What is a Typical Cruise Ship Captain Salary?

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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 cruise ship captains and get an in-depth understanding of a cruise ship captain salary.

What is a Cruise Ship Captain?

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

Being a ship captain is an incredibly demanding role, requiring 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.

What is the Salary of a Cruise Ship Captain?

According to salary data from Payscale, the estimated median salary for a cruise ship 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.

Cruise ship captain on deck holding captian hat

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 captains visit unique places as part of their job.

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 deck officers or third mates and work their way up.

Cruise ship captain navigating Panama Canal from bridge

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

Certifications and passing 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.

Prospective captains must undergo a physical examination, vision, and drug test before obtaining the required certifications.

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. The student can officially apply for a ship captain position upon passing the exam.

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

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.

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.

Supervising the Maintenance and Equipment

On a cruise ship, various teams are responsible for the different parts of the ship’s operations, such as the engines and navigation equipment.

The captain oversees all 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 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 oversees the crew members 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.

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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.

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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Get the latest travel tips, news, and advice to get the most out of your next cruise vacation.

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