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Want to be a naval architect?

India lacks graduate naval architects as many of them drift towards lucrative management jobs or better-paying companies in East Asia. Rahat Bano gives the details.

education Updated: May 17, 2010 12:28 IST
Rahat Bano

A conversation between a woman Indian naval officer and an ‘outsider’?
Outsider: So are you working or studying?
Officer: I’m working.
Outsider: Where?
Officer: I’m in the Navy?
Outsider: You mean like a civilian?
Officer: No, I’m an officer.
Outsider: Oh…but like a civilian?
Officer: No, I’m a commissioned officer in the Navy.
Outsider: Oh! So, you wear uniform?
Officer: Yes, I do.
Outsider: So, what do you do in the Navy?
Officer: I’m a naval architect.
Outsider: Oh…it’s a good choice, women have good decorative skills.
Decorative skills? The naval officer wondered “what to say” to that because she’s in one of the most demanding of professions, which involves designing and developing warships, submarines, hovercraft, hydrofoils and merchant ships. She’s a naval architect — a community that’s celebrating a big recent achievement as they’ve just rolled out India’s first indigenously-designed and manufactured stealth warship, INS Shivalik, from the public sector, 200-(odd)-year-old, Mazagon Docks Ltd in Mumbai.

These professionals are a few from among the countless who get to put sails to their childhood pastime of making and floating paper boats in rainwater puddles.
They design, develop and repair a range of watercraft, including merchant ships (tankers, cargo ships, bulk carriers, etc), warships, submarines, passenger ferries, cruise liners, hovercraft, boats, yachts, icebreakers, and other structures such as hydrofoils and oil drilling platforms. They essentially make small floating cities.

Says a faculty member at IIT Delhi, which runs a diploma programme in naval construction for the Indian Navy, “It’s a profession known to mankind by intuition as across the globe, civilisations have grown and prospered around water bodies. The negative side is only individual thinking, based on self-drawn constraints. In a particular location, growth remains limited like most other engineering jobs.”

Apart from the Indian Navy and government and private shipyards, naval architects have opportunity in self-employment. “The career of a naval architect has massive growth potential in entrepreneurship — ship repairs, boatbuilding, shipbuilding, harbours and docks, ship lifts, equipment for the ships, the list goes on,” says the faculty member. The recession in 2008 affected India’s shipbuilding industry, too, but the pall of gloom is lifting, he says.

However, India lacks graduate naval architects. Many drift towards greener pastures — either an MS abroad or an MBA. They get into management positions or fly to better-paying companies in China, Korea and Singapore, says Harish C Narula, chairman, Fibroplast Marine, Noida, which designs and manufactures commercial and defence boats for clients such as the Coast Guard, CRPF, and the Uttar Pradesh Police. “For the last two years, there has been no (graduate) naval architect (taking up a naval architecture job) in India.” So, Narula says he ends up hiring mechanical engineers and training them. The Indian Navy, too, takes in engineers from different branches, including civil, metallurgical, and mechatronics, who are then trained in naval construction.

Narula says the government should open more institutes giving diplomas in naval architecture/shipbuilding as well as BTech in this discipline, to meet market requirements.

The industry is revving up, with the public sector companies in the lead. India requires more vessels, especially for coastal security in view of increased terrorist threats.

What's it about?
Naval architects design, develop and repair watercraft, and other structures such as hydrofoils and oil drilling platforms. They design basic structure (hull geometry), make the final design and do stability calculations, among other activities. Their employers include four Ministry of Defence shipyards i.e. Mazagon Dock Ltd, GSL, GRSE and HSL and Ministry of Surface Transport’s CSL, Kochi, and many private shipyards, shipping companies and boat builders

Clock Work
In a drawing office, shipbuilding yard or ship repair yard:
8.30 am: Check reports from sites, identify bottlenecks, prepare the information matrix for the day and compare with the bigger picture of the job
9.30 am: Meet respective people to remove the difficulties relating to man, material, machinery or any other aspect like access to relevant part of the working space
11.30 am: In the drawing office or at production floor, check drawings, calculations carried out by subordinates; check the progress
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Check all the follow-ups
3 pm: Review the progress covering daily weekly and monthly status
4 pm: Assess achievements of the day reschedule the priorities based on the planned milestones
5.30 pm: Reports, briefs and plans of next day
At shipbuilding or ship repair yards: Status of urgent work, deputing workers on next shift as required, assessing safety and health issues
6.30 pm: Back home (Normal office routine)
During sea trials or harbour trials of vessels, round-the-clock work is required, for which deployment schedules are made on the basis of type of trials

The Payoff
. Rs 15,000 onwards a month for a diploma holder. Rs 25,000 onwards a month for a fresh engineer (four-year degree)
. Sky is the limit for an entrepreneur with training in the field

. Scientific temperament
. Creative and analytical aptitude
. Decision-making skills
. Leadership qualities — ability to manage manpower and material
. Ability to set priorities (to meet deadlines)

How do i get there?
Take up science (physics, chemistry and maths) at the plus-two level. Pursue a BTech degree in naval architecture and ocean engineering, offered at a few institutes in India, for which you need to clear a written entrance test. The Indian Navy takes in graduates in select branches of engineering, who are given post-graduate training at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. After the officers earn their diplomas in naval construction from IIT Delhi, the Navy sends them to the naval dockyards in Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Cochin or Port Blair

Institutes & urls
. IIT Madras and Kharagpur
BTech in naval architecture and ocean engineering as well as a five-year dual BTech/MTech (naval architecture engineering and MTech in applied mechanics in
any of the listed specialisations)
. Cochin University of Science and Technology, BTech in naval architecture and shipbuilding
. IIT Delhi (Diploma in naval construction, for Indian Navy officers)
. Indian Maritime University, Chennai, diploma leading to BSc in shipbuilding and repair

Pros & Cons

Constructive work — the fruit of your labour is tangible


Niche job


You can design and build small boats (5 metres long) to ultra large crude carriers (400 metres) or floating cities


Shipbuilding is a cyclic industry, which sees booms and dips by rotation


Job options limited to some locations


Opportunities to sail in different types of vessels, from luxury liners to cramped submarines

Shipbuilding activity has taken a lead

Security threats and disaster mitigation create the need for more vessels, says a boat manufacturer

What’s the scope in this industry in India? What’s the manpower requirement?
In India, naval architects have been scarce. There were only two colleges teaching naval architecture — IIT Kharagpur and Madras. For the last two years, there has been no (graduate) naval architect (taking up a naval architecture job) in India. So, the real problem is, many good naval architects get into management positions or work in China, Korea and Singapore (because of higher salaries).That’s the supply side.

Government shipbuilding activity has taken a lead. After the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, there is a coastal security requirement. The government wants more ships and boats — for the navy, coast guard, and coastal police to patrol the country’s coastline.

Also, after the September 11 attacks on the US, a UN convention requires every country to patrol and protect sea lanes where ships are moving in its territorial waters. So, more fleets are required.

But due to the shortage of (graduate) naval architects, the Navy and the Indian Register of Shipping are being forced to take other graduates — civil engineers, chemical engineers and train them but they can’t have in-depth design capability.

The government needs to have more institutes of three-year diploma courses. At the same time, it needs to plan and increase seats in four- and five-year degree programmes in naval architecture.

I would like to add that all naval architecture institutes teach shipbuilding and ship design, not boats. Now boats are required in thousands for disaster mitigation, rescue operations during floods, fishing, patrolling.

So, where do you hire people from?
We take fresh graduates and train them on the job.

Harish C Narula, chairman, Fibroplast Marine Interviewed by Rahat Bano