USNA | Paul H. Miller, D.Eng., P.E.  | Naval Architecture Major

Information for those thinking about a major in naval architecture!

Here is a two page (pdf) description of the major!

Subspecialty study tracks! (poster)

Here is a PowerPoint Brief describing the major. It has a number of video clips and may take awhile to download.

What do our students do? Take this link to Professor Miller's projects webpage to see pictures and read descriptions of some of the students and projects he has worked with!

In addition to the in-class activities described in the handouts, each year all the naval architecture students and the faculty take a field trip together to experience some unique aspect of the ship design and shipbuilding industry. Past trips have included the high tech research facilities at the David Taylor Research Center in Carderock, MD, the immense ship design and shipbuilding facilities of Newport News Shipbuilding (now Northrup Grumman) in Virginia, an amphibious landing group (with Mk Vs, PCs, LCUs and land vehicles), working in the unique world of buoy tending, The Coast Guard shipyard in Baltimore, the USS Constellation, and other fascinating places.

Many of our naval architecture students are members of The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and The American Society of Naval Engineers, as the two national societies have a joint student membership program. If you join one, then you automatically become a member of the other! Joining the societies offers you many benefits, including substantial discounts on books, and increased opportunities for internships.

What can you expect as a "naval arch"? Very much the same as any other engineering major. (It is important to remember that of the 40+ classes you will take here, only about 25% will be directly in your major.) You will have some fascinating projects, some hard work, pride in succeeding, and great future opportunities! Our major is often thought of as "the major with the most toys". That is because of the great lab facilities (for tank testing and structural testing) and the opportunities to test your creative skills. During your first naval arch class for instance, you will design a small tank model out of balsa wood. The goal is a design that is fast, can carry a lot of cargo and won't capsize or sink! It should also be easy to build, because one of the other students in the class will be building it for you (and similarly, you will build one to another's design!).

During your second class year you will design, build, evaluate and destroy a structural ship beam and panel, and during your first class year you will complete a preliminary design of a craft of your choice! In addition to the drawings and calculations, you will also have a model of your design built and will test it yourself! Your only limits are your motivation and creativity!

Frequently Asked Questions!

1. "I've heard that Naval Architecture is the most difficult major in the universe! Can I handle it?"

As with any engineering major, naval architecture is challenging! Our very low attrition rate (less than 10% after the start of 3/C year) and relatively low credit hours (no engineering major has fewer), means that succeeding in naval architecture is very achievable. As we are the smallest engineering major, the students and faculty try hard to ensure that everyone will succeed. Many students have said that even though some of the design/build projects may take some time, the work is very interesting and that makes it very enjoyable!

2. "What can I do with an undergraduate degree in naval architecture? Will it prevent me from getting in to graduate business school?"

An undergraduate degree in engineering from USNA opens doors! Apart from the obvious possibility of graduate education in naval architecture or another engineering field, over half of our graduates have earned advanced degrees in virtually every discipline, with the most popular degrees the MBA and MS in Engineering. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, there will be a critical shortage of naval architects in this country. As an example, at the present time the US Govt, which employs about 15% of the nation's naval archs, has enough openings to employ every naval arch who will graduate this year in the US. The demand will be there, and the old saying about supply and demand applies!

3. "Where can I get reliable information? Do naval architects really design oranges and belly-buttons?"

Naval (not navel!) archs do get some funny questions! That comes with the territory as one of the smallest technical disciplines! A downside to the small size is that some uninformed people will often offer bad information rather than not give any answer. Typically the best information will come from those working in the field. Next will be those who are currently in the major. The worst will be from those not directly involved. Just as you and a Chem major may have different views of chemistry, it is not wise to put much weight on the opinions of those outside the ENA major and community!

4. "How will a naval arch major influence my service selection?"

The old cliché is that you will have the same chance of getting any service selection no matter what your major. That may be true! It is true that naval arch majors tend to have some of the highest QPRs at service selection and that helps them get their first choice. A technical background is very beneficial in any of the communities that involve technology. Our graduates have excelled in every community, including having the top flight school graduate, nationally, in 2005!

5. "Where did the term Naval Architecture come from?"

Of the engineering majors at USNA, naval architecture traces its roots back the farthest. One of the oldest engineering books in the world is Architectura Navalis Mercatoria, which was published in 1768. It described how ships should be designed. (Luckily we don't design them to look like cod fish anymore.) The first two engineering fields had the names "civil architecture" and "naval architecture". When the term "engineering" gained wide spread use in the 19th Century, the field of "civil architecture" split in to "architects" and "civil engineers" to describe those who focused on the artistic versus engineering aspects. Naval architects still do both. Some in the field use the term "ship design engineers" to describe what we do, but most stick with the traditional term.

6. "I heard Naval Architecture is not a real engineering major. Is that true?"

Nope, it is bad information from someone who is misinformed! Naval architects are every bit engineers! Yes, we do spend a bit more time drawing things as curvy shapes as ships are difficult to render. We take many of the same engineering classes as the other engineers. Our students take, and have often scored the highest at USNA, on the national Fundamentals of Engineering Exam given at the end of 1/C year. There is a Professional Engineers exam for naval architects. See #1 and #5 above for more info!

7. "Although naval arch sounds interesting, I play a varsity sport and don't think I will have time for both. True?

Time management is a challenge for everyone and doing both can be tough. A good proportion of naval arch students are varsity athletes and their track record is enviable. Over the last decade we have had athletes from virtually every team. It is quite possible!

8. "Naval Architecture sounds cool, but in the long run I want to run a start-up company. How do I get management training?"

The Naval Academy is famous for its leadership training and our graduates are naturally quite good at it. Good business management is essentially good leadership combined with knowing specific knowledge related to business methods and tools. Business schools tend to emphasize that the best combination is an undergraduate degree combined with an MBA. USNA naval arch students have the opportunity to participate in subspecialty tracks, including Construction Management. The full list of the tracks can be found here:

Link to Naval Architecture Tracks in Construction Management, Design,

Marine Power, and Materials and Structures

One of the consistent traits of the heads of successful technology-based start-up companies is their technical background. Even if you never plan to design something, an engineering background trains you to work and think logically and to solve complex problems.

9. "Naval architecture sounds quite specialized. Does that limit my future choices?"

Not at all! See #2,4 and 8 above! Only about a quarter of our graduates stay in naval architecture.

10. "If you could describe naval architecture in four words, what would they be?" 

Interesting Applied Challenging Relevant

Paul H. Miller, D.Eng., P.E.

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