Career Development

What Does a Shipfitter Do?

Find out what a Shipfitter does, how to get this job, salary information, and what it takes to succeed as a Shipfitter.

Shipfitters play an essential role in the construction and repair of marine vessels. By interpreting blueprints and specifications, they lay out, fabricate, and assemble various structural parts of ships, ensuring that these components fit together precisely as planned. Their expertise is not limited to working with metal structures; they also adeptly handle a range of materials to create or repair parts of a ship’s hull, decking, and superstructure. The accuracy and quality of their work directly influence the integrity and performance of the vessel, making their contribution fundamental to the maritime industry. Through their skills, shipfitters ensure that ships are seaworthy, safe, and ready to meet the demands of their voyages.

Shipfitter Job Duties

  • Fabricate, assemble, and install steel or aluminum structures, such as bulkheads, decks, and hull sections of ships, using tools like welding equipment, plasma torches, and metal shears.
  • Read and interpret blueprints, sketches, and specifications to determine the layout of ship structures and machinery installations.
  • Measure, mark, and scribe metal surfaces for cutting or welding, ensuring accuracy in alignment, dimensions, and contours.
  • Operate manual or semi-automatic welding equipment to fuse metal segments, using processes such as gas tungsten arc, gas metal arc, flux-cored arc, plasma arc, and shielded metal arc welding.
  • Repair damaged or defective ship parts using metalworking tools such as hammers, punches, and drills, ensuring adherence to safety and quality standards.
  • Align and fit parts according to specifications, using jacks, turnbuckles, wedges, drift pins, pry bars, and hammers.
  • Install ship machinery, such as motors, pumps, ventilating equipment, and steering gear, working from blueprints and using hand tools and measuring instruments.
  • Perform hydrostatic, pneumatic, and other operational tests on installed ship structures, systems, and components to detect leaks, ensure structural integrity, and compliance with specifications.

Shipfitter Salary & Outlook

Shipfitter salaries vary based on experience, with seasoned professionals commanding higher wages. Specialization in complex welding techniques or proficiency in using advanced fabrication equipment can also increase earnings. Additionally, those working for larger shipbuilding companies or in sectors with high demand for ship repair and maintenance tend to receive higher compensation.

  • Median Annual Salary: $55,125 ($26.5/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $100,000 ($48.08/hour)

The employment of shipfitters is expected to decline over the next decade.

due to advancements in automation and robotics in shipbuilding, which streamline the fabrication and assembly processes. Additionally, the increasing use of modular construction techniques allows for sections of ships to be pre-built offsite, reducing the need for traditional shipfitting skills on the shipyard floor.

Shipfitter Job Requirements

Education: A shipfitter typically possesses a high school diploma, with courses in mathematics, blueprint reading, and welding offering a foundational skill set. Advancing in this field, a post-secondary certificate in shipfitting or a related trade enhances prospects, focusing on specialized fabrication techniques and materials knowledge. Some pursue additional coursework in technical or vocational schools, emphasizing marine construction, safety protocols, and advanced welding methods, to broaden their expertise and adaptability in various shipbuilding environments.

Experience: Shipfitters typically enter the field with a range of hands-on experience, often starting with a few months to several years of exposure to metal fabrication, welding, and structural work. On-the-job training is a cornerstone of development in this role, allowing individuals to refine their skills in reading blueprints, operating heavy machinery, and understanding marine construction standards. Training programs, both formal and informal, play a crucial role in advancing a shipfitter’s expertise, focusing on precision, safety protocols, and specialized techniques required for the construction and repair of ship structures. Continuous learning and practical experience accumulation are essential for mastering the craft.

Certifications & Licenses: No specific certifications or licenses are universally required for the job of a shipfitter. However, certifications such as the American Welding Society (AWS) Certified Welder designation can be beneficial, depending on the employer’s requirements and the specific duties involved in the position.

Shipfitter Skills

Blueprint Reading: Interpreting detailed diagrams and schematics is crucial for shipfitters, enabling accurate measurements, cuts, and assembly of ship components to precise specifications. This skill ensures parts fit perfectly within a vessel’s structure, upholding integrity and safety standards in ship construction and repair.

Welding: Precision and expertise are necessary for joining metal parts, ensuring a vessel’s structural integrity and seaworthiness. Shipfitters use various techniques and tools for executing flawless welds that endure the marine environment, following strict safety and quality guidelines.

Metal Fabrication: Manipulating metals to form essential ship components requires precision cutting, welding, and assembly techniques. Attention to detail and knowledge of material properties are vital to ensure the durability and safety of maritime vessels.

Precision Measurement: Ensuring every part fits perfectly to maintain a vessel’s structural integrity and seaworthiness relies on accurate gauging of materials and components. Shipfitters use this precision for executing welds and fabrications, adhering to maritime safety and construction standards.

Hydraulic Systems: Designing, installing, and maintaining systems that use pressurized fluids to generate, control, and transmit power is a necessary skill. It demands attention to detail to guarantee the integrity and safety of a vessel’s operational systems, including steering mechanisms and stabilizing equipment.

Structural Fitting: Assembling large metal structures to form a ship’s skeleton involves precise measuring, cutting, and aligning of metal parts before securing them through welding or bolting. This process ensures the vessel’s integrity and seaworthiness, requiring technical knowledge and hands-on expertise in metalwork and fabrication techniques.

Shipfitter Work Environment

Shipfitters operate in a physically demanding and industrious environment, primarily within shipyards or on vessels under construction or repair. Their workspace is often outdoors or in large, open indoor areas designed to accommodate the vast dimensions of marine vessels. The nature of their work requires the use of heavy machinery, welding equipment, and various hand tools, making safety gear and adherence to strict safety protocols a necessity.

Work hours can extend beyond the typical nine-to-five, especially when deadlines approach, requiring flexibility and sometimes long periods of standing or working in confined spaces. The dress code is practical, focusing on protective clothing to guard against the hazards of the job.

The social environment is team-oriented, with shipfitters frequently collaborating with other tradespeople, engineers, and project managers. Despite the high noise levels and the physical intensity of the work, there’s a camaraderie that forms from shared goals and challenges. Opportunities for professional development are available, often through on-the-job training or specialized courses, allowing for skill advancement and career progression within the maritime construction and repair industry.

Advancement Prospects

Shipfitters, skilled in assembling and repairing ship structures, have a clear trajectory for advancement within the maritime industry. Starting as apprentices, they can progress to journeyman levels, mastering complex fabrication and welding techniques. With experience, a shipfitter might advance to supervisory roles, overseeing teams and projects, or specialize in areas like underwater welding for increased demand and higher pay.

Ambitious shipfitters can aim for positions as project managers or move into ship design and engineering, requiring additional specialized training. The path to these advanced roles typically involves hands-on experience and a deep understanding of shipbuilding processes. Success hinges on the ability to manage complex projects and innovate in ship construction and repair techniques.


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