In 2010, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) introduced a new certification category for the position of Electro Technical Officer (ETO). The ETO post has been created by the IMO as the demand for new technologies has been increasing on board ships. The function of an ETO is to operate, maintain and calibrate all electrical, electronic and control equipment. Most modern vessels are controlled by electronic or computer-based systems which have to be maintained, an ETO is part of the engineering department and works alongside engineers to keep a ship running, the ETO’s role is not restricted to the engine room and they will often find themselves working on complex systems located throughout the vessel. Ian Black, a former ETO who is now a lecturer on CIT’s Marine Electrotechnology programme, explains that the qualification has come about due to regulation catching up with developing technology in the area. “ETOs have been around since the mid-‘90s, I was an ETO at sea myself in the late ‘90s with BP, and Princess Cruises in the early 2000s. It’s been there for quite some time but - a bit like any industry - it takes time for the regulators to catch up. The IMO has been proposing an ETO certification since the late ‘90s but it has taken this long for it to be put through the IMO’s own congress. “As of 2017 everyone working at sea, who is an ETO or wants to be designated as an ETO, has to have the qualification – we call it the Certificate of Competency. It’s mandatory as of next year.” NMCI 1Presently, Irish ETO cadets are educated at the National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI) in Cork. The government has recognised the importance of the maritime industry to Ireland by investing €52 million in the construction of NMCI. Located in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, NMCI is a constituent college of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), which brings together the Irish Naval Service and Merchant Marine under one roof in one of the most advanced maritime academies of its type in the world. The NMCI was the first third level college in the country to be built under the government's Public-Private Partnership scheme.

'100 per cent job placement for successful students'

“At the moment we have 100 per cent job placement for successful students. Generally what happens is that in second year students are placed with shipping companies and I have far more demand than I have students. I think I could have placed about 20 students this year. “We are hoping to boost the numbers this year. I think we would probably restrict it at about 24 because our labs run in 12s. The next intake will be in September of this year,” said Black. With the new course well under way, and with ships getting bigger and more technically advanced every year, ETOs are becoming more and more sought after throughout the Merchant Navy. There is currently a shortage of these professionals and large shipping companies sponsor students early in their programmes to meet the shipping company’s manning requirements. Black explains that there is a general shortage of qualified merchant officers around the world, with a shortfall of 60,000 expected by 2020. “This is the case with ETOs in particular; currently, at sea, the ETOs are either electricians who are at sea or former radio officers and a lot of them are coming up to retirement age. “The one thing I would emphasise about the ETO course is that it’s a career for life if you want it but generally people stay at sea for about 10 years and then come back and requalify and do something else. “They can either go directly into industry or what a lot of people do is they go on to do an honours degree in either electrical or electronics or instrumentation and move on that way. “If somebody is into travel and technology and they are mathematically minded I think it is the perfect course.” The ETO position is a role filled with variety, where graduates get to work with some of the most advanced technology in the world while working their way up a structured career path. On successful completion of training and education, graduates may choose to lead a career as a marine or shore-based ETO, managing electrical, electronics and control functions aboard modern vessels and offshore installations. As well as lectures, training is provided in a variety of workshops and laboratories. This practical work is given to enhance the students’ learning experience. Practical knowledge of fundamental theories is gained in electrical including high voltage operations and protection, electronic, communications, programmable logic controllers and control and instrumentation laboratories. A broad understanding of ships and ships’ systems is delivered in electrical workshops and in the college’s own engine room. Students also undertake basic safety training and instruction prior to taking up seagoing work placement with a shipping company.

What is enticing students to take up the course?

Black says that, along with the opportunity to travel, potential salary is one of the major attractions of life as an ETO. “At the moment the pay that these guys are getting is amazing and it’s all tax free. Just as an example, two of my students are on $2,600 a month while they are students. If you are one of the top students with the companies the demand is there and you are going to get paid the top money. “That is as students, they have been telling me that when they graduate in June and they go back to sea they will be earning $6,000 a month. “Students are tied into a contract for two years. The academic side of the course is three years but the actual course is four years long because they go to sea for nine months between second and third year. “Students are usually contracted to the company that they get their work placement with. They are almost sponsored by the company and that is why they get paid for the time spent on placement in third year. The payback then is that they do two more years with the company after graduation.” Last June’s graduation ceremony at the National Maritime College of Ireland marked a very special occasion in the college’s 11-year history. As well as Navigational and Marine Engineering Cadets having graduated, the first group of ETO cadets graduated from the college. This first group of graduates was a mix of Irish and Emirati (UAE) students, who quickly learned to work and socialise well together. They came from a variety of backgrounds, many had little knowledge of the sea before beginning the course but all agreed that they had an interest in technology and travel. It should also be noted that a number of electricians are currently enrolled on the course and are looking forward to completing their degree, and taking up employment with a number of shipping companies. On the same day as the students graduated, the Marine Electrotechnology Degree received an Excellence in Maritime Education and Training Award. Who knows what the future will hold for them, but we congratulate and wish them the very best of luck with their future endeavours. For more on NMCI Electrotechnology Degree, see or contact