Bridge Operator: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Jun 24, 2021

Bridge operators need only a high school diploma or GED. They typically receive training on-the-job. These positions require mechanical inclination, attention to detail, and communications skills.

Essential Information

Bridge operators control the equipment that allows ships to pass through waterways. A college degree is typically not necessary, and applicants are usually required only to have the ability to perform the required duties. Training in record keeping, operating, and inspecting machinery and directing traffic is usually done on the job.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 1% (for all bridge and lock tenders)
Median Salary (2020)* $52,340 (for bridge and lock tenders)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Bridge operators are in charge of working bridge and lock machinery to facilitate the efficient, orderly, and safe maritime navigation of crowded, inland ship passages. Some bridge operators may eventually advance to supervisory positions, but manual labor in an outdoor environment should be expected. According to BLS, employment of workers who operate and tend bridges was expected to grow by 1% from 2019 to 2029. According to BLS reports published in May 2020, the median annual salary earned by bridge and lock tenders was $52,340.


Typical tasks carried out by bridge operators include controlling road traffic warning signals, raising and lowering bridges to allow waterway passage, and communicating with ship traffic. In order to operate the machinery and coordinate safe passage, a bridge operator must also maintain and inspect the equipment to ensure it's in safe, working condition. If an accident occurs, the bridge operator will be expected to prepare a report. If working in a supervisor position, workers may outline, evaluate, and oversee the activities of lower lock and bridge operators, as well as train new applicants.


A bridge operator position usually only requires a high school diploma or GED. According to information gathered as of 2010 from bridge and lock tenders working in the field or experts in the field, O*NET OnLine reported 15% of workers had less than a high school diploma, while 65% had a high school diploma.

The main requirement for this job is the ability to learn and follow directions. Training is typically done on the job over the course of a few days or even months. A passion for machinery, attention to detail, and the willingness to perform menial work is preferred. Good eyesight and communication skills are required as well. An advanced knowledge of local waterways and safety regulations could be of use, particularly for those looking to advance in the field.

Bridge operators maintain and inspect bridge equipment, direct traffic, and raise and lower the bridge when needed. These positions have a job growth outlook that is slower than average. The median annual salary for bridge operators is around $52,000.

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