head against the wall.
     
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  8. anton_mr
    Joined: Dec 2011
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    anton_mr Junior Member

    I know the problem about underestimating the project too, had that in my current job many times :)
    If you don't mind me asking. Where do you usually get customers from and what kind (government, commercial or private)? From ads or from the word of the mouth? From what I've heard many NA go through this: first rookie job in a big company -> job in a small company started with friends or they get in through friends -> own company and/or freelance kind of work with customers coming through connections they got in the past. Does that seem to be true?

    Where do you think one should focus on getting in as his first NA job: a big company or a small company? Where is the bigger chance to meet such a mentor person (or persons) who can help you grow?

    From where do you usually get your customers for your design company in Japan (if your info is up to date)?

    Yeah that is exactly what I want: the variety and having to do different stuff. I've been working in IT industry where 90% is sitting at a computer and work on code or modeling of a project, sometimes it's rewarding because you solve some interesting problems but when it gets very repetitive and affects your health in a bad way if you want to achieve something and work your *** off like I do.
    Thanks for the inspiration :)

    Yeah I see how that can be an issue with young grads, but I've got one education already and worked computer jobs for some time I'd love some variety and sea for testing would be a blessing. What would you recommend on top of classwork to obtain as much as I can during my education time? Sea experience? Self education?

    Well you get a pretty influential job as far as I can see. In a government related place do you get to work on something revolutionary new tech wise?
    If let's say I have a dream to get into projects related to alternative energy / sail materials etc. mostly research type of things as my early job, do you think I should try government related companies?
     
  9. Ad Hoc
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Japan

    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    This is a tricky one really. I would opt for a 'small to medium' size company. Something in the 200 person employed range. But the key thing is, it must, repeat must, be a shipyard/boatyard type. NOT, repeat, not, just an air-con office in the middle of...well, where ever.

    Small-medium companies, means you get a lot of experience over a wide range of disciplines. If the company is too small, the chief designer probably won't have time to teach you nor have the financial resources too. If too large, you'll be tasked with just one area to deal with, very slow progress and limited.

    The company must have sufficient financial resources to send you to conferences and the occasional training seminar. Coupled with that, allows the flexibility of you spending at least half your time on the shopfloor every week. (If they have an in-house training program, even better). You must be prepared to get out of the office and spend time on the shopfloor, preferably ask the production manager if s/he can set you up to learn the basics of welding and fabrication, along with them. (That's what I did).

    As for mentor...research the company before you apply, see who is the chief naval architect and see what papers/books/articles they have written as well as the type of vessels they have inspired/designed. Also, what other people say about them too. That's about all you can do..and then see what appears interesting to you.

    Ex-clients from my previous company and word of mouth/recommendations from them to other interested parties. Also because of the vessels we specialise in, it is a bit limited too, so some approach us simply because not many options available.

    Also once you learn and train as a NA, over the years you'll find may be 1 or 2 areas that interest you more than the others. So you end up reading more about it or even doing higher degrees etc. and writing papers too. We all end up having 1 or 2 "speciality" areas. As such you can eventually be seen as an "expert" in such a field by others. Doesn't mean you necessarily are, just means you know more than most on these topics. This too has lead to work owing to such "expertise".
     
  10. MikeJohns
    Joined: Aug 2004
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    Location: Australia

    MikeJohns Senior Member


    Measure/Quote …….(repeat until engaged)
    Design ….lots of time at my desk mainly using a computer with spreadsheet and CAD and specific marine design packages generating or updating the stability info and checking, FEA of any specific design.

    On a medium project working alone, a week or two after the design work is finished simply detailing the main drawings and specifications for the Project Manager.

    Then producing ongoing specification and drawings issued to subcontractors
    simpler drawings required for CNC cutting files etc.

    Then arbitrating between subcontractors and Chief Shipwright and taking the responsibility for say reducing the number of weld runs for an overzealous welding crew being paid by the hour.

    Approving substitutions is very common, “we can get this sized material but not the one you specified”. Because they didn’t order everything at the start.

    Dealing with the bureaucratic Class or Flag surveyor……………….

    A lot of frustration as you see your design altered, then the hostility of the yard as you stop the work and make them do it the way it was designed. Contempt from the welders when you insist on runs being ground out and re-done. I havn’t mentioned the painters yet either………. Every one knows better than the NA/ME. You can fight a constant battle and make enemies just making sure the client gets a proper job done.

    Expect to receive the blame for every stupid no brainer if it wasn’t specifically in written correspondence, even the miniscule. It’s not good enough to say even "install a grease nipple", you have to say "Install……where it will be accessible" or "in the marked position on drawing No...".

    There is forensic engineering and it’s related expert witness and Insurance report work….. can be interesting since it’s usually a few hours on the vessel , maybe some analysis or just a simple report about the blazing obvious.
     
