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Marine services technicians inspect, maintain, and repair marine vessels, from small boats to large yachts. They work on vessels’ hulls, engines, transmissions, navigational equipment, and electrical, propulsion, and refrigeration systems. Depending on their specialty, they may also be known as motorboat mechanics, marine electronics technicians, or fiberglass technicians. Marine services technicians may work at boat dealerships, boat repair shops, boat engine manufacturers, or marinas. Naturally, jobs are concentrated near large bodies of water and coastal areas.
Ever since there have been boats and other water vessels, it has been necessary to have people who can repair and maintain them. In colonial times in the United States, those who took care of vessels were not called technicians, but they did many of the same routine tasks performed today, with less developed tools and equipment. Marine services technicians have had to keep up with developments in vessel design and material, from wood and iron to fiberglass.
In the past, those who repaired water vessels found work mainly with merchant boats and ships and with military vessels. As the standard of living in the United States has increased, more people have been able to afford pleasure boats, from small motorcraft to luxury yachts. Marine services technicians rely on the pleasure boat industry today for much of their work.
Marine services technicians work on the more than 16 million boats and other watercraft owned by people in the United States. They test and repair boat engines, transmissions, and propellers; rigging, masts, and sails; and navigational equipment and steering gear. They repair or replace defective parts and sometimes make new parts to meet special needs. They may also inspect and replace internal cabinets, refrigeration systems, electrical systems and equipment, sanitation facilities, hardware, and trim.
Workers with specialized skills often have more specific titles. For example, motorboat mechanics work on boat engines—those that are inboard, outboard, and inboard/outboard. Routine maintenance tasks include lubricating, cleaning, repairing, and adjusting parts.
Motorboat mechanics often use special testing equipment, such as engine analyzers, compression gauges, ammeters, and voltmeters, as well as other computerized diagnostic equipment. Technicians must know how to disassemble and reassemble components and refer to service manuals for directions and specifications. Motor boat workers often install and repair electronics, sanitation, and air-conditioning systems. They need a set of general and specialized tools, often provided by their employers; many mechanics gradually acquire their own tools, often spending up to thousands of dollars on this investment.
Marine electronics technicians work with vessels’ electronic safety and navigational equipment, such as radar, depth-sounders, loran (long-range navigation), autopilots, and compass systems. They install, repair, and calibrate equipment for proper functioning. Routine maintenance tasks include checking, cleaning, repairing, and replacing parts. Electronics technicians check for common causes of problems, such as loose connections and defective parts. They often rely on schematics and manufacturers’ specification manuals to troubleshoot problems. These workers also must have a set of tools, including hand tools such as pliers, screwdrivers, and soldering irons. Other equipment, often supplied by their employers, includes voltmeters, ohm meters, signal generators, ammeters, and oscilloscopes.
Technicians who are field repairers go to the vessel to do their work, perhaps at the marina dock. Bench repairers, on the other hand, work on equipment brought into shops.
Some technicians work only on vessel hulls. These are usually made of either wood or fiberglass. Fiberglass repairers work on fiberglass hulls, of which most pleasure crafts today are built. They reinforce damaged areas of the hull, grind damaged pieces with a sander, or cut them away with a jigsaw and replace them using resin- impregnated fiberglass cloth. They finish the repaired sections by sanding, painting with a gel-coat substance, and then buffing.
Most employers prefer to hire applicants who have a high school diploma. If you are interested in this work, take mathematics classes and shop classes in metals, woodwork, and electronics while you are in high school. These classes will give you experience completing detailed and precise work. Shop classes will also give you experience using a variety of tools and reading blueprints. Take computer classes; you will probably be using this tool throughout your career for such things as diagnostic and design work. Science classes, such as physics, will also be beneficial to you. Finally, don’t forget to take English classes. These classes will help you hone your reading and research skills, which will be needed when you consult technical manuals for repair and maintenance information throughout your career.
Many marine services technicians learn their trade on the job. They find entry-level positions as general boatyard workers, doing such jobs as cleaning boat bottoms, and work their way into the position of service technician. Or they may be hired as trainees. They learn how to perform typical service tasks under the supervision of experienced mechanics and gradually complete more difficult work. The training period may last for about three years.
Other technicians decide to get more formal training and attend vocational or technical colleges for classes in engine repair, electronics, and fiberglass work. Some schools, such as Cape Fear Community College in North Carolina and Washington County Community College in Maine, have programs specifically for marine technicians (see For More Information). These schools often offer an associate’s degree in areas such as applied science. Classes students take may include mathematics, physics, electricity, schematic reading, and circuit theory. Boat manufacturers and other types of institutions, such as the American Boat builders and Repair Association, Mystic Seaport Museum, and the Wooden Boat School, offer skills training through less formal courses and seminars that often last several days or a few weeks. The military can also provide training in electronics.
