Boatbuilder, Shipwright and Marine Architect

Marine Architects: Marine architects plan, design and supervise the construction and repair of ships, yachts and pleasure craft. Marine Architects are also known as Marine or Yacht or Boat Designers and Naval Architects. They may also be employed in the offshore industry, such as in the design and construction of oil-rigs.

Boat builders and shipwrights are responsible for building, altering, renovating, repairing, and maintaining boats and ships. They are provided with a plan and specifications of the boat to be built or repaired. Alternatively, they are required to make their own designs and sketches.

Marine architects create or adapt the designs for ships, yachts or pleasure craft. After discussions with clients, professionals and government officials and having plans approved, they direct the preparation of drawings and written plans and prepare technical calculations and analyse dimensions of plans.

Marine architects conduct hydrodynamic (water pressures and flows) and structural computer-based testing. Particularly with larger vessels, physical scale modelling, or tank testing, is conducted.

They supervise the building of the craft and also modifications and repairs. Marine architects may also assist boat builders to work out how much the work will cost. Some are involved in new design work and research activities.

Marine architects need to have good design and technical skills, including skill at using computer-aided design (CAD) software, analysing information, mathematical ability and good written and spoken communication skills. They should also have drafting and sketching skills, and a reasonable understanding of boat-handling and/or boat-building requirements.

They need to know about the strength of boat materials and structures, shipbuilding, and marine standards and safety margins. They need to know about structural engineering, hydrodynamics (water pressures and flows) and aerodynamics (air pressure and flows) and the effect they can have on vessels.

Marine architects work in offices, workshops, on board vessels and at shipbuilding sites. They usually work regular hours, but as they are often self-employed their hours can also be flexible. They may work independently in front of a computer or at a drawing board, but generally work in teams with clients, boat builders, their design teams and suppliers.

Boat builders work mainly with wood, firstly selecting the material required for the job e.g. timber, plywood and hardboard, and then marking the design on the wood. They then cut and assemble the various parts to conform to the drawings using tools such as rulers, centre punches, scribes, and squares. When all the parts have been shaped, they assemble them by making use of various kinds of joints such as dovetailed, dowelled, lapped, and tongued and grooved joints. Steam is used to bend the wood, the parts are then glued together and strengthened using nails, bolts, cleats and screws.

Boat builders need to ensure that boats are waterproof. They apply filters, sealants, and fibreglass and when the construction work is complete, all parts are varnished or painted. They also repair and replace worn-out wooden parts such as steps and masts. Boat builders and shipwrights can work outdoors on boats that are afloat or in dry-dock, or indoors in a workshop.

Boat builders and shipwrights may work on different types of boats and ships or they may specialise in one type such as fishing boats, motorboats or battleships. They may also specialise in the type of material used such as wood, metal or fibreglass.

Personal Requirements

  • creative and artistic
  • practical and accurate
  • disciplined and able to work well under pressure
  • good communication skills
  • able to establish good working relationships with other people, such as clients and boat builders
  • knowledge of maths, physics and chemistry

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Marine Architect

  • National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
  • National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Boat Builder

  • National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
  • National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
  • Grade 9 Certificate ; some employers prefer `higher qualifications
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Marine Architect

Many people who become marine architects undertake a degree in engineering, followed by further training, either overseas or by correspondence from an overseas university or training institute.
Many employers prefer marine architects to have a boat building qualification. This can be obtained at the Boatbuilding Academy at False Bay.

Marine architects gain many skills on the job. They may also study while working to increase their skills.

Boat Builder

Register with an employer. There are3 ways to qualify as a registered artisan:

1. An apprenticeship is a fixed contract between company and apprentice, ranging in duration from between 18 months and 4 years. At the end of the contract, the apprentice writes a trade test leading to professional certification.

2. A learnership is a structured learning programme ranging from about a year to 3 years. A learnership comprises theoretical and practical training. Practical training is conducted on site (on the premises of the organisation). This has the advantage that the learner gets experience whilst training.

3. TVET colleges offer theoretical training to prospective artisans via the new National Certificate Vocational (NCV). During this 3-year programme (levels 2 to 4), learners complete a school-leaving certificate (NCV) similar to the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) in schools. They are also exposed to a practical workshop component.

All learners are required to complete a practical internship under the supervision of an experienced artisan. Alternatively, a learner can apply to do a skills programme at a TVET College. Skills programmes are short practical hands-on courses.

For more information about qualifications and skills programmes, contact your nearest TVET College. TVET Colleges are accredited and funded by a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) such as MerSETA or ChietaSETA. They also receive bursary funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the NCV programme.


Marine Architect

  • SA Navy
  • boat and yacht builders
  • self-employment

Ship builder

  • Transnet
  • SA Navy
  • private shipbuilding firms
  • self-employment, with enough capital to start own shipbuilding operation

Getting Started

Marine Architect

  • any experience with boats, boat building, draughting or using design and CAD software is useful
  • architectural experience, engineering experience, and experience working as a mechanic or in a shipyard is also useful
  • make an appointment to speak to a marine architect about this type of career

Boat Builder

  • take courses in wood and metal work or any offering workshop skills
  • make an appointment to speak to a boat builder and shipwright about this type of career and ask permission to observe them at work
  • try to find part-time or vacation work assisting a boat builder and shipwright

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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