Engineer/Machinist or Navigator?

Starter seamen help kit. Shipdriver or ship engineer?

Steer wheel or wrench? Who to become? Navigator vs Engineer.


There are various types of vessels in the modern world: they differ by class, size and designation purposes, as well as number of personnel. But, despite all this, any ship crew has one and the same structure and it is devided into two parts – deck-based and machinery.

The deck-based crew members are: captain, the first mate, navigators (of the second, third and forth rates), boatswain and seamen; the machinery crew members are chief engineer, engineers (the second, the third and the forth), the machinist (also known as a motor man), welder, grinder. Depending upon the type or class of the vessel, there might be some additional specialists and the total headcount on a ship can amount to 1 500 people.

These are two different, yet equally important services – everyone bears responsibility for safety of the crew and the cargo. Thus, the deck-based crew members prepare the vessel for working and operation, shape the course, control the embarkation in the port, arrange the work of the crew members, keep records and documentation. The personnel of the machinery room is engaged in keep all the ship machinery in good repair and proper working order, provide routine maintenance, recover the hull of the ship and hardware from any defects or damages.  

The engineer and the navigator are the main participants of all the processes on the ship. Each of them bears his own part of responsibility.

The work site of any engineer or a machinist of any rate is an engine room. The working pattern can be either a “watch on duty” or the familiar to everyone 5-days working week. But, of course, speaking formally, the machinist, leaving his work site should be ready to return to it any time if something happens, for example if something gets broken or damaged, or in case of a leak and should repair it. The working environment of a ship engineer is rather hard – constant noise coming out of the engines in a cramped room without sun light, stale air and lack of oxygen, contact with technical liquids and chemicals, serious physical load. Mental alertness, strength and stress resistance, tolerance to fatigue and physical load, carefulness and accuracy in work, high responsibility and ability to work as an effective team player are the most essential and highly required traits of the prospect machinist.   

The machinist is a a person, who works by hands, has a good grasp of physics and mechanics, electrical engineering and electronics, understands how different nodes and components work. All this universal knowledge will be useful not only aboard a ship, but also in regular life - usually sea machinists easily find their work place ashore.  

The working day of a navigator is filled with fresh air, and this, is certainly, an advantage. But the day is difficult as well. Navigators have the deck (steaming watch, as they also call it), control the accuracy of the course of the ship. When entering a port, navigators are responsible for on-and-off loading operations and freight handling. While doing this they are in close contact with various officials of the recipient country and other contractors, they fill in different papers and legal documents. A navigator aboard a modern ship is a document controller, advanced user of a PC. Moreover, he organizes and controls the activities of all the crew, trains and gives instructions to them.  

If you decided to twist your fortune with sea, you will have to get the necessary education. Marine training centers and educational facilities are secondary specialized (like colleges) and higher educational establishments (like universities). In order to become a navigator or a machinist, it is enough to get a secondary education. But if you plan to become a first officer, captain, or a chief engineer, you will have to get the higher marine qualification. You can start your education process right after you graduate the 9th year at school. In this case you can enter a marine college. Or you can equally do the same after you graduate the 11th year at school. In this case you’ll have to spend at college 1 year less.  

After getting specialized education you have an option to work either on a Russian ship or a foreign ship. Remember, that you have to speak good English is you opt to work on a foreign ship. Your English fluency should be at the Intermediate level and up, as it is necessary to efficiently communicate with the colleagues and the management of the company, read dedicated literature, legal documents, instructions and manuals. This will provide you with a good career potential.

Some diseases may also influence your choice of profession. So, for example, color blindness or any anomalous color vision won’t allow you for becoming a ship driver or navigator. Meanwhile lubricants allergy will cross the opportunity to become a ship engineer.

There are significant differences in the work of shipdriver or a ship engineer, but both of the professions are difficult and require high responsibility. Personal qualities and character features will help you take correct decision and choose the right profession.