The Challenging Art of Shipfitting

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The year was 1912, and the vessel deemed by many to be “unsinkable” had set sail. This ship was the Titanic, as you may have guessed, and that particular story had an unfortunate ending. Tragic as it was, this ship started out as a wondrous thing to behold, a compliment to those men who had built her. Each pipe, frame and panel was meticulously crafted and put together, creating what was, at the time, the largest ship to traverse the water. Despite her fate with an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean, which was more the fault of sleepy crewmembers than the craftsmen, the Titanic was expertly constructed by skilled artisans. Today we call these people shipfitters. The art of shipfitting has a long history, and without the abilities of those in the trade, we would not have aquatic transport, much less the luxury cruise ships we’ve grown accustomed to. So what all do shipfitters do? Keep reading to find out!

Demands of Shipfitters

Shipfitters, shipbuilders and shipwrights turn architects’ blueprints into seaworthy water-faring vessels. Such individuals possess a wide range of construction skills to create small- to large-scale vessels and also frequently perform repairs. These professionals under the “shipfitter” umbrella may include specialists who focus on pipefitting, coremaking or welding, or some may be a Jack of all trades.

Aside from expert building skills, shipfitters must meet physical and mental demands. The number one need is to be in good shape. In order to manipulate heavy duty metal for structural use, these workers must be able to lift over 50 pounds, climb to perform work on a ship’s frame, and crouch into tight spaces to take measurements for templates and fit metal into position. Adaptability will serve any shipfitter well. While some duties are done in shops, workers frequently execute their duties onsite and outside on docks, ranging from scorching hot to freezing cold. Individuals must also be able to work cohesively with one another, as the success of each project and each vessel’s reliability on the water depends on meticulous work and good communication.

Specific Tasks of Shipfitters

Constructing ships takes a great deal of time, effort and expertise. Shipfitters, creating anything from towboats and tugboats to tankers, submarines and aircraft carriers, carry out countless individual tasks to construct seaworthy structures. Some of these include:

  • Using electric, hydraulic and hand tools such as welders and heat torches
  • Pushing and/or pulling large pieces of sheet metal prior to cutting dies and patterns
  • Making dies, molds and ship components
  • Installing hatches, doors and other openings
  • Welding metal to the ship’s frame
  • Using mallets to remove dents from metal upon securing it to the frame
  • Repairing older ships by replacing worn out or outdated components

Working as a shipfitter is both physically and mentally demanding. One must be able to execute tasks quickly and accurately as well as make calculations that will affect the design and functioning of the ship being built. The job is not for claustrophobic individuals, as working in tight spaces may become a day-to-day necessity. Shipfitters are the last line of defense in terms of each vessel’s quality, so an eye for detail is a must-have.

Have You Considered a Career in the Skilled Trades?

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Does this sound like the path for you? The first step to take towards this fulfilling career is to enroll in a shipbuilding program. Tulsa Welding School—Jacksonville, Florida campus, offers a new Shipfitting and Steel Fabrication diploma program which may be completed in as little as 9 months. The Shipfitting and Steel Fabrication program equips students with the skills to move into the shipfitting field in military, shipyard, cruise ship and other industries by providing welding classes and practicum experiences. We’ve come a long way since the Titanic; maybe a ship that you build really will be unsinkable! Think you’re ready to take on the challenge? Enroll today!


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