Marine Electrician

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

They deal with electronics, wiring, motors, pumps, and fixtures everywhere on the vessel.

They also deal with the installation and configuration of shore-power connections and generators for delivering energy to the vessel systems.

Marine Electricians Work on Various Vessels from Cruise Ships to Ski Boats

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

Despite the size of the vessel, marine electricians face one main challenge.

The wiring is usually run through the least accessible parts of the structure and hull.

Common Electrical Systems and Applications

Besides different types of boats, marine electricians also handle various systems.

There can be various types of electrical circuits even 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 marine electricians do a lot of work on generators and other power sources, including:

  • Solar.
  • Wind.
  • Engine power take-offs.

Almost all marine electricians handle engines and electrical motors, either as a power source for other systems or wiring them directly.

They can also be tasked with wiring up and testing alarm systems, working on everything from flooding to low oil pressure to full wastewater tanks.

Work Settings

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

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

Other electricians typically work in shipyards and 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.

Marine Electricians are Primarily Concerned for Water and Wear

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

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

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

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 even inside a vessel.

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

All connections should be protected from the 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.

With 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.

Climate change such as freezing temperatures of the North Atlantic or humid swells of the tropics can also put pressure on wiring.

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

They have crimped connections which reduces 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 which electromagnetic energy can interfere with.

The correct design and running of bonding systems help direct this energy far from sensitive parts, which is essential for protection against lightning strikes.

How to Become a Marine Electrician

Other electricians usually receive their education through apprenticeships or vocational degree programs offered by various community colleges.

Marine electricians, on the other hand, are educated at specialized maritime academies.

These programs usually 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 certification for marine electrical systems.

ABYC Certification

The certification in ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) standards is more 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.

TWIC or STCW Certification

Marine electricians that work on the vessels at sea have to qualify for STCW (Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping) or TWIC (Transportation Workers Identification Card) rating.

It depends on the size of the vessel and its role.

These documents are issued by Coast Guard and cover general safety at sea.

All merchant mariners are required to have this regardless of their specialty.

State Licensing

Marine electricians employed on vessels at moorings or in dry dock usually need the same state-level licensing as other electricians in the area.

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

These licenses can be obtained from the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.

Salary Information

Most marine electrician jobs are available near coastlines in America.

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

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

As demonstrated by the jobs advertised in 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 US overseas, so shipyard electricians out of the defense industry are rarely hired.

Most maintenance work is still carried out by the US yards.

However, there is a strong and unfilled demand for all types of trades, including electricians, in the recreational boating industry.

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