National Engineering Month
National Engineering Month is a chance to celebrate the innovators who shape our world! Here at the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation, we're particularly excited to highlight the crucial role marine engineers play in Canada's maritime sector. Through their expertise, they ensure the safe and efficient operation of vessels across our vast waterways.

Today, we'll be featuring two inspiring individuals: a Chief Engineer with the Canadian Coast Guard and a Marine Engineering Officer (Motor) with Walter Hildebrand Marine Services Ltd. Let's hear their stories and gain insights into this fascinating career path!
Charlotte Girouard Ares
Chief Engineer
CCGS Pierre Radisson
— Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in a suburb of Montréal. My parents taught us the importance of pushing ourselves, creating opportunities and enjoying life. We grew up enjoying time on the ski slopes, and also camping, sailing and diving. I'm passionate about travel and scuba diving. Before choosing marine engineering, I hesitated between mechanical engineering and oceanography, and I chose the marine environment.

I trained as a marine engineer at the Canadian Coast Guard College, graduating in 2014. I take advantage of my atypical schedule to pursue my passion: scuba diving and all my outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, boating, camping, touring. I dive in the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and around the world. I love all types of diving: caving, wreck, drift, reef. This schedule has also allowed me to take my technical diver and instructor training courses. My schedule allows me to have a career, travel and spend quality time with family and friends.
From textbooks to open seas, how does the daily life of a Marine Engineer compare to the romanticized version? What unexpected challenges and rewarding moments define your work?

The basics are in the books, but the reality can't be taught. The instructors at the Canadian Coast Guard College give you the tools to learn and gain experience. For me, the most rewarding moments are the successful completion of a project, such as a main engine overhaul, or the replacement of a complete system, but also when you bring a fishing boat and its crew safely back to port.

I also love being part of the crew for scientific missions and projects in the Arctic. We often install engines, propellers and pumps, but we often forget to mention the wastewater systems and air ventilation systems. The unexpected challenges are often personnel management and the impact on life of being so far away from family and friends.

Does this career lean more towards problem-solving with cutting-edge tech or hands-on mechanical work? How do these aspects balance in your typical day?
In my experience, the beginning of my career is more hands-on mechanical work. However, as a Chief Engineer, it's a balance that often leans towards the more theoretical part, but I still have the opportunity to take part in inspections, repairs and analyses. As Chief, the work is more in planning, systems optimization, drawing up specifications and refit planning. The Coast Guard has cutting-edge technologies such as electric propulsion systems, control systems, sensors, dynamic positioning systems, automation, ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), multi-beam, alarm and surveillance systems.
What drew you to working for the Canadian Coast Guard specifically? Does your job involve environmental protection, search & rescue, or other unique missions?
First of all, I chose the Coast Guard because I was going to have 6 months off a year and I was going to be able to have a career while traveling. After some research, I learned that the Marine Engineering Officer Training Program at the Canadian Coast Guard College was free tuition with a monthly allowance. The Program culminates in a Bachelor of Nautical Science degree, a diploma from the College, an internationally valid certificate of competency and a guaranteed career based somewhere in Canada. So I was convinced and I don't regret my decision at all.

What's more, my job involves environmental protection, and search and rescue, which are priorities for the organization. I've mainly worked on buoy tendering and icebreakers. Icebreakers offer the advantage of working in the Arctic: resupplying the Eureka station, escorting through the Northwest Passage, visiting remote villages, scientific research projects. Last summer, I had the opportunity to work with a team of scientists in charge of ROV operations. And I'm proud to be part of a team that ensures the safety of all mariners in Canadian waters and protects Canada's marine environment.
How much travel is involved in this career? Do you get to explore different parts of the world, or stay closer to home serving local communities?
This career involves a lot of travel for work and gives us the opportunity to have a nomadic life during our breaks. After working 28 days we have 28 days off. When we work for the Coast Guard, we mainly work in Canada and in one region. I've been based in three places: the Great Lakes, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador. This enabled me to navigate all the Great Lakes, the Arctic, Greenland, the Maritimes and the St. Lawrence River. We stay close to our local communities in the North or in remote areas. Over the years, I've seen polar bears, narwhals, seals, orcas, whales, aurora borealis, glaciers, icebergs, puffins and walruses.
What path did you take to become a Marine Engineer? What kind of education, training, and certifications are needed? Are there scholarship or apprenticeship opportunities for someone just starting out?
I have completed the Canadian Coast Guard College Officer Training Program in Marine Engineering. This program leads to a Bachelor of Nautical Science from Cape Breton University and a Mechanical Engineering Diploma from the College. We graduate with an STCW Fourth Class Engine Competency Certificate, which is valid in the merchant navy and internationally. In less than 10 years, I obtained my first class, the 4th and final echelon.