Certification or Licensing
Those who test and repair marine radio transmitting equipment must have a general radio-telephone operator license from the Federal Communications Commission ( 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20554-0001, Tel: 888-225-5322, http://www.fcc.gov).
Certification for technicians in the marine electronics industry is voluntary and is administered by the National Marine Electronics Association. There are four grades of certification for workers in this industry: the certified marine electronic technician (CMET) designation for technicians with one year of experience, the advanced CMET designation for those with three years of experience, the senior CMET designation for those with 10 years of experience, and the lifetime CMET designation for those who have passed the advanced CMET exam, have a minimum of 10 years as a senior CMET, and who are approved by a majority vote of the certification committee. Basic certification is by written examination and the employer’s verification as to the technician’s proficiency in the repair of basic radar, voice SSB, VHF, depth sounders, and autopilots. The higher degrees of certification are earned by meeting all previous grade requirements plus satisfactorily completing a factory training course or having the employer attest to the technician’s proficiency in repairing advanced equipment.
Most technicians work outdoors some of the time, and they are often required to test-drive the vessels they work on. This is considered an added benefit by many workers. Some workers in this field maintain that one of the most important qualities for a technician is a pleas ant personality. Boat owners are often very proud of and attached to their vessels, so workers need to have both respect and authority when communicating with customers.
Technicians also need to be able to adapt to the cyclical nature of this business. They are often under a lot of pressure in the summer months, when most boat owners are enjoying the water and calling on technicians for service. On the other hand, they often have gaps in their work during the winter; some workers receive unemployment compensation at this time.
Motorboat technicians’ work can sometimes be physically demanding, requiring them to lift heavy outboard motors or other components. Electronics technicians, on the other hand, must be able to work with delicate parts, such as wires and circuit boards. They should have good eyesight, color vision, and good hearing (to listen for malfunctions revealed by sound).
Some marine services technicians may be required to provide their own hand tools. These tools are usually acquired over a period of time, but the collection may cost the mechanic hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
This field lends itself to a lot of fun ways to explore job opportunities. Of course, having a boat of your own and working on it's one of the best means of preparation. If friends, neighbors, or relatives have boats, take trips with them and see how curious you are about what makes the vessel work. Offer to help do repairs to the boat, or at least watch while repairs are made and routine maintenance jobs are done. Clean up the deck, sand an old section of the hull, or polish the brass. If a boat just isn’t available to you, try to find some type of engine to work on. Even working on an automobile engine will give you a taste of what this type of work is like.
Some high schools have co-op training programs through which students can look for positions with boat-related businesses, such as boat dealerships or even marinas. Check with your guidance counselor about this possibility. You also can read trade magazines such as Boating Industry (http://www.boating-industry.com) and the online forum Professional Boat-builder (http://www.proboat. com). These periodicals offer information monthly or bimonthly on the pleasure boat industry, as well as on boat design, construction, and repair.
Marine services technicians are employed by boat retailers, boat repair shops, boat engine manufacturers, boat rental firms, resorts, and marinas. The largest marinas are in coastal areas, such as Florida, New York, California, Texas, Massachusetts, and Louisiana; smaller ones are located near lakes and water recreation facilities such as campgrounds. Manufacturers of large fishing vessels also employ technicians for on-site mechanical support at fishing sites and competitive events. These workers often follow professionals on the fishing circuit, traveling from tournament to tournament maintaining the vessels.
A large percentage of technicians get their start by working as general boatyard laborers—cleaning boats, cutting grass, painting, and so on. After showing interest and ability, they can begin to work with experienced technicians and learn skills on the job. Some professional organizations, such as Marine Trades Association of New Jersey and Michigan Boating Industries Association, offer scholar ships for those interested in marine technician training.
For those technicians who have attended vocational or technical colleges, career services offices of these schools may have information about job openings.
Many workers consider management and supervisory positions as job goals. After working for a number of years on actual repairs and maintenance, many technicians like to manage repair shops, supervise other workers, and deal with customers more directly. These positions require less physical labor but more communication and management skills. Many workers like to combine both aspects by becoming self-employed; they may have their own shops, attract their own jobs, and still get to the technical work they enjoy.
