How Much Does a Cruise Ship Captain Make?

When it comes to responsibilities on a cruise ship, the buck stops at the captain. They’re the ones responsible for the safety and security of everyone on board. It’s safe to assume they’re paid handsomely, right? So, how much does a cruise ship captain make?

Today, we’re diving below the surface to examine this essential role. Can you bring home the bacon if you get hired? Let’s look and see!

What Is a Cruise Ship Captain?

Also known as the master or commanding officer, a cruise ship captain is the highest-ranking officer. They oversee all aspects of the ship’s operation and ensure the safety of all onboard. Because of the importance of their job, captains must possess a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience. 

They must exemplify the highest levels of professionalism when engaging with the crew and passengers. Anyone considering the potential of becoming the captain of a ship must be able to handle stress and make decisions confidently. The safety of the boat and those onboard depend on it.

What Does a Cruise Ship Captain Actually Do?

Like many leadership positions, a cruise ship captain has many responsibilities. Their primary task is to ensure the vessel has a smooth and safe sailing. While that may sound simple, it’s far from it. A tremendous amount of things must happen to accomplish the goal.

For starters, captains plan the route and oversee the ship’s navigation. They must account for weather conditions, marine traffic, sea currents, and other obstacles. This is why they must have a wealth of maritime knowledge and experience.

In terms of safety, they’re responsible for conducting safety drills and procedures. They must ensure the crew knows how to respond during various emergencies. It could be a man-overboard, medical emergency, or mechanical issue. Everyone must be on the same page to ensure the safety of the crew and passengers.

Finally, captains must oversee all of the departments and crew members. While they may not interact directly with every crew member or passenger, there are leadership layers that do. Being the highest leader on the ship requires them to set the tone for success for the rest of the leadership. 

Is It Hard to Be a Cruise Ship Captain?

Being a cruise ship captain is a challenging and demanding job. You dedicate years of your life to the goal. You must gain not only the knowledge and experience but also the ability to handle the stress of the position. Thousands of passengers and crew depend on a captain to stay level-headed during high-stress situations.

If that’s not enough, you’re working long hours away from your family for extended periods. Most captains work ten weeks and then get ten weeks off. While working, they’re constantly on duty and must be able to function on very little sleep.

However, as difficult as it sounds, many find it to be a rewarding career. They get to navigate a massive vessel across the sea and see exciting places. In addition, captains play a significant part in helping families create unforgettable memories.

How Much Does a Cruise Ship Captain Make?

There are many things to consider when discussing salaries. Cruise ship captains generally earn between $80,000 and $200,000 per year. For some of the largest cruise line brands, it’s typically around $100,000. Like most jobs, pay increases with more experience and longevity with the company.

However, it’s important to note that many of these captains are from countries outside of the United States. The cost of living in these countries can be much lower than that of the United States. As a result, the salary may allow their family to live an incredibly luxurious life.

How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

Do you dream of becoming the captain of a cruise ship? If so, there are some critical steps you need to take to make it happen. Let’s look at how you can start working towards making your dream come true.


The first thing you need to do is complete your high school education. Being a cruise ship captain requires having skills in mathematics, physics, geography, and English. If a maritime high school is nearby, consider enrolling. They can help you master programs to ensure future success in the industry.

From there, you’ll want to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree in a marine science or marine engineering program. However, you don’t want to choose just any school to receive your degree.

Enroll in a Maritime Academy

You’ll want to enroll in a maritime college or academy if you have the grades. Because of the limited spots, entrance requirements can be highly challenging. You’ll need to have above-average grades and a resume that helps you stand out from the rest.

Like most competitive fields, any experience you can gain is helpful. Getting a part-time or summer job in the industry can be worth it. If you can land a job on a ship or in a shipyard, it can look great on your record. Rubbing elbows with industry professionals can help you learn things that aren’t taught in textbooks or classrooms.

Earn Certifications

Once you complete your four-year program, you’ll want to start obtaining maritime certifications. These prove your competency and qualifications for navigating and managing a ship. Some certificates you’ll need include Officer of the Watch, Chief Mate, and Master Mariner.

You’ll need cruise-specific certifications if you dream of working in the cruise industry. For example, passenger safety, cruising regulations, crowd management, and environmental protection. The more certifications you can get, the better.

Build Your Resume

You’re going to need to climb the ladder of success if you want to get to the top. Working as a deck officer is a great way to gain experience while earning certifications or completing educational requirements. While building your resume, focus on taking on leadership roles. This allows you to grow your leadership skills and improve your abilities.

It’s important to remember that no one becomes the captain of a cruise ship overnight. You have to think with the end in mind. When you’re the one in charge, it’s a tremendous responsibility. It takes time to prepare yourself to handle the weight of those responsibilities.

Network with Others 

While you’re climbing the ladder of success, network with others. Burning bridges and making enemies won’t help you achieve your long-term goals. It doesn’t mean you won’t like everyone or they will like you. Good leaders often have a healthy dose of critics behind them.

Take every opportunity to introduce yourself to others at various levels in the industry. You never know when a quick conversation could come in handy to help move your dream along. Having connections can make a difference when you’re up against individuals with more experience or a better-looking resume.

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When ready to apply, you’ll want to research cruise lines. Look for the ones that align with your career goals and preferences and those who operate the ships you’d like to command. Just like a cruise line doesn’t want to hire a crummy captain, you don’t want to work for a crummy cruise line.

Be sure to read through the job requirements and responsibilities. You don’t want to assume or overlook anything. If a job requires specific qualifications, certifications, or experience, it’s good to know that beforehand. However, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still apply. What’s the worst that they can say? Don’t let the fear of striking out stop you from applying for your dream job.

Is Becoming a Cruise Ship Captain Worth It?

Becoming a cruise ship captain is a challenging task. Making your dream come true will take tremendous time, energy, and money.

However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work toward it. Many cruise ship captains love their careers and spending time on the open seas. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!

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