Do you enjoy tinkering with engines? Do you love to spend time on the water? If you said yes to both these questions, becoming a marine or boat mechanic might be the right career path for you.
Keep reading to learn more about marine mechanics — what they do and how to create a career in this area. We’ll cover the basics about the job, what qualifications you need and potential employment prospects.
What Does A Marine Mechanic Do?
Boat mechanics work on a range of different vessels. One week you might need to fix a fishing trawler, the next week a luxury yacht. You may opt for vocational training or formal education.
Earning a certification increases your career opportunities.
You may choose to work for the government, a private company, a marina, or run your own business. You’ll need to live near a large body of water or a port to earn a steady income.
The work can be physically and mentally draining at times, but there’s nothing quite like hearing an engine roar back to life. And there’s no other career that allows you to test drive so many different water vessels.
Some typical day to day activities might include:
- Motor and electrical system repairs
- Steering device assembly
- Routine service and maintenance
- Fuel line clearing
- Propeller replacement
- Plumbing and intake repair
- Transmission disassembly
- System cleaning and flushing
- Hydraulics monitoring
- AC system maintenance
- Tweaking, testing, and certifying performance
Some mechanics even go further and work on improving and redesigning systems. Similar to auto mechanics, those that work in the marine field will have a variety of responsibilities in their day to day work.
Becoming A Marine Mechanic
While advanced degrees are not necessary – there are some educational requirements you will need to obtain before becoming a boat mechanic. This education combined with on the job training and possibly an internship will help you improve your ability to market yourself and earn the highest wage possible.
Boat mechanics may follow one of two paths:
- A formal college education
- Vocational training
Getting a formal college education may increase your earning potential, but most employers expect graduates to have one or two years of experience as well. Gaining practical experience while studying provides you with the best of both worlds.
If you can’t attend college, you can apply for an apprenticeship instead. With the increasing sophistication of vessels, however, you may have limited prospects.
Whichever path you follow, you should apply for certification after two years of working experience. To maintain certification, you will have to complete two courses every five years.
There are no legal requirements for boat mechanics to complete a formal education or to become certified. However, clients and companies usually expect you to have at least one of the two. Certification improves your earning potential and ensures you are up to date with the latest techniques.
Once you’ve earned at least three certifications, you become a Master Technician. This qualification gives you access to the best-paying jobs.
To further improve your prospects, you should apply for membership to the:
- Association of Marine Technicians
- American Boat and Yacht Council
While membership is not strictly essential, joining these organizations gives you an edge. Both associations provide training, a listing in their directories, and access to trade shows and conferences. Companies and clients often check if you’re a registered member to ensure that you deliver quality work.
It is advisable to:
- Earn your GED or a high school diploma, having completed reading, math, and writing courses.
- Apply to a technical school or vocational college and earn a certificate or associate degree.
- Apply to be an apprentice at a boat manufacturer, shipyard, or union if further schooling isn’t an option.
- Get practical experience in the field.
- Apply for certification.
- Keep up the certification and work toward becoming a Master Technician.
- Register with a professional association such as the American Boat and Yacht Council or Association of Marine Technicians.
Is Distance Learning an Option?
Some schools offer distance learning, but it’s challenging to cover the practical component this way. An online school may provide videos to show you how to perform the necessary tasks, but you won’t work on real engines and components.
At a vocational school, you’ll receive the opportunity to practice on a variety of brands. Videos are helpful, but there is no substitute for hands-on experience.
Additional Courses to Consider
Below are some courses that would be recommended for better future opportunities! If you decide to go for a management position – or even open your own shop, these are items that will help you tremendously.
- Communication – It’s worthwhile to consider taking a course in communication. Interpersonal skills are essential for this career as you’ll have to communicate a lot of technical information to clients. A course in communication will help you polish your interpersonal skills and makes this process smoother.
- Business Management – Starting your own business straight out of college may prove difficult without working experience. If your goal is to run your own company one day, taking a business management course may help.
- Woodworking and Fiberglass – You don’t need a knowledge of either to be a technician, but they provide an extra skill to fall back on. You’ll be able to work as a boat rigger or craft additional components for repairs.
Internships & Training
You’ll complete your formal training at a technical college or vocational school. The certificate level course takes around a year and provides you with training in the following areas:
- Lower Units/Outdrives
- Fuel and Lubrication Systems
- Electrical Basics, Systems, and Diagnostics
- Service Operations
Many schools partner with major manufacturers like Honda, Suzuki, Mercury, Volvo, and Yamaha. Manufacturers design these three-week courses, so they’re specific to engines each company makes.
The advantage of taking on this additional coursework is that you’ll be able to perform maintenance on engines and systems still under warranty.
You may then opt to further your studies for an additional year. By continuing your education, you will earn you an associate degree and training in the following areas:
- Advanced Electronics
- AC Refrigeration Systems
- Marine Technology
Getting Practical Experience
To gain practical experience, you should enquire about shadowing a senior technician. Ask at:
- Boatyards and Manufactures
- Repair and Service Outlets
They may agree to let you job shadow in exchange for no pay or a meager wage. It’s worth the sacrifice at this stage to get the necessary experience.
An additional benefit is that you’ll prove you have a good work ethic. The firm may decide to hire you full-time after you’ve qualified.
