How Much Does a Cruise Ship Captain Make?

Ever wonder how much does a cruise ship captain make? According to a website that totals the salary data from across the web (Payscale), a typical cruise ship captain earned around $97,192 in 2019, in a salary range that varied from $48,485 to $180,308.

Before discussing how much does a cruise ship captain make, let’s discuss first what a cruise ship captain is and what they do to deserve the amount of salary they have.

What Is a Cruise Ship Captain?

A cruise ship captain is a fully licensed mariner who is considered the master or commander of the ship. They hold the fundamental accountability for the ship they are commanding.

Cruise ship captains are in charge of the ship’s overall safety, transportation, and operation, including the passengers, crew, and any cargo. They document the ship’s movement, passengers, and cargo and give or exchange information to other ships.

Captains make sure that the cruise ship abides by the immigration and customs laws, make sure that the cargo is stored onboard in accordance with the cargo regulations, make sure that all maritime protocols and safety regulations are strictly observed, and oversee the overall maintenance of the ship, including the engines.

They are in charge of the security plan, such as dealing with refugees, pirates, hijackers, terrorist threats. They are in charge of administering inspections and managing restricted areas. They use navigational aid to assess and adjust the ship’s speed and location. They manage the vessel’s certificates and papers, and they also have to greet and mingle around with guests.

Requirements to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

Cruise ship captains must generally finish a post-secondary education at a merchant marine academy or acquire 1,000 hours being a deckhand. The 4-year marine transportation course offers a foundation in naval science, science, mathematics, and specialized sea training and internships.

Potential sea captains can decide on what major course to take, such as maritime operations and technology. They should also pass all licensure expertise, such as Coast Guard credentials, including the Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC), Transportation Worker Identification, and Merchant Mariner. This makes them eligible to work as a third mate officer on a cruise ship.

When these aspiring captains get some work experience, they will now work their way up to become cruise ship captains. They need years of navigational experience being a lower-ranked officer to get into the captain position. Renewal of license and certification may be required. Most cruise ship captains acquire their stripes 18 to 22 years after starting the process.

How Much Does a Cruise Ship Captain Make?

According to ZipRecruiter, as of Jul 22, 2019, the typical monthly salary of a cruise ship captain in the USA is $4,446.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average salary for all cruise ship captains (including commercial and cargo ships) in 2018 was $69,180 annually. This is just the average salary, but half of the ship captains get paid more than this amount.

Since being a cruise ship captain takes many years of hard work to become one, and since the position holds the safety of all the passengers, you can assume that the salary of a cruise ship captain is much higher.

According to a website that totals the salary data from across the web (Payscale), the usual cruise ship captain earned around $97,192 in 2019 in a salary range that varies from $48,485 to $180,308.

Typically, cruise ship captains work for two months on the ship and two months off the ship or depending on the length of the cruise. Captains are on call 24/7 while the ship is cruising on the sea.

A ship captain’s salary starts high and usually increases with time and experience. Their salary typically looks like this:

Number of Experience Salary
0-5 years $59,000
5-10 years $80,000
10-20 years $97,000
20+ years $113,000

The below YouTube video gives some good insight into what it takes to become a cruise ship captain:

Things Your Cruise Ship Captain Won’t Tell You

Captains have cruise secrets just to safeguard the ship’s impeccable image. You may see them so calm and relaxed, really professional looking in their uniforms, but they have to keep calm under stress. There are moments that they are already stressed with what’s happening in the ship, and we have no idea that they haven’t even slept yet.

They must be so professional that they won’t show if they’re having a bad day. So, for you to know what’s really happening, here are 7 cruise ship secrets your captain won’t tell you:

1. Secret Codes

Crew ship employees regularly speak in codes on the loudspeaker to avoid alarming curious passengers. They use shortcodes practically every time to hide what’s really happening on board.

Some of the most crucial secret codes are:

  • Bravo: There is a fire or experiencing other serious happenings.
  • Alpha: Medical emergency is needed.
  • Charlie: There is a security threat.
  • Oscar: Passenger overboard.
  • And most especially, remember this code: when a crew ship member calls you or any of the passengers a “banana,” that simply means you are a cheap tipper!

2. You’re on Camera

You may not join the Big Brother’s House, but when you’re on a cruise ship, it’s like you’re in it. There are cameras, and you are carefully monitored. Passengers on a cruise ship are being filmed and recorded most of the time.

There are cameras everywhere for emergency purposes so that if something happens, captains can pull out the security footage at any time. So, be careful how you act on a cruise ship!

3. Jail and Morgue on Board

You may not be aware of this little-known secret – there’s a jail and a morgue on cruise ships.

Since there are thousands of passengers on board, there are times that bad people, criminals, and nuisance are doing their unwanted acts, so most ships have security forces and operational procedures for these types of people. They will hold these people in a holding cell or lock them in body restraints.

Also, deaths on board are common on cruise ships; thus, ships have a small morgue that can store several bodies until they get back onshore.

4. Poolside Is Not the Best View

When you’re by the poolside, you swim in the pool with your friends, do some sunbathing, listen to music, and read some books. But that isn’t the best seat on board.

The best view is not by the poolside but by the captain’s chair. When you’re in the captain’s view, you get to see flying fish, dolphins, and whales swimming along with the ship. You also get to see birds flying alongside the vessel.

5. Doors Don’t Lock

Did you know that the doors to your cabin do not lock? Cruise ship captains say that most doors on the ship stay unlocked for emergency purposes.

So, do not ever forget to hang that “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door because it’s your only means for privacy. Also, be careful with sneaky passengers, as they could spy in your room at night when curiosity strikes them.

6. Tips, Bonuses, and Reviews Are Important

A lot of the crew member’s wage comes from the tips and bonuses of the passengers. Cruise ships often charge passengers a compulsory gratuity that will be divided between crew members at the end of each shift.

However, the reviews given by the passengers are more important because it’s the basis of the breakdown of payment. If a passenger complains and mentions the name of a crew member, then a lesser payment is expected for that crew, but an admiring review will result in a fat paycheck.

7. They Are Sleepless and Exhausted

The cruise ship captain job is pretty tough and tiring. Often they work a graveyard shift then followed instantly by a morning shift, meaning they only have a maximum of 5 hours of sleep. So, working not more than 10 hours is considered an easy day.

But some ship captains like their work schedule. Even if they are sleepless for about 10 weeks of hard work on the ship, they are always looking forward to their 10 weeks off the ship.

Conclusion – How Much Does a Cruise Ship Captain Make?

So, how much does a cruise ship captain make? In 2019, the typical cruise ship captain earned around $97,192, in a salary range that varied from $48,485 to $180,308. It takes many years to become a cruise ship captain, so if you aspire to become one, start now!

It is predicted that there will be an increase in jobs for cruise ship captains in the coming years because of tourism growth. By 2025, demand for cruise ship captains is said to increase by about 10%. However, this depends on the state of the economy and whether people will continue having a rise a disposable income.

The fate of the cruise ship captain’s pay depends on how well the luxury market grows and whether people are willing to pay those very high cruise ship ticket rates.

Related reading:

How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Make?

How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

What Is It Like to Work on a Cruise Ship? Pros and Cons