What is a Typical Cruise Ship Captain Salary?


by Marcello

Ever wonder what is the typical cruise ship captain salary? According to Payscale, the average salary of a cruise ship captain is $96,000 per year, in a salary range that varies from $48,485 to $180,308.

A captain’s responsibilities are far broader than just steering the ship. Let’s look at the roles and duties of a cruise ship captain and get an in-depth understanding of their salary.

Cruise ship captain navigating Panama Canal from bridge

What is a Cruise Ship Captain?

Being a ship captain is an incredibly demanding job that requires long hours and significant responsibility. A cruise ship captain is a fully licensed mariner who is responsible for the overall cruise ship operation. The vessel captain is responsible for the overall safety, transportation, and operation of passengers, crew, and any onboard cargo. In addition to their formal duties, cruise captains attend and host social activities onboard the ship.

Requirements to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

Cruise ship captains generally must have a high school diploma, post-secondary education, and optionally a Master’s Degree in Marine Engineering or Marine Science, preferably from a maritime academy or college. A marine transportation degree teaches naval science, physics, mathematics, and specialized sea training.

While it is an advantage to graduate from a reputable maritime academy or college, work experience plays a vital role in becoming a cruise ship captain. After graduation, prospective cruise ship captains typically obtain entry-level positions as a deck officer or third mate and work their way up.

Most maritime academies help students secure maritime jobs. Excellent placements for building experience include the Coast Guard Reserve and Navy response.

Certifications and the passing of a Captain Licensure Exam are required to become a captain. The certification requirements vary by country, but most cruise lines require prospective captains to obtain a Merchant Mariner Credential and Transportation Worker Identification Credential. To obtain the necessary certifications, prospective captains will be required to undergo a physical examination, vision test, and drug test.

The final step in becoming a cruise ship captain is passing the Captain Licensure Exam. The exam, offered by the U.S. Coast Guard, requires ten years of experience from applicants. Upon passing the exam, the student can officially apply for a ship captain position.

What do Cruise Captains do?

luxury cruise ship Celebrity Solstice cruises Milford Sound

Cruise ship captains are responsible for more than just piloting the ship. Here are some of the duties and responsibilities they have:

Piloting the Ship

The primary focus of a cruise ship captain is to make sure that all guests, crew, and cargo get from point A to point B safely and on time. Safety is the primary responsibility of a ship’s captain and must always be at the forefront of every decision made. Traditionally, in case of disaster, a captain must always “go down with the ship,” meaning that the captain should be the last person on board to leave the ship.

Supervising the Maintenance and Equipment

On a cruise ship, there are various teams responsible for the different parts of the ship’s operations, for example, the engines and navigation equipment. The captain generally oversees all of the onboard functions and has the final say on decisions. They have a vast knowledge of ship operations and maritime travel to make the best decisions with the available information.

Marrying Couples

It is pretty common for the captain of a cruise ship to play a prominent role in onboard weddings and vow renewal ceremonies. As part of their duties, the cruise ship captain might perform the wedding ceremony for passengers getting married aboard the cruise ship.

Managing a Large Team of Officers and Crew

Workers are at the port to welcome cruise ships

It takes a large number of crew members to operate a cruise ship. On the bridge, there are quite a few officers, safety officers, and cadets who work together to ensure the smooth sailing and safety of the ship. 

The captain is the head of the hierarchy and overseas the crew members to ensure the ship runs smoothly.

Enforcing Security Plans

Crew members regularly practice safety drills to prepare for any emergencies. The most common would be a flood or fire, but the crew also plans for rare emergencies like terrorist threats or pirate encounters. The cruise ship captain is in charge of safety and security plans to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew members.

Social Events

A big part of a cruise ship captain’s responsibilities is attending social events around the cruise ship. The captain will often interact with guests, host events, and attend shows. Many cruise ships also have a special captain’s night to thank them for their hard work.

What is the Salary of a Cruise Captain?

According to salary data from Payscale, the estimated median salary for a cruise captain is $96,000 per year, in a salary range that varies from $48,485 to $180,308.

There is a lot of variation between the salaries of cruise ship captains, but generally speaking, the captain is one of the highest-paid members of the crew. The amount a cruise ship captain makes varies by their experience, the cruise line, and the size of the ship.

Workers are at the port to welcome cruise ships

Typically, cruise ship captains work for two months on the ship and then take two months off and are on call 24/7 while they are onboard

What Other Perks Do Cruise Captains Receive?

In addition to salary, cruise captains receive several other perks:

  • Accommodation on the ship free of charge
  • Family staying onboard
  • Meals onboard
  • Laundry and Housekeeping
  • Discounts, often on cruises and shops onboard

Another big bonus is that cruise ship captain visits some unique places as part of their job.

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I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

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