What’s a Typical Cruise Ship Captain Salary?

Often viewed as one of the most important jobs during a cruise, find out what a typical cruise ship captain salary is and what the position entails.

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While there are some who view the job of a cruise ship captain as glamorous and exciting, the truth is that it may be less fascinating than you think. Running a ship involves long hours and huge amounts of responsibility. When you are the “master” of a ship, you are responsible not only for transportation but also for the safety of everyone on board. This is reflected in a cruise ship captain’s salary.

Before discussing the average salary for a cruise ship captain, it is important to note what responsibilities the job comes with. While it appears glamourous to be able to sail all over the world, visit exotic locations, and receive a large salary, people often gloss over what this job truly entails.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Cruise Ship Captain?

Cruise ship captains must be fully licensed to be considered the commander of the ship. They hold full accountability for what occurs on the ship. This is a huge responsibility to undertake, and there are many moving parts involved. A cruise ship captain truly earns their wage, and to do this job, you must love working on the sea.

When you are the captain of a ship, you have many people reporting to you, like the cruise director, hotel manager, and chief engineer. You are responsible not only for keeping the schedule and accommodating weather fluctuations, but also for the safety of those aboard the ship. You are on-call at all times of the day and night for months at a time.

Worth Reading: How Much Does a Cruise Director Make?

Additionally, captains oversee the ship’s transportation plus operation which includes crew, passengers, and cargo. Captains need to document the movement of the ship, cargo, and passengers, as well as provide and exchange information with other ships.

Cruise Ship Captain on Bridge
Cruise Ship Captain on Bridge (Photo Credit: Michele Rinaldi / Shutterstock)

Captains must comply and abide by Customs and immigration laws. Cargo that comes aboard the ship must follow cargo regulations, for example. Plus, captains need to ensure maritime safety regulations and protocols are met. They also oversee the ship’s maintenance, including the engine area.

To add to the great responsibility of being a cruise ship captain, they are responsible for executing a security plan if they need to deal with pirates, refugees, hijackers, or terrorist threats. They administer inspections and manage restricted areas on the ship. Navigational aids assist them in assessing and adjusting for location and speed. 

Captains also manage the ship’s papers and certificates. They are required to mingle and greet guests as well.

What Is the Salary of a Cruise Ship Captain?

ZipRecruiter reports that the annual pay for 2022 for cruise ship captains is $54,229 per year. It also reports that annual salaries can be as high as $100,000 to as low as $17,500. Such a great fluctuation in salary is reflective of the skill level, years of experience, location, and cruise line.

What Cities Have the Highest Pay?

ZipRecruiter reports the following 10 locations to be above the national average when it comes to this position. These are the best cities to apply in when it comes to a ship’s captain position because work there will generate a higher pay. They are:

  1. San Mateo, California ($65,871 annually)
  2. Berkeley, California ($63,567 annually)
  3. Daly City, California ($63,389 annually)
  4. Richmond, California ($61,874 annually)
  5. Irvine, California ($61,498 annually)
  6. Odessa, Texas ($60,539 annually)
  7. Stamford, Connecticut ($60,250 annually)
  8. Bellevue, Washington ($60,079 annually)
  9. Orange, California ($60,070 annually)
  10. San Francisco, California ($59,961 annually)

How Does Location Influence Pay?

A ship captain’s salary varies from city to city because their salary is tied to the cost of living. Expenses are higher in certain cities, so the wages there will also be higher. This enables ship captains to afford to live in that location and not have to be flown in or travel each time they are called to work. That is why captains who work out of busy ports in larger cities make more money than others.

Queen Mary 2
Photo By: James Morgan

It is also interesting to note that other positions earn more than that of a cruise ship captain. An architect captain has an annual salary of $91,389, international cruise ship captains receive $82,873 per year, and a port captain takes home $76,894.

While the salary may initially appear low when you consider the massive responsibility a captain has, there is an upside as well. According to Payscale, the average salary does go up according to years of experience.

  • For 0-5 years, the annual salary is $59,00 USD
  • 5-10 years of experience earns a yearly salary of $80,000 USD
  • For 10-20 years’ experience working on a cruise ship, you will earn $97,000 USD
  • Over 20 years will potentially obtain a salary of $113,000 USD

Furthermore, factors that influence salary will vary according to the size of the ship and the company. Commanders of military boats doing day excursions can expect $50,000 USD, while operating a top-notch luxury cruise can garner $150,000 USD.

The Secrets to Running a Cruise Ship

Captains oversee maintaining a squeaky-clean image for the ship. While they may appear relaxed on the outside, this is an image that they must maintain. They need to remain calm under stress and be able to make important decisions in an instant.

Crew Only Sign
Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive

A captain will never allow passengers to notice if they are having a bad day, are stressed, or if they haven’t even slept. However, when it comes to communication within their job, they do incorporate some things that are unknown to a regular passenger.

Speaking in Code

Employees regularly incorporate code into their dialogue so that passengers don’t become alarmed or panicky. Shortcodes are frequently used to keep secret what is truly happening on the ship. Examples of this include:

  • Alpha – There is a medical emergency
  • Bravo – Fire on the ship or other serious emergencies
  • Oscar – A passenger has fallen overboard
  • Charlie – Security threat
  • Banana – Cheap tipper

Morgue and Jail Located on the Ship

While some might expect there to be a jail or morgue on board a ship, it is not something that most people want to think about. There are thousands of people milling about on a cruise ship, and at times there is criminal activity or nuisance calls. Cruise ships are equipped with security and procedures to deal with this type of activity.

When this happens, offenders are either placed in a holding cell or locked in body restraints until they can be properly dealt with.

Carnival Valor

While it is unpleasant to think about, deaths do happen while on a cruise. Ships are equipped for such occasions with small morgues that can store a few bodies until they reach shore.

Cameras are Everywhere

Most passengers may not know this, but there are cameras in many locations throughout a cruise ship. In fact, guests are being recorded and monitored through most of their stay. The cameras are not there to spy on you but are rather there for emergency purposes. This is so that if something should occur, the captain will have footage.

Ship Captains Are Often Exhausted and Sleepless

A cruise ship captain’s job is tiring and tough. They will often work a graveyard shift only to return to a morning shift the next day. At best, many of them only get five hours of sleep each night. A good day is not working over 10 hours.

However, most captains enjoy their work schedule. Even if they go with very little or no sleep for several weeks at a time, they can look forward to the subsequent 10 weeks of relaxation.

What Is the Future Outlook for this Position?

While it takes many years to become a captain, the prediction is that there will be an increased growth in years to come. When things return to normal, a tourism boom is expected, which is predicted to create a 10% increase in demand for this position.

Yet while it sounds promising, this will be dependent on the growth of the luxury market and whether people will have enough disposable income to board cruise ships. The state of the economy will have an impact on this as well.

Read Also: How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Make?

There are many variables when it comes to what the typical salary of a cruise ship captain is. It tends to boil down first to experience. The more years of employment, the higher the wages tend to be. The second is the size of the vessel and the cruise ship.

Many luxury liners provide higher salaries. It should be noted, though, that most of the captains in charge of these ships have extensive experience. Most captains will begin small, and hopefully gain employment with a reputable company. However, there are many opportunities for advancement if you are good.

Cruise Ship Captain Salary

Feel free to discuss this topic and all things cruise at our new boards. A place where readers can ask questions, help their fellow cruisers and general cruise discussions on cruise lines and ports. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Haiyan Ma
Haiyan Ma

I absolutely love cruising with my favorite ports of call being in the Caribbean. As a former crew member for Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line I can continue my passion by sharing my experiences with readers.

Find out more about us here.

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