If you’re good at fixing things, like helping people, don’t mind getting your hands dirty and want a job that’s out of the ordinary, a career as a marine engineer could be a fantastic fit, as Jonathan Parker has discovered…
Name: Jonathan Parker
Role: Marine engineer with emergency breakdown company Sea Start Ltd in Warsash, Southampton
What does your role involve?
I’m the marine version of the AA or RAC roadside assistance, but on the water. I keep leisure boats moving and I’m an expert in fixing technical breakdowns.
Who do you serve?
Our members pay an annual fee and we fix the engine, or anything under the waterline.
What’s your career background?
I grew up in a small suburb of commuter belt Surrey. I’d barely seen the water let alone been on a boat. But I had trained as mechanic. I went from fixing cars to selling cars and back to fixing cars again for the breakdown recovery service RAC, where I worked for 7 years.
Why the change to boats?
A chance posting through work led me closer to the coast in Chandler’s Ford where my girlfriend, now wife, persuaded me to go out on a Dinghy at Southampton Watersports Activity Centre (SWAC).
I didn’t know one end of a boat from another. It was the calmest day with no wind and we were just floating about and I didn’t really get it. But my other half was really keen to get into boating and made me persevere, so I decided to go down the power route by taking the RYA Powerboat Level 2 course.
This was much more ‘me’ and during a Man Overboard exercise the engine cut out and we were stuck. So I took a look and I managed to fix it.
Not long after, a job came up at Sea Start Ltd and it made sense. Combining my hobby with my job seemed like a really good fit.
Any formal training?
I took an RYA VHF Radio Course and bought a 16ft speedboat that I found online. It was in caravan storage and had plants growing out of it but I thought, ‘that’s okay, because I can clean it up and rebuild the engine’. In hindsight it cost me a fortune in parts but we got it out on the water and eventually sold and upgraded it for 21ft speedboat.
It was a bit like staying in a tent, but after a while we thought we’d get something bigger. So I went to a 27ft sports cruiser with a galley and bed and then upgraded to a 32fter, which we use all the time for weekend and day trips.
So what does your job entail? Does it sometimes feel like you are a rescue service?
On a busy day hundreds of boats are out on the water and people can get into trouble when they break down. The weather and tide can change fast and boats can drift dangerously so we need to get to people as quickly as possible. Often we are the first to arrive and it’s inevitable that sometimes we get involved, and while we do work closely with the Coastguard but we are most definitely NOT the Coastguard or the RNLI.
Best bits of the job?
It's very rewarding being able to fix boats and get people moving again and to know that they're happy. There’s nothing like a sunny day and being out on the water.
Being out in all weathers. When it’s lashing down with rain, it’s not quite the dream, but it still beats being stuck in an office all day long.
Advice to anyone wanting to follow a career as a Marine Engineer?
If you have a genuine interest in fixing engines and like being on a boat, I’d recommend getting plenty of on-the-water experience. Get your RYA Powerboat Level 2 course under your belt and an RYA Diesel Engine Course will give you the best head start on the competition.