Marine Pipefitter

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Marine Pipefitter


Boats have a maze of pipes that carry gas, steam water and other vapours in order to run. The tradespeople that connect, assemble and maintain these pipe systems are called marine pipefitters. Marine pipefitters are involved in the installation and maintenance of fire fighting, bilge, hydraulic steering, sanitary, potable water, hot water heating, fuel, and exhaust piping systems on dredges and ferries.

Marine pipefitters fit into the group of "pipe trades," which deals with the installation, maintenance and repair of piping systems. They spend a great deal of their time installing pipelines on all sorts of boat vessels.

Following a complex set of blueprints, the marine pipefitter assembles a system that will allow boats to move freely and openly. They decide what type of pipe to use, the tools that will be necessary and the detailed steps that must be followed to accomplish the task. Marine pipefitters perform various activities such as measuring, cutting, threading, bending and soldering. Once accomplished, the gas or other substance is diverted to a larger chamber where it will power a barge, ferry or any other type of boat.

Marine pipefitters are perfectionists by trade, since pipe leaks can cause disastrous repercussions and deadly mistakes. If an emergency situation arises such as a gas leak, for example; like doctors, they must diagnose the problem and create a quick solution. Therefore, when in action, they must always double-check everything they do and make accurate cuts into metal, connecting the pipes tightly. This type of accuracy is to prevent future problems from occurring.

Another aspect of the trade is taking preventative measures thereby checking for leaks. If any problems are found, they replace worn equipment, perform general maintenance work and assist with plant shutdowns. In general, marine pipefitters are in good shape and feel comfortable working with heights. Life as a marine pipefitter may require long days, harsh conditions and physically demanding work. Seeing a project through from blueprint to construction can be very rewarding.
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  Interests and Skills  
Marine pipefitters require peak physical strength and stamina to lift heavy materials and stand for long periods of time. They have excellent manual dexterity, and hand-eye co-ordination and can do careful precision work. Marine pipefitters have a clear understanding of mechanics and mathematics. They have the ability to read and understand complex blueprints and visualize these plans in three-dimensions. The work is most rewarding for those who enjoy working with little direction or supervision.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read and interpret drawings and specifications to determine layout requirements
  • Cut openings for pipe using hand or power tools or machines
  • Select type and size of pipe required
  • Overhaul or replace pumps and valves
  • Install piping systems according to blueprints and Coast Guard regulations
  • Repair piping systems through replacement of defective pipes or joints through soldering, silbrazing, sweating, or welding
  • Test system for leaks using testing equipment
  • Clean and maintain pipe units and fittings
  • Follow strict test procedures in the accomplishment of systems testing
  • Report problems with testing procedures to engineering group
  • Marine pipefitters work either aboard ships or on boats at bay. Therefore, the hours will vary from standard weeks to long hours. Working conditions are often cramped and uncomfortable, and some work may be done at considerable heights. Work sites are noisy, busy and dangerous, often in remote areas aboard a vessel. Climbing to the top of a mast, being on the bilge of a boat, and breathing in diesel fumes are some of the potentially adverse conditions that go with the job description.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Marine pipefitters work on boats, for marine pipeline contractors, at quarries, for the cost guard and in the navy. Employment prospects for marine pipefitters change with the seasonal and economic climates.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced marine pipefitters may advance to supervisory positions such as foreman, sub-contractor, contractor and construction superintendent. With additional training, they can also transfer their skills to occupations such as plumber or welder. Special consideration is given to journeymen marine pipefitters who wish to become certified in other pipe trades. Marine pipefitters could also use their knowledge of pipe systems and planning to move into layout and design.

  Educational Paths  
Marine pipefitters receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all states to become a marine pipefitter, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training with classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary from state to state, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position however wages are about 50% less of what an employer pays the Journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their state industry training and apprenticeship office awards the marine pipefitter a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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