Costs of being a marine engineer

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A few weeks ago, I compiled a list of the steps required to achieving and maintaining a Transport Canada 1st Class Certificate of Competency. The list identifies the individual steps to hold a 1st Class and the associated cost not only in terms of money, but also in terms of time for training, in the “classroom”, and time served aboard a ship. I compiled one list for the Marine Engineering Cadet stream, and one for the so called “Alternate Path” stream, or “hawsepiping”.

No matter how you slice it, the path to becoming a Marine Engineer in Canada is not an easy one. It is very long and many requirements have to be met, to succeed. But it is clear that taking the Cadet path to 1st Class is the best option; costing about $25,500 dollars and taking about nine and half years to complete. The “Alternate Path”, is considerably more burdensome in the number of steps, and considerably more expensive, at $32,800 – 26% more. However it takes about the same time as the cadet stream, 9.2 years, to complete.

The data is compiled in its entirety, but some individuals may be able to find shortcuts to some aspect of the requirements listed, but overall, these “shortcuts” are quite minimal. The costs, as they are compiled neglect a considerable additional financial burden: the cost of housing, food, transportation, taxes, and such are not included in these summaries. With an expected time in school of over three years, this would represent a considerable financing challenge by an individual pursuing a Marine Engineering career.

Sea time served aboard a ship is also calculated as the necessary sea time, which does not include time off, or vacations. When these factors are considered, the length of time required to complete the program stretches considerably. The length depending on the type of watch, 8 or 12 hrs served on board, and leave rotation. Leave in Canada is mostly at day for day – or at least ought to be, so theoretically, the 6.2 years of sea time Transport Canada requires, could end up being twelve years in actual time.

These costs also ignore the elephant in the room, that is, the social cost of a career at sea. These affect individuals differently, but principally include social isolation, leading to social disorders such as substance abuse and failed marriages / relationships. The impacts to the support network that a seafarer is able to maintain, are also considerable. Children with absent parents and the impacts this produces are immeasurable. Impacts on spouses and their ability to function “normally” are also greatly affected by this career choice of their spouse.   

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The purpose for me to compiled these lists were to ascertained whether the return on such a considerable amount of time, financial, and social investment are worth the returns. I recognize that the social cost is not readily calculatedly. It is also safe to say that the job satisfaction benefits are also not calculable. So the question becomes is it comparable to other professions or trades; I would propose not.

The sheer amount of requirements to be met is staggering, and requires a long time frame to complete. I estimate an initial salary in the range of $50-70k per year in Canada for a 4th Class with two years experience on the job. I further estimate the range for 1st Class to be around $100-120k per year, however, these latter figures are, if and when you do get a 1st class license, which takes at least 8-11 years after achieving a 4th Class.

If you were to weight options, perhaps a Red Seal trade, such as Diesel Mechanic, Millwright, Electrician, or even a police officer would, I suggest, would offer a more reasonable return on investment, than Marine Engineering would. Journeyman status is quickly reached, 2-4 years, with fewer initial and ongoing training and licensing requirements by comparison. I would suggest that they reach higher initial earnings, and more importantly, considerably less social impacts on the individual or their families.

I would suggest that Marine Engineer remuneration packages offered in Canada are currently inadequate to attract new Marine Engineer to the profession. In strict comparison to other avenues of post secondary education, an investment in Marine Engineering is a long term outlay of capital, with meager returns.

The remuneration situation also fails to recognize the current realities of seafaring and its impact on an individual’s ability to have a family, a basic human need. The ability to raise a family has many facets made more complicated, by the very specific and enormously taxing work requirements. These challenges are seldom anticipated by new entrants into the maritime world, until well into their careers. Therefore the overall remuneration for a career minded Marine Engineering professional, is woefully inadequate, particularly in Canada.

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I would suggest a proper remuneration package starting at $95-120k per year for 4th Class to at least $200k per year for a 1st Class. This might seem like a large amount to employers, but I propose it is what it will take to address the stagnation of Marine Engineering wages since the 1980’s.

Those who are now retiring in great numbers, had their peak wage demands back then, and as their lives moved to post family one, their cost decreased. I theorize that they settled for marginal wage increases from ship operators since the 1980’s. However, this generation is now retiring, and in order to attract career minded professionals, the wages in this demanding profession will have to reflect the current realities – however dramatic that might feel like now. 

You can download the files from the main website (Ship's Library), or by clicking below...

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