What is a Typical Cruise Ship Captain Salary?



Marcello De Lio

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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Cruise ship captains are responsible for the entire operation of a cruise ship. Their role is demanding, requiring years of experience, special skills, and long hours.

According to Comparably, the average cruise ship captain salary is $93,328 per year. Cruise ship captains with over 20 years of experience can make up to $200,000 per year.

A captain’s responsibilities are far broader than just steering the ship. Let’s take a deeper look at the roles and responsibilities of cruise ship captains and the salary they earn.

What is a Typical Cruise Ship Captain Salary?

Captain Henrik Loy stands in front of Ovation of the Seas where he will serve
(Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

According to Comparably, a cruise ship captain’s salary is around $93,328 per year, in a salary range from $48,485 to $180,308.

A cruise ship captain’s salary depends on the captain’s experience, the cruise line they work for, and the size of the ship they sail.

There is a wide range of estimates on cruise ship captains’ salaries, as seen below:

  • Comparably estimates the average cruise ship captain’s salary at $93,328 per year
  • According to CruiseCritic, most cruise ship captains bring in around $150,000 annually.
  • ZipRecruiter estimates a cruise ship captain’s annual salary of $54,471.

There is a lot of variation between the salaries of cruise ship captains based on the cruise line, ship size, and years of experience. Generally speaking, the captain is one of the highest-paid crew members on a cruise ship.

Trailblazing captain kate mccue standing in front of Celebrity Beyond During Construction
Trailblazing captain Kate McCue standing in front of Celebrity Beyond During Construction (Photo Courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)

The size of the cruise ship is a major contributor to a captain’s salary. The captain of a mega cruise ship would make much more than one piloting a small luxury vessel.

When you see smaller estimates like that of ZipRecruiter, it often includes smaller passenger vessels like ferries.

Not all cruise lines pay the same, either. Generally, the largest cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival, pay captains a higher salary than smaller lines.

Usually, cruise ship captains work for two months on the ship and take two months off between deployments. While captaining the vessel, captains are on call 24/7.

What Other Perks Do Cruise Captains Receive?

Cruise ship captain on deck holding captian hat

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

  • Solo accommodations
  • Flight to and from the ship between contracts
  • Family staying onboard
  • Food and drinks
  • Laundry and housekeeping
  • Discounts at the onboard shop
  • Discounts on cruises
  • Bonuses and stock option packages

While working on the ship, captains have very few expenses. Like other crew members, they receive free accommodations, food, laundry, and housekeeping.

Carnival Cruise Line officers and Captain Vincenzo Alcaras standing in front of carnival celebration
Captain Captain Vincenzo Alcaras, Center (Photo Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line)

The captain’s accommodations are quite nice. They receive solo accommodations and have the largest room among crew members.

It’s also common for the families of the captain to visit the ship and stay in the captain’s quarters. Many cruise lines provide free sailing for family members while visiting the captain.

Depending on their contract, the captain may receive bonuses and stock option packages on top of their salary.

Another bonus is that cruise ship captains get to travel the world. Depending on the itinerary, they may see several exotic destinations as part of their job.

How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

Cruise ship captain navigating Panama Canal from bridge
It can take 20 to 22 years for someone to become a captain. Cruise ship captains must have an in-depth knowledge of navigation, logistics, federal laws, maritime laws, organization, and management.
Becoming a captain in the cruise industry requires a lifetime of hard work, training, and dedication. Here’s how to become a cruise ship captain.

Education and Experience

Cruise ship captains generally must have a high school diploma. Aspiring captains can enroll in a maritime high school for specialized education focused on maritime knowledge and skills.

After obtaining a high school diploma, you must have either Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Marine Engineering or Marine Science, preferably from a maritime academy or college.

Good grades are essential to get admitted to post-secondary education, and competition is tough. Even after completing a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, cruise ships often hire candidates with grades in the top 5%-10% of their class.

Some prospective captains continue their education to receive a doctorate, but it’s not required.

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 graduating, prospective cruise ship captains typically obtain entry-level positions as deck officers or third mates and work their way up. The onboard training they receive is essential to gaining the knowledge required to captain a vessel.

Many cruise ship captains have experience piloting cargo ships or military vessels before getting a job on a cruise ship.

To get a job on a cruise ship, prospective captains must undergo a physical examination, vision, and drug test before obtaining the required certifications.

Certification and Exams

The final step in becoming a cruise ship captain is passing the Captain Licensure Exam.

The certification requirements vary by country, but most cruise lines require prospective captains to obtain a Merchant Mariner Credential and Transportation Worker Identification Credential.

Obtaining the license may take more than ten years.

Enrolling in a proper training program through a maritime college can speed up the process of obtaining a license.

The exam, offered by the U.S. Coast Guard, requires ten years of experience from applicants. The student can officially apply for a ship captain position upon passing the exam.

Role and Responsibilities of a Crusie Ship Captain

luxury cruise ship Celebrity Solstice cruises Milford Sound

Cruise ship captains have an incredibly demanding job that requires long hours and significant responsibility. The captain is a fully licensed mariner who is responsible for the overall cruise ship operation.

They are responsible for the overall safety, transportation, smooth sailing, 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.

Piloting the Ship

A cruise ship captain’s primary focus is to ensure that all guests, crew, and cargo get from point A to point B safely and on time. And there’s a lot that goes into piloting the ship.

The captain is responsible for plotting the course of the vessel. They pay close attention to the forecast to avoid rough weather.

Safety is the primary responsibility of a ship’s captain and must always be at the forefront of every decision made. Traditionally, captains are expected to be the last person off the vessel in case of disaster, if not to go down with it.

As part of their duties, they must plot a course and speed to reach the next port on time without wasting fuel. Modern technology like GPS and weather radar has made their role easier, but captains must be proficient in using them.

Supervising the Maintenance and Equipment

Crew members are assigned roles for various teams that are responsible for the different parts of the ship’s operations. Some crew teams may be in charge of the cruise ship’s engines and while another group is in charge of the navigation equipment.

The captain oversees all onboard functions and has the final say on decisions.

To coordinate the crew teams and ensure the smooth operation of the vessel, the captain’s vast knowledge of ship operations and technology.

Managing the Crew

Workers are at the port to welcome cruise ships

It takes a large number of crew members to operate a cruise ship. The captain is the head of the hierarchy and oversees the crew members to ensure the ship runs smoothly.

The captain primarily oversees the bridge team and ship officers. Ultimately, as leaders of the ship, they are responsible for every passenger and crew member.

The world’s largest cruise ship, Wonder of the Seas, has over 2,300 crew members – that’s a lot of people for the captain to manage.

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.

Marrying Couples

Cruise ships are a popular choice for destination weddings and vow renewals. The captain often plays a prominent role in onboard weddings and vow renewal ceremonies.

As part of their duties, it’s common for captains to officiate the wedding ceremony.

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About the author

Marcello De Lio

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.

Learn more About Us.

2 thoughts on “What is a Typical Cruise Ship Captain Salary?”

  1. The picture for your site that appears in a Goodle search for cruise ship captain shows someone with 2.5 stripes on their sleeve. That is not a captain…who would normally wear 4 stripes.

    • Thanks for correcting that mistake. I got so excited by the great photo that I forgot to check that it was a captain. I’ve now updated the featured image to one of a cruise ship captain.


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