Naval architecture (or ship design engineering) is one of the oldest and broadest engineering disciplines. Naval architects design the largest manmade objects (over 1500 feet long) that move, and design some of the most complex systems (aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines). Design projects that naval architects undertake include underwater vessels, warships, sailboats, unmanned robotic craft and advanced sea skimming vehicles. Naval architects have also been involved in the design of many other types of engineered systems, including land vehicles, airplanes and even spacecraft.
USNA’s naval architecture major is well-regarded nationally and typically attracts 25-30 students each year. The major includes an honors program and offers a variety of concentration areas. The major’s small size is one of its advantages, as this allows classes to be very hands-on with multiple design projects, labs and small class sizes. USNA’s naval architecture program has world-class facilities and award-winning faculty, yet the major retains a close-knit atmosphere. In common with all majors at USNA, naval architects study the fundamental core subjects of calculus, chemistry, physics and the humanities. Along with the other engineering majors, students learn the engineering concepts of mechanics, fluids and materials. Naval architecture majors design, build and test projects every year, starting with the first naval architecture course in 3/C year. Not only do these projects develop important skills in engineering and teamwork, they are also fun.
During the summer, students have the opportunity to serve in academic internships at design offices, shipyards or research facilities. Some 1/C opt to work on individual or team projects, giving them the chance to explore a topic of their choice in depth. Naval architecture students may build and test designs that find their way into service in the Navy or at USNA. Recent projects include the design and testing of a composite propeller for USNA’s YP training craft, the design and testing of a new keel and rudder configuration for USNA’s Navy 44 foot sail training craft, as well as the design and operation of an autonomous sailboat, which won our SailBot teams several international competitions.
A degree in naval architecture allows for numerous career paths in both the military and civilian sectors. With an identified critical shortage of naval architects (both military and civilian) in the coming decades, multiple opportunities exist. Graduates from this major include admirals and astronauts, as well as designers of offshore power and sail boats (including America’s Cup), submarines, surface warships, commercial vessels and exotic craft. USNA naval architecture graduates have earned a variety of additional degrees, including the MS, MBA, PhD, JD and even MD degrees. Given their solid backgrounds in design and analysis, our graduates are working as leaders throughout the naval and business worlds and can be found running major government programs, start-up enterprises and Fortune 500 companies.
What does it take to succeed as a naval architecture student? Most importantly, a midshipman contemplating this major should enjoy applying creative and analytical skills to engineering problems. Midshipmen are also encouraged to learn more about this multi-faceted major by visiting the Hydro Lab or contacting any of the naval architecture faculty.