Naval architecture is the design and engineering of marine vessels. These vessels include not only government navy ships and submarines, but leisure boats such as yachts. Naval architecture is hardly a new discipline, since it technically began during ancient navigational times. Viking ships and American steamboats are both historical examples of naval architecture. Today, naval architecture is more of an engineering science since architects rely on mathematics to design new naval vessels.
When constructing naval vessels, naval architects study the science of fluids. They study buoyancy, displacement of water, waves, stability, and streamlining. As concerns the naval structure, they study its weight distribution, resistance, and maneuverability. Their studies also include naval construction materials and interior components, along with dry-docking and launching operations. Yet, no matter how much work architects put into research, all naval structures operate in unstable marine environments. Even the most structurally sound ships may become damaged or sink due to storms, tsunamis, and other environmental calamities.
Even in antiquity, naval architects recognized that streamlining their ships made for a smoother course at sea. At some point in time, architects used the adjective “fair” to describe a vessel's regular, fluid shape from its fore to aft. The opposite of a “fair” shape was a “bulky” or “ungainly” shape. Today, all naval vessels have the same basic shape, even extremely large aircraft carriers.
When designing ships, naval architects first provide a safe foundation through the ship's hull. The hull is the specially curved bottom of the ship. The hull's basic purpose is to supply buoyancy to the ship so it safely floats on water. Its elongated shape, with the pointed ends of the bow and stern, protects the ship against sinking, since the shape distributes weight evenly throughout the vessel. The hull is by far the most essential component of naval architecture.
When designing hulls, architects check for several requirements. First, they check that the hull can displace water effectively, which means that the boat displaces an amount of water equal to the boat's weight. This gives the vessel greater efficiency and stability. Architects also check that the hull is as streamlined as possible so it causes minimal resistance to the water, which produces fewer ship-rocking waves. Checking for resistance is especially important for ships that operate at high speeds, such as speedboats and military ships. Lastly, architects make sure that their ships heed buoyancy and gravity principles, the most prominent of which is Archimedes' Principle of Buoyancy.
When designing the hull, architects ensure that the shape of the hull fits the ship's purpose. For instance, a round hull is efficient and stable, though it is not ideal for high speeds. In contrast, the deep-V hull performs well at high speeds because it “slices” through even choppy waters.
Besides the hull, naval architects design operating features atop the hull. These may include sails, steering mechanisms, propellers, engines, and the like. They may also install double-containment facilities to ensure the ship's cargo, such as oil, does not leak into the water. Some naval architects pay special attention to the ship's safety features, such as fire escapes, lifeboats, and storm shelters. Moreover, they troubleshoot problems related to rust, material degradation, and environmental hazards.
Architects who want to specialize in naval architecture have a wide selection of educational options. First, they may attend government schools such as the US Coast Guard Academy or the US Naval Academy, where they can gain premium understanding of military vessels. They may also choose from several universities that offer courses of study in naval architecture or marine engineering. These universities include the University of California-Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is recommended that students attend such schools because naval architecture demands extremely specialized knowledge. Other students can earn certificates in marine engineering technology from technical colleges.
Many naval-architecture students take internships throughout college to give them an edge at architectural entry- level jobs. These internships also help them narrow down what specialization of naval architecture suits them. They often work as interns at architecture firms or shipyards where they learn computer-aided design (CAD), which is essential to naval architecture. More and more entry- level naval architects work at architecture design services firms that consult other businesses.
Learning CAD is absolutely necessary for entry- level employment because almost all naval architects use it day-to-day. In naval architecture, CAD takes into account Archimedes' Principle and other naval equations that go a long way to provide naval stability. Therefore, it is required that naval architects gain significant CAD experience before applying to jobs after graduation. The most widely used CAD software for naval architecture is AutoCAD.
Since ships are still the main mode of import-export transportation, there are a fair number of entry- level naval jobs in architecture. Some entry- level jobs are not full-time but contracting or consulting jobs are more common for seasoned professionals. Most entry- level architects work at shipyards or architectural/engineering firms as architects' assistants. They earn average incomes of $50,000 per year.
Naval architects who have worked for five years or more may advance to managerial or consulting jobs. Many of them also opt for self-employment if they have solid track records. Some naval architects may also choose to gain master's degrees in naval architecture or marine engineering. They may also join naval-architecture professional associations, like the Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers, to further their education. Yet, substantial marine engineering experience tends to boost advancement prospects the most. These associate architects earn about $77,000 after five years, then perhaps $90,000 after 10 or more years.