Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids or gases.

What do Boilermakers Do?

Boilermakers must have the technical skills to read blueprints and other plan documents. They may install premade boilers or assemble new ones, and the assembly process often involves the use of technologies such as robotic welders. Boilermakers inspect boilers for leaks or other weaknesses and repair these defects upon finding them, using power tools, handheld tools, welding equipment, or gas torches. These workers also may clean boilers or vats if necessary.

Duties

Boilermakers typically do the following:

  • Read blueprints to determine locations, positions, and dimensions of boiler parts
  • Install small premade boilers in buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Lay out prefabricated parts of larger boilers before assembling them
  • Assemble boiler tanks, often using robotic or automatic welders
  • Test and inspect boiler systems for leaks or defects
  • Clean vats with scrapers, wire brushes, and cleaning solvents
  • Replace or repair broken valves, pipes, or joints, using hand and power tools, gas torches, and welding equipment

Boilers, tanks, and vats are used in many buildings, factories, and ships. Boilers heat water or other fluids under extreme pressure to generate electric power and to provide heat. Large tanks and vats are used to process and store chemicals, oil, beer, and hundreds of other products.

Boilers are made out of steel, iron, copper, or stainless steel. Manufacturers are increasingly automating the production of boilers to improve the quality of these vessels. However, boilermakers still use many tools to assemble and maintain boilers. For example, they often use hand and power tools and flame-cutting torches to align, cut, and shape pieces for a boiler. Boilermakers also use plumb bobs, levels, wedges, and turnbuckles to align pieces accurately.

During a boiler installation, boilermakers first line up boilerplates and parts, and then use metalworking machinery and other tools to remove irregular edges so that the parts fit together properly. If the plate sections are very large, boilermakers signal crane operators to lift the parts into place. Boilermakers then join the parts by bolting, welding, and riveting them together.

Boilermakers may help erect and repair air pollution abatement equipment, blast furnaces, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, and smokestacks. Boilermakers also install refractory brick and other heat-resistant materials in fireboxes or pressure vessels. Some install and maintain the huge pipes used in dams to send water to and from hydroelectric power generation turbines.

Boilers last a long time and boilermakers must maintain them regularly by repairing and replacing parts. They inspect fittings, feed pumps, safety and check valves, water and pressure gauges, and boiler controls.

Boilermakers perform physically demanding work in cramped spaces inside boilers, vats, or tanks that are often dark, damp, noisy, and poorly ventilated. They frequently work outdoors in all types of weather, including extreme heat and cold.

Because dams, boilers, storage tanks, and pressure vessels are large, boilermakers frequently work at great heights. For example, they may be hundreds of feet above the ground when working on a dam.

Injuries and Illnesses

Boilermakers have lower rates of injuries and illnesses than many other construction occupations. To reduce the chance of injuries, boilermakers wear hardhats, protective clothing, earplugs, safety glasses, and other safety equipment. When working in enclosed spaces, boilermakers often wear a respirator.

Work Schedules

Nearly all boilermakers work full time and may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance. Overtime work also may be necessary to meet construction or production deadlines, especially during the spring and fall seasons, when many power plants receive routine maintenance. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete. There may also be periods of unemployment during the winter and summer when major maintenance is complete

How to Become a Boilermaker

Candidates have a better chance to be accepted into training programs if they have welding experience.

Most boilermakers learn their trade through an apprenticeship program.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required.

Training

Boilermakers typically learn their trade through an apprenticeship program. During training, workers learn how to use boilermaker tools and equipment on the job. They also learn about metals and installation techniques, mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.

Apprenticeship programs typically last 4 years. When boilermakers finish the apprenticeship program, they are considered to be journey workers, performing tasks under the guidance of experienced workers. A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Apprentices must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Candidates with certified or documented welding experience may have priority over applicants without experience.

Some boilermakers enter apprenticeships after working as pipefitters, millwrights, sheet metal workers, or welders. The core training for these occupations is similar to the training for boilermakers.

Pay

The median annual wage for boilermakers was $62,260 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,700, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,160.

Apprentices receive less pay than fully trained boilermakers. They receive pay increases as they learn more skills.

Nearly all boilermakers work full time and may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance. Overtime work also may be necessary to meet construction or production deadlines, especially during the spring and fall seasons, when many power plants receive routine maintenance. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete. There may also be periods of unemployment during the winter and summer when major maintenance is complete.

Boilermakers may travel to worksites and be away from home for extended periods.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, boilermakers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016. Although there is no single union that covers all boilermakers, the largest organizer of these workers is the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.

Contacts for More Information

For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities as a boilermaker, contact local boiler construction contractors; a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; a local joint union–management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of your state employment service or apprenticeship agency. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online, or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about apprenticeship and training, visit

Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers

NCCER

Boilermakers Local Lodge web sites

For information about welding certification, visit

American Welding Society

American Boiler Association