What Does a Port Engineer Do?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills

A port engineer usually has a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and will work to design, install and maintain machinery, equipment and power supply systems of marine vessels. The main responsibility is to keep shipping fleets in optimal working condition, which requires attention to detail and extensive knowledge of ships and other ocean going vessels. Responsibilities also include parts inventory and ordering, planning and implementing safety standards, maintaining maintenance schedules and ensuring timely and cost effective repairs. Working as a port engineer may often require long hours, travel and last minute changes to work schedules, reflecting the inherent nature of the job. Other expectations of the job include cramped work environments, both indoors and out as well as risk of physical injury and sometimes the ability to deal with heights.

Port engineers may design elements of intermodal terminals that are used to offload cargo from container ships.
Port engineers may design elements of intermodal terminals that are used to offload cargo from container ships.

Charged with the maintenance and repair of marine vessels, a port engineer needs to coordinate the timely maintenance schedules for all ships in the fleet. This involves review repair requests, as well as repair and maintenance history to ensure the economics of the process. Inspections are crucial to this process to verify accuracy of the repair requests and maintenance schedules. Thereafter, the port engineer will draw up specifications to complete the job and then liaise with outside contractors and internal staff to complete the repairs or maintenance in a timely manner. Additionally, a port engineer may need to assist in making repairs and performing maintenance, or train other staff members to do so.

Investigating the causes of mechanical, equipment or power systems failure is also part of the job. Port engineers will need to determine the cause of failure and make recommendations to the ship's officers to mitigate future disruptions to the fleet's operations. Such investigations may also include examining and revising maintenance schedules and procedures when necessary as well as analyzing data to determine the feasibility of equipment in used or new products proposed.

Testing equipment, systems and machinery is another important job requirement for a port engineer. Determining the conditions for testing — in addition to designing and implementing the operations for testing — falls under the responsibility of the port engineer. Evaluation of the final results and reporting those results to the ship's officers is part of the testing process.

Regulatory compliance and paperwork as well, is usually part of the job description. Ensuring ships meet required safety standards and maintaining documentation to that effect is an ongoing duty. Tracking all operations of the engineering department and maintaining records to document those operations and related expenditures is also a crucial job function.

Overall, the port engineer uses exceptional mechanical abilities, engineering expertise, and adept supervisory and management skills to keep a marine fleet in operation and on schedule. Environmental conditions on the ocean are harsh, challenging port engineers to be proactive and mitigate associated risks. Demand and challenge are both inherent to the position, and potential employers usually seek candidates with a proven background in a related position.

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