Advancement often depends on an individual’s interests. Some become marina managers, manufacturers’ salespersons, or field representatives. Others take a different direction and work as boat brokers, selling boats. Marine surveyors verify the condition and value of boats; they are independent contractors hired by insurance companies and lending institutions such as banks.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median yearly earnings of motorboat mechanics were $33,210 in 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,330 and $41,610. Salaries ranged from less than $20,680 to more than $50,750 a year.
Technicians in small shops tend to receive few fringe benefits, but larger employers often offer paid vacations, sick leave, and health insurance. Some employers provide uniforms and tools and pay for work-related training. Many technicians who enjoy the hands-on work with boats claim that the best benefit is to take repaired boats out for test-drives.
Technicians who work indoors often are in well-lit and ventilated shops. The work is cleaner than that on cars because there tends to be less grease and dirt on marine engines; instead, workers have to deal with water scum, heavy-duty paint, and fiberglass. In general, marine work is similar to other types of mechanical jobs, where workers encounter such things as noise when engines are being run and potential danger with power tools and chemicals. Also similar to other mechanics’ work, sometimes technicians work alone on a job and at other times they work on a boat with other technicians. Unless a technician is self-employed, his or her work will likely be overseen by a supervisor of some kind. For any repair job, the technician may have to deal directly with customers.
Some mechanics, such as those who work at marinas, work primarily outdoors—and in all kinds of weather. In boats with no air conditioning, the conditions in the summer can be hot and uncomfortable. Technicians often have to work in tight, uncomfortable places to perform repairs. Sailboats have especially tight access to inboard engines.
There is often a big demand for service just before Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. In the summer, workweeks can average 60 hours. But in winter the week can involve less than 40 hours of work, with layoffs common at this time of year. In the warmer climates of the United States, work tends to be steadier throughout the year.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment opportunities for small engine mechanics, including marine services technicians, are expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. As boat design and construction become more complicated, the outlook will be best for well-trained technicians. Most marine craft purchases are made by the over-40 age group, which is expected to increase over the next decade. The growth of this population segment should help expand the market for motorboats and increase the demand for qualified mechanics.
The availability of jobs will be related to the health of the plea sure boat industry. According to Boating Industry, there are 10,000 marine retailers in the United States and 1,500 boatyards that repair hulls and engines. One interesting demographic trend that will influence job opportunities is the shift of the population to the South and West, where warm-weather seasons are longer and thus attract more boating activity.
An increase in foreign demand for U.S. pleasure vessels will mean more opportunities for workers in this field. U.S. manufacturers are expected to continue to develop foreign markets and establish more distribution channels. However, legislation in the United States may require boat operator licenses and stricter emission standards, which might lead to a decrease in the number of boats sold and maintained here.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For industry information, contact
American Boatbuilders and Repairers Association
50 Water Street
Warren, RI 02885-3034
To find out whether there is a marine association in your area, contact:
Marine Retailers Association of America
PO Box 1127
Oak Park, IL 60304-0127
For information on certification, the industry, and membership, contact:
National Marine Electronics Association
7 Riggs Avenue
Severna Park, MD 21146-3819
For educational information, contact the following schools:
Cape Fear Community College
411 North Front Street
Wilmington, NC 28401-3910
Washington County Community College
16 Deep Cove Road
Eastport, ME 04631-3218
Ron Bragg is the coordinator of the Marine and Small Engine Technology Program at Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg, Iowa. He discussed the field below.
Q. Please tell us about your program.
A. We offer a one-year program in marine and small engines. Iowa Lakes Community College’s marine program prepares students to work in the marine field, including work on personal water craft, Sterndrive [motors] and outboard and inboard engines. Students learn to be prepared to work in all facets of the marine industry.
Q. What type of students pursue study in your program?
A. Students who like to be outdoors or on the water and like fixing boats, personal watercraft, snowmobiles, and so on pursue study in this field.
Q. For what type of jobs does your program prepare students?
A. Careers in the small engine or marine industry, such as positions at marinas, snowmobile dealerships, and marine parts suppliers. Students can also pursue careers in sales.
Q. What advice would you offer graduates of your program?
A. Be honest, fix it right the first time, work hard, and sell your skills and abilities.
Q. Are there any changes in this job market that students should expect?A. Yes, students should know there is a huge shortage of marine technicians right now all over the nation. The demand for quality marine technicians will grow by IS percent in another seven years. This means there are real jobs out there and they are not going anywhere [ overseas]. It would be hard to ship a boat or personal watercraft overseas to get repaired. We are in the upward trend in boat registration this year and last year.