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Yacht Engineers Then & Now

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Yachts engineers, the technical knowledge and qualifications required, have come a long way since the turn of the century. Back in the day, with little or no regulations, the term engineer was used loosely in the yachting community and many of the people looking after yachts had more common sense than paper qualifications. But common sense is a huge part of the job for a sea going engineer. 

My father, a long time captain, often said engineers are “jacks of many trades yet master of none”. Yet your average engineer ashore in a large hotel or office block has it easy compared to a ship’s engineer. At sea the engineer not only has to make sure that the services within the vessel work, but also has to deal with all the equipment that makes the power and water and deal with the waste - no mean feat, especially if  the vessel is a busy charter yacht and not tied up to a dock for long periods. 

The skill set that I learned as a cadet engineer are all but gone. Long days at sea had me doing tasks such as making a nut and bolt for a specific bit of machinery, or making the ‘still’ so we always had ‘hooch’ in the officers’ mess. All good tasks that drove the skill set of the day, mostly dealing with the mechanical failure of a system. Today it’s more usually an electronic failure that will bring the whole ship to a grinding halt. 

This leads to the question:

“What are the differences in skill set required for a yacht engineer as opposed to a commercial ship engineer, today and in the future?”  

I’d suggest a firm understanding of power management, air-conditioning and toilet systems and…bucket loads of common sense. Commercial engineers will always have an electrical officer and, more often than not today, an electronic equipment officer, plus wipers and greasers for the donkey work. Sure in a 60m+ yacht you may get these luxuries but still today the smaller vessels are often managed by a single engineer. 

Today’ marine engineer (both yacht and commercial) and their counterpart of 20 years ago are very different beasts, so what will our engineers need to know in 10 or 20 years? Will they be sitting at home doing their watches while feeding the baby or walking the dog and “fixing’ the ship from their cell phones? 

Technology has also advanced 20 times faster in this period than it did in the previous 80 years, and advances in the last century have been astronomical compared to those of the last millennium, so where will we be in another 10 years? Autonomous ships? Yachts with robotic engineers?  It’s already being talked about and trials are in place with some of the larger commercial companies.

At Yacht Projects International we now fix and repair many of the day to day issues on board ships and yachts thousands of miles away, and we do it from the comfort of our office desk ashore, saving travel time, clients’ money and staff burn out times. We often know about issues before the ship does.

So the next time you want to criticize the engineer for the failure of a bit of equipment, spare a thought for the mire of information they’re required to digest and implement on a daily basis as well as the limits of storage for spare parts. It’s also possible that the yacht is in a place where rarer parts are harder to get locally, and even more likely that  the interior crew have bagged all the good spaces long before the engineer needs to stash his raw materials for the next hooch still.

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