How to Become a Naval Architect

Naval architects are designers of all kinds of ships, maritime vessels, oil rigs, and other forms of craft. They are the “architects of the seas”.

Education and training

Naval architecture and marine engineering are closely related subjects. Like all architecture and engineering degrees, the prerequisite studies for entry into this field start in high school, with strong emphasis on mathematics, physics, CAD design and applied sciences.

Note: Readers are advised to check universities providing naval architecture training to get a clear picture of the entry requirements and courses available, which may vary considerably. 

In some US universities, like the University of New Orleans, the two subject streams are meshed into functional stages. The lineage of naval architecture qualifications at undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degrees is:

  1. Bachelor of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME)
  2. Master of Science in Engineering 
  3. Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science

The usual term of study to graduate level is 8 years. This is one of the most complex of all the engineering and architectural fields, very much on a par with aerospace design. The naval architect creates structures which are the equivalent of the land-based architect’s buildings, but with many additional features.

Studies include:

  • Principles of maritime design
  • Propulsion systems
  • Fluid dynamics (behavior, physics and actions of fluids; sea water is the most complex fluid on Earth)
  • Thermodynamics
  • Structural stability (the balance of the ship or vessel in all conditions)
  • Systems design (this is also a marine engineering area, but naval architects require thorough training in the field as part of their design role.)
  • Testing methodologies (ship designs are tested for their integrity under stresses, wave conditions, and stability of flotation.)

Tips for becoming a naval architect

The most important personal characteristic required in this very demanding field is motivation. Modern naval architecture is changing the whole concept of ship design, producing beautiful, streamlined vessels which are as much more efficient as they are more elegant than their predecessors. This is a profession for the real enthusiast, a motivated person with a huge talent for design and affinity for engineering science. The giant ship, like aircraft carriers, supertankers, luxury liners, and the big freight carriers, are the results of a lot of pure scientific talent.

This is also the perfect career for the truly creative person. Architecture of any kind is a creative profession, an art form, in many ways. Naval architects are creators of the equivalent of floating cities, integrated holistic designs which at their highest levels are a triumph of conceptual thinking.  

Types of naval architecture work

This is a profession which provides any designer with as much choice in types of work as they could ever wish. Naval architects may choose to specialize in various forms of ship design:

  • Military vessels
  • Oil tankers
  • Freight vessels
  • Passenger ships
  • Pleasure craft, like luxury yachts and motor vessels
  • Special vessels like marine exploration craft

Each type of design has its own specialties which define naval architecture jobs.  Military vessels, for example, include such diverse forms of design as missile cruisers and nuclear subs. These are quite different forms of design, requiring very different basic design concepts. A naval architect’s career portfolio may include aircraft carriers, luxury liners, power boats, ferries, even oil rigs and special survival rafts.