Ship Captain: Course and Training Programs

Find out about a ship captain's typical responsibilities and get information about training programs to prepare for this career. Learn the licensure requirements as well as key skills needed. Schools offering Driver Training degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Although not required to obtain work as a captain, a bachelor's degree may accelerate your career. For instance, non-degree candidates start out as ordinary seamen or deckhands aboard a vessel, accumulating thousands of hours of work experience before being promoted to ship captain.

Programs Bachelor's degree from a marine academy
Courses Naval leadership and ethics, deck operations, safety, history of seapower, naval architecture, aquatic survival
Training On-the-job, hands-on learning while in school

Source: US Merchant Marine Academy

What Types of Ship Captain Training Programs Are Available?

For those interested in receiving a full college education, a bachelor's degree from a marine or maritime academy may be ideal. Some programs don't require a military commitment, and some offer tuition assistance in exchange for your service in the U.S. Armed Forces and in a maritime industry in times of national emergency.

Additionally, attending a maritime high school may improve your chances of entry into this career or one of the marine academies.

What Else Do I Need to Know About Training Requirements?

Regardless of whether you pursue a degree, you'll need to pass a written exam that requires extensive training and knowledge to become a deck officer or captain. Students will most likely need to take on-campus classes due to the hands-on nature of these programs, so online options aren't common.

What Will I Learn in a Ship Captain Training Program?

The marine academy curriculum is designed to give you a broad college education. You may want to consider majoring in maritime transportation or logistics and intermodal transportation if your goal is to become a captain of a ship. According to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, you usually take a comprehensive written exam for your Merchant Marine Officer license administered by the U.S. Coast Guard at the end of your freshman year (www.usmma.edu). The academy further notes that practical hands-on training aboard a ship at sea occurs during your sophomore and junior years.

Core and elective courses may address:

  • Port and terminal operations
  • Maritime law
  • Celestial navigation
  • Ship handling
  • Maritime communications
  • Maritime business
  • Cargo operations
  • Ethics
  • Leadership
  • Environmental management
  • Information technology

Do I Need To Be Licensed?

Most mariners on ships are required to obtain a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) from the U.S. Coast Guard. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and pass a security screening to receive your TWIC credential. Your MMC credential includes several licenses and varies based on the type of vessel and body of water it's on.

Are There Any Prerequisites?

To apply for your TWIC and MMC credentials you'll need to pass a drug screen and medical exam and meet the minimum age requirement. Excellent physical health, superior vision and color perception, dexterity and balance are all characteristics that may help you in a career as a ship captain.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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