Cruise Ship Captain: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cruise ship captain. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Cruise ship captains command the overall operation, crew and safety of a cruise ship. Working in conjunction with mates and staff, the captain ensures protocols are followed and safety measures practiced. Ship captains are also responsible for the loading and unloading of passengers and cargo. This job requires either a postsecondary degree, or the equivalent job experience, as well as additional licensure. A career as a cruise ship captain might appeal to individuals with interests in boats, travel, and naval science.

Required Education Postsecondary degree at a merchant marine academy
1000 hours as a deckhand
Licensure Required
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 13% for all water transportation workers
Median Pay (2013)* $69,920 annually ($33.62 hourly) for captains, mates and pilots of water vessels

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Cruise Ship Captain

A cruise ship captain is a licensed mariner who holds the ultimate responsibility for the vessel he or she is commanding. In addition to the operation of the ship, captains oversee the passengers and crew. A ship captain is the final authority for everyone on board including officers, mates, crew and passengers. The captain communicates with other vessels and oversees the expulsion of pollution. Ensuring cargo is stowed in accordance to maritime regulations is another job requirement of a cruise ship captain.

The job outlook for water transportation occupations is favorable, with a 13% increase in demand expected over the 2012-2022 period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS reports the 2013 median salary for captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels as $69,920 annually, or $33.62 hourly.

Job Duties of a Cruise Ship Captain

Ship captains are responsible for the safe transportation of the ship's passengers and cargo. Using navigational aids to determine the ship's speed and location the captain directs the piloting of the ship and avoids hazards. Cruise captains ensure that all maritime protocols and safety regulations are strictly followed. They supervise the maintenance of the ship's engines and general upkeep. Adhering to the vessel's security plan is another responsibility of the captain including procedures for stowaways, refugees, hijackers, pirates and terrorist threats, as well as conducting searches and maintaining restricted areas.

Additionally, cruise ship captains greet and socialize with guests. They record the ship's movements, passengers and cargo. Captains are responsible for maintaining the ship's certificates and documentation, as well as ensuring the ship complies with immigration and customs laws.

Job Requirements for a Cruise Ship Captain

Cruise ship captains must complete a postsecondary education at a merchant marine academy or gain 1,000 hours as a deckhand stated the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 4-year marine transportation program provides a foundation in naval science, mathematics and science, as well as specialized at sea training and internships. Prospective sea captains can choose from several majors including maritime operations and technology.

Additionally, students must pass all licensure competencies including Coast Guard credentials such as the Consolidate Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC). This qualifies a person to function as a third mate officer on a cruise ship. With experience, graduates will work their way up to a position as captain. Recertification and license renewal may be necessary.

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