Certifications & Licensing
The American Boat and Yacht Council provides certifications in several disciplines. The certificate is valid for five years and typically requires two to four days of seminars. Once these are complete, you’ll take an exam.
You may qualify in the following areas:
- Marine Systems
- Marine Corrosion
- Gasoline Engine and Support Systems
- Diesel Engine and Support Systems
- Air Conditioning
In addition to the basic certifications, it’s advisable to work toward manufacturer-specific qualifications. These courses keep you up to date on the latest technology and enable you to continue working as a certified technician.
Most certifications are valid for five years. Recertification is more straightforward as you may take the exams online. If you’re a certified technician through Mercury Marine, you’ll need to take at least two extra courses within the two years after you first certify.
Becoming a Master Technician
Once you’ve passed three certification courses, you can apply for the qualification of Master Technician from the American Boat and Yacht Council. You may also take the exam if you’ve maintained your Mercury Marine qualification for four years running.
Recommended Skills For Marine Mechanics
What skills and qualities should you have to be successful in this career?
- Mechanical Knowledge – If you love taking things apart to see how they work, you’re already part of the way there. It’s essential to have reasonably good mechanical skills to take apart engines and other moving parts.
- Knowledge of Electronics and Computers – You’ll need basic computer literacy and electronics at the least. Many watercraft today come with more sophisticated navigation systems that require advanced knowledge.
- Math Skills – Basic math skills are essential to check engine efficiency, thrust, and several other parts.
- Engineering Skills – You don’t have to become a full-fledged engineer, but you should think like one — it is essential to understand the mechanics and have the creativity and good problem-solving skills.
- Safety and Security Knowledge – Working with powerful systems and combustible materials makes it essential to have a working knowledge of basic safety practices.
- Dexterity and Good Hand-Eye Coordination Helps – You’ll work with many small moving parts, so good dexterity and hand-eye coordination are essential. Being clumsy is not an asset in this career path.
- Be Organized – The systems you’ll work with have many moving parts. Taking them apart is relatively simple. Correctly putting them back together again requires good organizational skills. You’ll need to keep notes on any adjustments or repairs you made and store them for future reference. Good organizational skills will make it easy to maintain a workable filing system.
- An Eye for Detail and Excellent Diagnostic Skills-A problem in the electrical system or engine might be due to any number of causes. You have to be something of a detective to find the right solution and know what to check.
- Good Interpersonal Skills – Mechanical systems are a lot easier to deal with than people. In this line of work, you’ll need to be good at both. You’re working with expensive systems here and may need to deal with demanding clients. Not all of them will understand what you’re doing. Being successful in the field often comes down to word-of-mouth recommendations.
- Sales Skills – These come in handy when you’re in the retail industry or running your own business. You may need to sell clients on expensive upgrades, parts, or convince them that you’re the right person for the job.
Pros & Cons Of Being A Marine Mechanic
- You may work onboard a ship or onshore
- It’s possible to qualify through an apprenticeship rather than formal training
- The work is varied and interesting
- You get to work on and drive a variety of vessels
- There is an excellent opportunity to start your own business
- BLS states that growth is below average
- Competitions is high for better paying opportunities
- Work may be seasonal
- Exposure to chemicals
- Job is very physically demanding
- Often you are required to buy your own tools
How Much Do Marine Mechanics Make?
Yearly salaries start at around $25,740 and may go as high as $63,350. The average income for the job is approximately $41,330 annually.
Hourly rates range between $12.38 and $30.46 for an experienced worker. The average hourly rate earned is around $19.87.
Job Outlook For Marine Mechanics
Growth/Decline Percentage: 6% growth from 2018 to 2028*
General Outlook: Average
The job outlook is just about average for a boat mechanic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the industry would grow at a rate of around 6% between 2018 and 2028. That’s an average of just 1,400 new job openings a year, and below the average for other careers.
But – this was prior to COVID in 2020! COVID has resulted in many first-time boat owners and may change the impact of this career growth.
The upside is that qualifying is relatively easy. It only takes one to two years to do so.
For now, the retail industry provides the most scope for work. Your prospects will change as technology advances. Boat mechanics that can repair more sophisticated models become increasingly sought after in other sectors.
Boat mechanics typically work for dealerships, marinas, or the government sector. There is potential for opening a private practice as well.
Opportunities for progression in your career include taking on:
- Supervisory roles: To get these roles, you’ll need an associate degree. Consider adding project and people management skills.
- Training: You should qualify as a Master Technician to obtain one of these posts. An associate degree is helpful for training positions, but up-to-date certification is more important.
- Designing Systems: Having a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering teaches you useful design skills. Experience may make obtaining the degree unnecessary, however.
Marine Mechanic Schools
You’ll have to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 to earn your certificate or degree. With an apprenticeship, you may receive a small salary instead while you learn.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about this career. If you have other questions that are not listed here – please email us or leave a comment below and we will be sure to add it!
Yes, you can become a mechanic without any additional schooling after high school, but we would not recommend it. At a minimum you should have a certification in auto mechanics to help you do better in your career and to provide you more opportunity. Alternatively, you can try and find a program where you can become an apprentice which some employers may view equally to a certification program.
Most employers would not hire a mechanic with no experience or education. It is important to at least do an apprenticeship or have some related job that will help employers see your value.
In most states there is no licensing requirements to become a mechanic.
*Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics