Engineering Career in Sailing

CalebG

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I'm a college student studying Mechanical Engineering and I have been sailing for as long as I can remember.  I have reached a point in my life where I want to further my sailing career but I'm not sure how.  What I have gathered from my racing experience is that sailing at the highest levels is all about networking.  I've recently begun considering working in the sailing industry as an engineer in order to develop those networked connections.  That leads me to the question that's been plaguing me.

How does one get in contact/make connections with boat designers and manufacturers to look into a career in engineering Sailboats?

 

Somebody Else

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By career opportunities in "Engineering Sailboats" I am guessing you mean "Marine Architecture". In almost all cases you are looking at serving under someone making wages/salary that may pay of the education in a decade or so, or going on your own which means you may starve to death before your name goes on the short list of go-to yacht designers.

A lot of Marine Architects who had dreams of designing fast sailboats spend their time calculating displacements and power requirements for commercial barges or oil tankers or some such ilk.

PaulK has a good idea or to generalize it a bit: specialize.

 

CalebG

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By saying "Engineering Sailboats" I was trying to leave it open ended.  Sailboats are obviously complex engineering challenges and I can't imagine it being one person who engineers every single component.  Even starting doing simple engineering for simple components would be interesting.

I appreciate the recommendation to specialize.  That is something I hadn't considered much of yet specifically in foiling.

 

Somebody Else

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  1. Generalize under someone else.
  2. Specialize under someone else -or- Generalize under your own name.
  3. Get known for a type of boat or set of conditions or specific part of design.

This progression certainly does not happen overnight. Not unless you are one of the elite who really does have a distinct breakthrough. The kind of breakthrough that happens once every 20 years or so.

 

JoeO

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By saying "Engineering Sailboats" I was trying to leave it open ended.  Sailboats are obviously complex engineering challenges and I can't imagine it being one person who engineers every single component.  Even starting doing simple engineering for simple components would be interesting.

I appreciate the recommendation to specialize.  That is something I hadn't considered much of yet specifically in foiling.
Look to hardware manufacturers (Harken, Lewmar, etc.) for Mech Eng positions. Spar/rigging mfrs too. Shipyards and Mega Yacht builders (mostly in Europe though) as well. Probably more positions available in those niches of the indiustry than in Jason Ker's design office, etc.

 

Breamerly

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I want to further my sailing career
It's ambiguous what you mean by this, and it makes all the difference.

If you mean you want to further your 'career' as a sailor - to find more opportunities to race or crew or whatever, more opportunities to run with the big dogs and sail the fanciest boats and pull the fanciest ropes - I'd say you probably don't need to orient your work around this axis to make that happen. 

That is what I'm pretty sure you meant - you said "I have gathered from my racing experience... that sailing at the highest levels is all about networking.  I've recently begun considering working in the sailing industry... in order to develop those networked connections."

That makes it sound as though you are considering working in the sailing industry just to make connections that will help your sailing. But I don't think many people sitting in Annapolis pick their racing crew from the random fleet of engineers working for Harken in some New Jersey office park. I don't know quite how they do pick them (maybe looks and dumb luck, based in who happens to be hanging around the yacht club bar?) but I'm pretty sure that's not it. My hunch is You could fetch beers and carry clubs (or crunch numbers and put together spreadsheets) for a decade for the guy who runs the vednee globe and it would never cross his mind, 'gee, maybe Billy the numbers chap would like a turn on the grinders on my kajillion dollar space-foil.'

Instead, my impression is that all the fanciest race boats are run by rich assholes. And it's a well-known fact that rich assholes love younger women, are hated by their kids, and know their willies are the only thing about themselves they can't pay to enhance.

If you want them to beg you to race on their superyachts, get a six pack and a model girlfriend for them to covet, and then use those engineer brains to design a ray gun that will give them back their youth, super-size their johnsons, and fix their relationships with their kids all at once. Or something.

I should qualify this by saying that although I'm halfway serious, I have no idea what I'm talking about. Good luck!

 
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Snaggletooth

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Cal,

Talkle to Bob Perry,  hese kinda famouse aronde hearre,  verrey nice, and mabey willing to talkle to niew guyes.  If annbodey hase a fingere on the pulse of sailboat desine/builde ist hime.  Goode luck.

Snaggs                                  :)

 

Breamerly

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Cal,

Talkle to Bob Perry,  hese kinda famouse aronde hearre,  verrey nice, and mabey willing to talkle to niew guyes.  If annbodey hase a fingere on the pulse of sailboat desine/builde ist hime.  Goode luck.

Snaggs                                  :)
Yes this is much better advice than anything I said earlier, ignore that.

 

NZK

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What I have gathered from my racing experience is that sailing at the highest levels is all about networking.  I've recently begun considering working in the sailing industry as an engineer in order to develop those networked connections


How does one get in contact/make connections with boat designers and manufacturers to look into a career in engineering Sailboats?


This is a bit confusing because I would say there are entirely different pathways depending on whether you want to head down the professional/race boat crew or secure a job with naval architects/yacht builders. 

Industry position; I would suggest that is just about applying for any openings and highlighting your sailing background. I'm on the wrong side of the pond to really help any further with this aspect but perhaps other posters can offer some introductions to people already in a naval architecture/engineering companies? 

I'm also assuming you'll need to specialise in a more particular field of mech-eng? This choice will obviously influence which areas of the marine industry will be more suitable for employment; sail, rig and foil design/interaction is a huge area of growth, composite engineering (particularly using sustainable materials). @Greenflash is the perfect person to offer advice about this but he has a fair bit on right now so may not be able to jump in for a while (but I'm going to drop this on him anyway....)

For race crew/shore crews with pro-teams or on superyachts (some of the performance superyachts have very high level optimisation programs that match those of a TP or Maxi72 so the engineer is far more involved with designers and manufacturers than they are with oil changes and air-con filters) then this is much more about who you know to get a foot in the door. On the plus side a lot of the teams do have highly skilled shore crews who cross-over onto a sailing role. Being in the right place also helps - Newport, RI is still the hub for high level race teams in the US and there's been a recent 'homecoming' as teams such as 11th Hour, Deep Blue and Bella Mente have all returned to the US because of the travel disruption of Covid. Also look at the Michigan area (largest TP52 fleet in the US at the moment) and also to the West coast pockets. 

There is definitely some cross over with shore based roles leading to on-board positions - sail makers, riggers, spar and rigging designers, hydraulics etc. For many this is the 'holy-grail' situation but there's no real guarantee of achieving this mix unless you already have a spot onboard a boat before you start an industry role...

If you want to focus on the sailing and try to join a race team then it's about starting at the bottom and putting the work in to earn your stripes - you'll be the nipper and be expected to fill ice boxes, clean containers and other highly non-engineering related tasks but effort is rewarded and people will recognise your skill set. I can point you in the direction of some teams and small businesses in the Newport area who would be worth contacting - let me know and I can DM you some contact info. 

 

Breamerly

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this is much more about who you know to get a foot in the door. [...] Being in the right place also helps - Newport, RI  [...]Also look at the Michigan area[...] and also to the West coast pockets. 
Like I said, fashionable hair, hot girlfriend, yacht club bar, ray gun.

 

shaggybaxter

Super Anarchist
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I'm a college student studying Mechanical Engineering and I have been sailing for as long as I can remember.  I have reached a point in my life where I want to further my sailing career but I'm not sure how.  What I have gathered from my racing experience is that sailing at the highest levels is all about networking.  I've recently begun considering working in the sailing industry as an engineer in order to develop those networked connections.  That leads me to the question that's been plaguing me.

How does one get in contact/make connections with boat designers and manufacturers to look into a career in engineering Sailboats?
You should try remote controlled yachts, they're as mad/competitive as full size boats and you have much more chance at engineering something without breaking the bank. 

 
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shaggybaxter

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After you spend a quarter million plus plus on tools that is...

FKT
:)  there is that. I was thinking more along the lines of a next gen servo, or rudder /masts, not the boat. Chatting to a gent that makes sails for them, I was impressed at the level of detail and effort that went into just the sails.

 

Panoramix

Super Anarchist
Small yards like structures often have a few mechanical engineers who do all kind of design work, big yards have some too, I had a uni mate who ended up working for Bénéteau as their specialist for teak decks, I lost contact but I imagine that he ended up taking more responsibilities. He had no entries in the industry was from a completely different background and was barely able to sail a boat but he came to their attention because 10 of us made a racing 30 footer in the uni workshop!!!  Big racing teams also have in house engineers, and on long distance races where being able to repair MacGyver style matters they sometimes get a ride (the most known and successful example is probably Kevin Escoffier who got to do the volvo partly for his engineering skills).

If you know nobody in the industry, I guess that your best bet is to go to a boatshow with lot of CVs in your bag and try to get in contact with technical directors and beg for a "summer or gap year work experience" while you are still a student, that will give you a head-start. If you can speak French there are networking events organised by "Tip & Shaft", that's a bit far away but may be there is a US equivalent.

 
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Breamerly

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Nowadays it's probably more protein bar than yacht club bar.... 
Whatever the specifics, I'm guessing the salient fact is that, like becoming a millionaire instagram influencer or an editor at the New York Times or a secret shopper for Gucci, when it comes to the tippy-top race teams there are more applicants than positions, and in reality a significant part of getting through the door is being in the right place at the right time.

Or, to put it another way: as far as the plebes are concerned, skills are required to qualify, but I'm guessing quite a bit more is necessary to be selected.

 
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