Marine Electrician

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Marine electricians handle the installation and maintenance of electrical systems and wiring on boats and ships.

They primarily deal with the installation and configuration of…

  • Electronics, wiring, motors, pumps, and fixtures on the vessel
  • Shore-power connections and generators for delivering energy to the vessel systems

Let’s learn more about this specialized career below.

Marine Electricians at Work

Marine electricians can work on a variety of vessels, from mega yachts to cruise liners.

However, they face one main challenge—running the wiring through the least accessible parts of the structure and hull.

Common Electrical Systems and Applications

Marine electricians handle various types of electrical circuits in a single vessel, which can include:

  • Multiple low-voltage electronic systems
  • VHF (Very High Frequency) and HF (High Frequency) radio
    • Sonar
    • Radar
    • Alarms
    • Pumps
  • 12/24/32 volt DC
  • 110/240 volt AC or up to 480 volts AC on large ships

Boats aren’t usually connected to electrical grids, so they do make use of generators and other power sources, including:

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Engine power take-offs

Most will handle engines and electrical motors, either as a power source for other systems or wiring them directly.

Also, they will wire up and test alarm systems, from flooding to low oil pressure to full wastewater tanks.

Work Settings

Marine electricians working full-time on board the vessel are a part of the engineering department.

When the ship is at sea, they work long hours and need to be on-call at all times.

Meanwhile, others will work in shipyards.

They primarily handle the installation and refitting of electrical systems in hulls that are in dry dock for major maintenance or are being laid down.

These positions usually feature a standard 9-5 schedule.

However, shift work and overtime are available as well.

Concerns with Water and Wear

The biggest challenge for marine electricians is the presence of water around the systems they work on.

Stray current can be conducted into the water surrounding a ship easily.

This can shock or even kill nearby swimmers with high voltages.

Meanwhile, lower current levels can cause corrosion on metal parts of a hull if they are exposed to the current.

This is called galvanic corrosion.

Dealing with Water Incursion

Water is a threat inside a vessel.

Condensation or flooding can reach wiring or appliances which, on land, would be high and dry.

They can protect all connections from water intrusion with the following techniques:

  • Water-displacing gels and grease
  • Heat shrink sealants
  • Drip loops

Dealing with Repetitive Motion and Acts of Nature

In marine wiring, considering wear and chafe is also important.

Sometimes, boats move violently and repetitively.

And with the constant bending and rubbing, the insulating coating on wires can chafe away and cause a short circuit.

Repeated strain on connections can make them snap.

Besides, it’s important to keep in mind that boats are made to travel.

Changing climates, such as freezing temperatures of the North Atlantic or humid swells of the tropics, can also put pressure on wiring.

For these reasons, they use stranded, thinned wiring, which is more resistant to corrosion and flexible than solid copper ones.

They have crimped connections which reduce the possibility of breakage contrary to soldered connections.

Insulating layers on marine cabling are also more chafe-resistant and robust.

Wiring has to be secured from fuel lines carefully, as well as sensitive navigation equipment that electromagnetic energy can interfere with.

The correct design and running of bonding systems help direct this energy far from sensitive parts.

Doing this protects the systems against lightning strikes.

Becoming a Marine Electrician

Unlike other electrician specialties, marine electricians receive education and training at specialized maritime academies.

The programs they offer cover electrical systems as a part of their extended curriculum of marine engineering.

Some programs, such as the maritime program at Virginia’s Tidewater Community College, offer separate certifications for marine electrical systems.

ABYC Certification

Certification in American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards is essential for marine electricians.

All reputable boat and ship technicians and builders follow these standards and prefer their workers to be ABYC-certified.

With this certification, you can stay ahead of the competition.

STCW or TWIC Certification

Marine electricians that work on vessels at sea have to qualify for one of these certifications:

  • Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW)
  • Transportation Workers Identification Card (TWIC)

The certification they’ll obtain will depend on the size of the vessel and its role.

The Coast Guard will issue these documents and cover general safety at sea.

Also, they require all merchant mariners to have this regardless of their specialty.

State Licensing

Marine electricians usually need the same state licensing as other electricians.

They would likely go through the same apprenticeship program as well.

They can obtain state licenses from the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC).

Potential Salary

Most marine electrician jobs are available near U.S. coastlines.

At some larger vessels, full-time electricians become part of the regular crew.

They can also be employed with yacht construction and maintenance companies or in large shipyards.

As of August 2016, entry-level marine electricians make between $14 and $20 per hour:

  • Marine electrician with Bridgeton Boatworks – $18/hour
  • 3rd class marine electrician with Ameriforce – $14/hour

Journeyman electricians can make twice as much.

  • Journeyman marine electrician with NSC Technologies – $41/hour
  • High voltage electrician with the National Defense Reserve Fleet – $25.29 to $29.52/hour
  • Marine maintenance electrician with NSC Technologies – $28.72/hour

Most ship construction moved from the U.S. overseas, so employers rarely hire shipyard electricians out of the defense industry.

However, the U.S. yards still carry out most of the maintenance work.

Also, marine electricians remain high in demand in the recreational boating industry.

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