How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain in the US

Cruise ship captains command the luxury ship as they sail from port to port. They are in charge of all aspects of the ship and work with officers from the engineering, telecommunications, passenger and cargo departments. The cruise ship captain has the final word on all matters in the ship and is held responsible for every act or omission on board.

What does a ship captain do?

Some of their specific duties include:

  • Ensure the ship's practices, rules and regulations are observed by the crew and passengers during the voyage
  • Work with the ship's officers and crew to monitor the ship's speed, course and bearing so as to maintain course towards the destinations in the itinerary. They also maintain a detailed log of the ship's voyage
  • Maintain custody of the ship's documents to ensure uneventful passage through the countries the ship transits. They are also responsible for maintaining compliance with the applicable national and international laws
  • Responsible for maintaining discipline among the ship's officers, deck hands, technical and support staff
  • Allocate living quarters to passengers and crew and schedule duty rosters for the duration of the cruise
  • Supervise the loading and offloading of passengers and cargo at the beginning and end of every cruise and conduct the initial welcome address


  • A Bachelor's degree in marine sciences, engineering or transportation from a coast-guard approved maritime academy is necessary to be familiar not only with the operations of the cruise ship, but also with national and international laws governing passage through a number of countries
  • Obtain work experience either by starting off as a deck officer on the ship or undertaking internships during the undergraduate degree and obtaining letters of recommendation
  • You will also need to undertake a written exam to obtain a license
  • This profession also requires you to obtain Transportation Worker Identification and Merchant Mariner credentials from the US Coast guard
  • Additional requirements are certification from the Department of Homeland Security
  • Strong computer skills to operate navigational software
  • You will also need to have excellent leadership, interpersonal, decision-making, communication, customer service and observational skills. In addition, you will need hand-eye coordination and the ability to quickly respond to emergency situations
  • In order to be eligible for this job you will need to pass a character reference check, vision and hearing test and even drug screening


Cruise ship captains are average income earners whose salary increases as they get more years of experience on the job. However, the job involves numerous other perks while on the cruise, so the job presents a wonderful opportunity. The average salaries for cruise ship captains in 2012 were as follows:

Entry level


Mid career




Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Work environment

Cruise ship captain spend extensive periods of time away from home because cruises ordinarily last for months at a time. In addition, for the duration of your voyages, you are confined to a specific space and although the job involves sailing from country to country, your movements are largely restricted.

Career prospects

Going on a cruise is a luxury that most people have to save for. For that reason, the outlook of this career largely depends on the state of the economy, with the prospects improving when clients have more dispensable income. However, if you have experience being the captain of large, modern cruise ships, then you will always have an opportunity to further your career, especially if you engage in continuous professional development courses.


Image source: Orlando Sentinel