  11. anton_mr
    Joined: Dec 2011
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    anton_mr Junior Member

    Thanks for the insight. It sounds fun, especially the "making enemies" part :)

    If you don't mind me asking, where and when did you study and what's your opinion about the education quality?
    Do you work for a big/medium shipyard? Did you get into that position after graduating or did you work somewhere else before?
     
  12. jehardiman
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    jehardiman Senior Member

    Much like Ad Hoc say below, you need to have knowledge in 1 or 2 fields. Really, a NA needs to really understand one type of construction: steel/welding/machineing; FRP; wood, and be versed in the others. In my office we have sections that deal with actual fabrication details, but for preliminary design, myself and another NA (ex-yacht designer who did several MORA winners) tag team between steel (me) and composite (him) fabrication. Also my ace in the hole is my wife who is a metallurgist/materials engineer.

    LoL, no I'm a low level peon (I don't even work in DC...a nobody), real decisions are made at the congressional level and really aren't about technical issues, but political ones...(don't want to go there...). It is sort of strange, but large commerical firms, those that buy congressmen, aren't about innovation...no money in it. As ad Hoc says the mid level companies are the ones into innovation. Be warned however, that most mid level companies CEO's and stockholders wet dream is to sell out to a large company for an obscene profit.

    Good advice, the other option is to get into a R&D office somewhere (where I ended up). Because the office is small (we are ~200 people in a 10K person shipyard) you get to do much more than just a singe job. Lots of different experience early in your professional career really helps.
     
  13. anton_mr
    Joined: Dec 2011
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    anton_mr Junior Member

    Thanks a lot, really the most informative thread I've read in a while on a forum. Excited and taking notes.

    Yeah it seems like it's the same in any industry. But I don't really care as long as I get the experience and something interesting to work on.
     
  14. MikeJohns
    Joined: Aug 2004
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    MikeJohns Senior Member


    AMC/UTAS is as good an option as anywhere in Oz. I live in Tasmania and studied my degrees here . But I'm close to retirement age so all I can say is that new grads I've experienced are pretty much the same wherever they come from.
    You need to work for a few years to get your PEng anyway.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2012

  15. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Most of my customers are private individuals, boat repair yards, and attorneys. The private individuals own boats, are building a boat, want a new boat, want a new or replacement mast, or they want to repair or modify their boat. Boat repair yards are usually in a situation where they have a broken boat on their property and they need help fixing it. Attorneys have a lawsuit at hand and they need an expert to either defend their suit or help prosecute their suit. Nearly everyone hears about me from my website, the articles that I write (mostly in Professional Boatbuilder these days), from my participation at IBEX, from referrals of other customers, from marine surveyors, and from contributions I make on forums like this.

    I do not advertise. I advertised in a few places for over 10 years, and I never got one customer from any ad. Instead, I write. I write for magazines and I write and present for IBEX. Articles and lectures are many, many times more effective than advertising for promoting one's services, plus you get paid for it. Advertising costs you money and is not anywhere near as effective. Of course, customer referrals are a great source for getting work: Do a good job at a reasonable price, and always give a little bit extra so that the customer sees and believes he or she is getting a good deal (because they are!). They will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, etc., etc. It is not what you know that counts so much as it is who you know. Hardly anyone gets ahead in any human endeavor without a sugar-daddy--someone who will pay the bills to promote you and give you your chances, not just in boat design, but in anything.

    My first job was with the largest corporation in the world at the time: Exxon Corporation. I worked for Esso International Services Inc., division of Exxon International Company, owned by Exxon Corporation. I was a really small cog in a great big world-wide machine. Our office supervised the construction of tankers for all the non-US tanker fleets. (Since the Exxon Valdez disaster, Exxon and it's affiliates no longer own any tankers). I worked there for five years, two years in New York City, and three years in England. After that, my wife and I spent a year an half cruising in our 27' sailboat, sailing over 11,000 miles from England to California (this is my "master's degree" in yacht design.) I opened Sponberg Yachts in Ventura, CA, in 1978. Later, I was the Technical Editor for Cruising World magazine in Newport, RI, for a short time. Then I was hired as a staff engineer at Tillotson-Pearson in Warren, RI, builders of Freedom Yachts, J-Boats, Alden Yachts, truck body parts, windmill blades, and fan blades, in March 1980. This is where I acquired my production boatbuilding experience (my other "master's degree" in boat construction and composites engineering.) By June, I was Chief Engineer (my predecessor resigned). A little over a year later, I left to resume my independent practice and I have been on my own ever since. So in many ways, I followed the typical path that you describe. But it is a long row to hoe. You do not get instant fame, you do not get instant work. It takes a long time to build credibility and stable sources of clientele. You had better have multiple sources of income to put food on the table.

    If you have not already, you may want to read an article I wrote on my website for the aspiring yacht designer: http://sponbergyachtdesign.com/ArticlesDesigner.htm.

    I hope that helps.

    Eric
     
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