To become an officer, you need a certificate of competency, but you also need a valid medical certificate, advanced marine emergency and lifeboat operations training (MED) and advanced first aid at sea. The Canadian Coast Guard College offers the training free of charge if selected, and guaranteed employment in one of the three regions. Later in your career, you'll also have the chance to obtain shore-based positions in the public service, such as project manager, instructor, superintendent and manager.
Andrew Killough
Marine Diesel Mechanic/Fourth Class, Marine Engineering Officer (Motor)
Walter Hiltebrand Marine Services Ltd. (WHMS)
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Originally from London, Ontario, I now live in Welland with my wife Sara and our two young children. My journey in the marine industry began in high school during the summer breaks of 2011 and 2012, where I started as a student painter on Lower Lakes Towing vessels. Following that, I enrolled in the Marine Engineering Technician program at Georgian College, gaining valuable experience through 210 days of co-ops on Lower Lakes Towing vessels.

Graduating in 2015 as a fourth-class Marine Engineer (Motor), I transitioned to working as a Small/Diesel Engine Technician at a farm equipment dealer due to a downturn in the marine industry in spring 2016. In 2017, I returned to the marine field, starting with McKeil Marine on the Stephen B. Roman and later moving to the McKeil Spirit with additional experience on their project fleet.

In 2020, I met Oliver Hiltebrand at WHMS and was impressed by his renowned tour of the shop and facility. Initially starting part-time while still working on ships, I began full-time work at WHMS in February 2023 as a Marine Diesel Mechanic. While a big change, Oliver and his team have made the transition to a regular “8-4” very fun and rewarding. Additionally, I'm proud to be a member of CIMarE (The Canadian Institute of Marine Engineering) and have recently been appointed to the Great Lakes board as of 2024.
Can you describe a typical workday in your job at Walter Hiltebrand Marine Services Ltd. (WHMS)?
Every day at WHMS is a challenge, and there's no one-size-fits-all description. We kick things off with weekly style project meetings, where we discuss what is coming in, what we've been working on, and any urgent needs. Customers (Canadian and American Great Lakes ships) rely on us to determine if their projects are critical, and a big part of my job involves the disassembly, assessment, reconditioning, assembly, packaging, and storage of customer components. This can range from massive marine diesel engine parts like cylinder heads (up to 38cm in diameter!) to liners, coolers, pumps, and even smaller components like pistons, connecting rods, and fuel injectors. Whatever comes through the door, we meticulously assess its condition and present the customer with reconditioning options, if possible.

Since 2023, WHMS has brought honing of liners in-house. I've been tasked with learning and operating this new machine, ensuring liners are reconditioned to factory specifications. On top of that, there's the daily housekeeping, shop maintenance, and keeping our tools and facilities up-to-date. It's a truly dynamic environment, and while I could explain it all day, this niche market is best understood by seeing the systems and equipment firsthand.

The shop environment offers a dynamic workday. There's a constant variety as we tackle client requests for component overhauls (cylindrical heads, fuel pumps, pistons, etc.). While some projects are meticulously planned in advance, others arise unexpectedly. Our team thrives on this adaptability, always aiming to meet client needs on time and within budget, no matter what the project throws our way.

  • liner: a liner is a crucial part of an engine and is located in the cylinder wall. It provides protection to the cylinder wall against wear, corrosion and overheating. In addition, it ensures a good seal between the piston and the cylinder, resulting in optimal compression and combustion.
What steps are involved in becoming a Marine Engineer, including education, training, and certifications? Are there scholarships or apprenticeships available for someone just starting out?
Since I attended school between 2012 and 2015, there may have been changes to the requirements for becoming a marine engineer. To get the most up-to-date information, I recommend contacting Georgian College or another marine school in Canada.

Financial aid is available for these programs. Scholarships are plentiful, and some students are even fortunate to receive full sponsorship from large shipping companies.

As for “apprenticeships” to become a marine engineer you must complete sea time. Transport Canada mandates a minimum of 180 days, while Georgian College, when I was a student, required 210 days of on-board training on commercial vessels. This on-board training is known as co-op or sea terms.
What are the biggest challenges and rewards of working as a Marine Engineer?
The biggest challenge I faced was being away from my young family. Five weeks at home followed by five weeks away made communication difficult, even when close to shore. Back then, there was no internet or cell phone signal. Hopefully, with Starlink integrated into the Canadian fleet, this won't be such a big deal anymore. I understand this lack of connection might not have been a problem for older generations, but for young people like myself, staying connected to family and friends is increasingly important. These long stretches away can be lonely, and having that support network to reach out to is crucial. Another big challenge is working with the onboard resources you have. You have to make do with the people, tools, and spare parts available.

However, the rewards are good. The money is solid for six months of the year, with a five weeks on, five weeks off schedule. It's steady work, and last year was my best, pulling in almost $100,000 for 185 twelve-hour shifts (from April 1st to March 31st). This was as a Third Engineer, and the pay increases as you move up to Chief Engineer. The time off is also fantastic – very much needed and appreciated.
What advice would you give to high school students who might be interested in pursuing a career in marine engineering?
My advice would be to tackle a marine engineering program now, while it might be easier than later in life. It won't be a walk in the park, though. You'll need to be focused and remember you're there to learn. Stick with your studies and complete your co-ops, and there's a great job waiting for you at the end.

However, be aware that this program is challenging. But take heart! Just like most jobs, the skills you learn in school and during your co-op will be the foundation of your everyday work on the job.
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