Marine Craftsperson

The Job and What's Involved

Marine craftspeople carry out a range of practical tasks essential to the building and repair of ships and boats of all kinds. They work in two main areas:

Shipbuilding, ship repair and conversion - working on vessels, such as warships, submarines, research vessels, ferries, dredgers, tankers, tugs and specialist vessels for the offshore industry. Shipbuilding is dominated by a handful of large shipyards, but there are many smaller businesses involved in building small ships and in ship repair. The surge in the development of offshore wind-farms is also proving to be a source of employment for marine craftspeople.

Boat building and repair - working on a wide range of smaller craft, from luxury powerboats to sailing boats, narrow-boats and wooden dinghies. Most modern boats are built using fibreglass or new composite materials, in a factory environment. Only a small number of new craft are built from wood, but there is a need for repair and restoration of existing wooden boats.

Both shipbuilding and boat building involve working from a design (usually created on a computer) to assemble a vessel. With steel-hulled vessels, the work involves marking out shapes, cutting and bending steel, and joining pieces by welding. Increasingly, computer-controlled equipment is used to cut, shape and join metal, although some tasks may still be carried out with hand tools. This is similar for metal narrow-boat construction.

Fibreglass boat building is often started by laminators who begin with a mould, into which polymer composite materials, such as fibreglass, are pressed, poured or sometimes sprayed. The finished product is then polished to a fine gloss finish, using power sanders.

Fitting vessels out with engines, electrical and electronic systems, and accommodation is a large part of the work. It involves skilled workers, such as engineering craftspeople, electricians, gas fitters, carpenters, joiners, plumbers, painters and decorators.

People with traditional skills, such as shipwrights (carpenters and joiners) and sail makers are still required in ship and boat building.

Craftspeople can expect a standard working week, although overtime is often available. Some urgent work may require working weekends and additional shifts, and emergency repairs may have to be done at night.

For most tasks, craftspeople work under cover. Maintenance work may be outside and involve cramped, dirty or oily conditions, strenuous lifting and carrying and working at heights.

Trainees or apprentices under the age of 18 start on around £8,000 a year. The basic rate for a qualified craftsperson may be around £20,000 a year and experienced craftspeople may achieve £30,000 a year.

Overtime and bonus rates are often available for getting a job done on or ahead of schedule.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The biggest shipyards in the UK are based in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, on the Clyde, on Tyneside, at Devonport in Plymouth and at Portsmouth. There are also smaller businesses at other ports, notably Falmouth, which is a centre for ship repair.

Boat building and repair companies are largely located in the east of England, the south-west and on the south coast. Narrow-boats and river cruiser-type craft companies are usually located in the West Midlands and along inland waterways.

Employers involved in boat building are mainly small or medium-sized firms. In addition to the smaller companies, there are some large and successful companies specialising in the busy leisure boat sector.

Jobs may be advertised in the local press, in Connexions centres and in Jobcentre Plus offices.

Education and Training

In shipbuilding, many entrants are school leavers. Minimum entry requirements are normally GCSE's (A*- G) in English, maths, and an engineering, science or technology subject, or equivalent. The Diploma in engineering would provide the basis for training as a marine craftsperson.

Some employers require higher grades, and may require applicants to sit an aptitude test. In small ship repair or boat building companies, entry requirements vary depending on the employer.

Entrants usually join a firm of shipbuilders, ship repairers or boat builders and train on the job, often through Apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

Students leaving full-time education can go to college to attend engineering-related vocational courses, such as NVQ's or a BTEC National Diploma in engineering, a full-time, two-year course designed for students considering a career in any branch of engineering. They could then apply for Advanced Apprenticeships when they finish their course.

Some employers are introducing training schemes for adults. In boat building and repair, adults with relevant skills, such as laminating, carpentry, plumbing or electrical installation, may be able to find work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Craft training usually involves a combination of experience on the job, combined with part-time study on day or block release at a college or training centre.

Training is usually through an Apprenticeship. Apprentices start with an induction course, including health and safety training. They then learn the basic skills that employers need, such as interpreting drawings, selecting materials and using hand tools, and move on to develop skills in their specialist craft, leading to NVQ's at Levels 2 and 3.

A number of colleges and training centres around the UK offer full-time, part-time and short courses in boat building. A list of these is available from the British Marine Federation.

Boat building qualifications include:

  • NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in marine engineering.
  • NVQ Level 2 in boat production and support services.
  • NVQ Level 3 in boat building and maintenance techniques.
  • NVQ Level 3 in boat building and maintenance.
  • City & Guilds (C&G) Certificate in boat production, maintenance and support.

College courses leading to BTEC National Awards in subjects such as mechanical, electrical or electronic engineering may provide an appropriate background for entry to shipbuilding or ship repair.

Boat building trainees may study for a BTEC National Certificate or Diploma in polymer processing and materials technology.

There are also specialist degrees available in leisure boat design and construction.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A marine craftsperson needs:

  • The ability to find practical solutions to problems.
  • To be computer literate.
  • The ability to understand plans and drawings.
  • The ability to communicate clearly and precisely.
  • Physical fitness.
  • Good eyesight.
  • Good hands-on ability.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, promotion may be possible to supervisory level with responsibilities for a section or workshop, or to inspector. A move to workshop manager may be possible.

In boat building and repair, there are opportunities for self-employment.

It is possible to qualify as a marine engineering technician by gaining further qualifications.

Get Further Information

British Marine Federation, Marine House,
Thorpe Lea Road, Egham, Surrey TW20 8BF
Tel: 01784 473377

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Stevenage,
Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313 311

The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science
and Technology (IMarEST)
Tel: 020 7382 2600

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies),
14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT
Head office 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167

Women Into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE),
2nd floor Weston House, 246 High Holborn,
London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0408

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