How Do I Become a Cruise Ship Captain?

Research what it takes to become a cruise ship captain. Learn about training requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Driver Training degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cruise Ship Captain?

A cruise ship captain is in charge of the operations of a cruise ship, which is a large vessel that takes passengers on trips for pleasure and/or sightseeing. Captains supervise crew members, oversee passenger loading and loading at cruise ship destinations, monitor maintenance needs and make sure all safety protocols are strictly followed at all times.

Prospective captains need to complete a training program before starting in the field. Take a look at the chart below to understand what to expect in this field.

Training Required Maritime training programs
Key Skills Leadership, listening, critical thinking, problem-solving
Credentialing Transportation Worker Identification Credential and Merchant Mariner Credential required by the Coast Guard
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% (for all captains, mates and pilots of water vessels in the scenic and sightseeing transportation industry)*
Median Salary (2017) $96,905 (for all ship captains)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Are the Job Duties of a Cruise Ship Captain?

The captain is one of many crewmembers aboard a cruise ship, which also includes a pilot, a group of seamen and an engineer. Cruise ship captains' main responsibility is to operate a cruise ship. Other job duties include managing the staff and crew, maintaining safety standards and equipment, ensuring passenger satisfaction and keeping the cruise on schedule. You may also have to meet with guests and handle guest complaints.

Your job also involves observing all regulations and laws pertaining to the waterways and operation of a passenger vessel. You must map out the ship's course and plan scheduled stops. While on the water, you'll communicate with other vessels, operate the engines, steer the vessel and handle situations that may occur during the cruise. You also keep logs of the crew, passengers and cargo on board.

What Education is Required?

Education for a cruise ship captain can be obtained through various options. There are maritime programs available in some high schools that offer basic training and prepare you to enter the profession after graduation. You may also find maritime programs at technical schools, 4-year universities and community colleges. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that training for most water transportation careers are set by the U.S. Coast Guard (www.bls.gov).

What Are the U.S. Coast Guard Requirements to Become Credentialed?

According to U.S. Coast Guard regulations, you must obtain a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC). The TWIC is obtained through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and verifies that you're a citizen of the United States or permanent resident and you have passed a security check. The U.S. Merchant Marine explains that the MMC tests your skills and knowledge and verifies that you passed a drug test, medical exam and met the minimum age requirement of being at least 16 years old (www.marad.dot.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a captain, you could get another job on the crew of a cruise ship. For instance, as a first mate, you would be in charge of ship operations when the ship captain is off-duty. Since most cruises last for multiple days, this would mean running the ship while the captain sleeps. You would also be in charge of passenger-related issues, such as making sure that all passengers return to the ship after a sightseeing stop on the cruise. If you are more interested in the mechanical operations of cruise ship, you could get a job as a ship engineer, where you would control the ship's propulsion system and make repairs when necessary. For either of these careers, you need to meet the standards of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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