How much do cruise ship captains make

How Much Do Cruise Ship Captains Make? Is It Worth It?

You may be thinking about how much do cruise ship captains make, so why not start a brilliant career at sea. But it’s a long way to become a cruise ship captain; one can spend a decade climbing up the ladder and still fail with the dream job in the end.

Why? Cruise ship captains’ salaries are among the highest-paid professionals in the seafaring community, and making an annual $200,000 is not a joke. We can only imagine how wild the competition for this position is.

How Much Do Cruise Ship Captains Make?

So, the magic numbers are:

A cruise ship captain makes
between $70,000 and $200,000+ annually.

Cruise ship captains are always on call due to their comprehensive skills and outstanding character; however, as always, the Moon has the other side – the number of cruise ships is drastically limited.

These ships are as huge as they are expensive for a company to buy, even worse to maintain. We suggest this market is rather exclusive from both sides, which should be harsh.

And, be sure how meticulous the interview shall be before they give you a billion-dollar piece to drive the baby full of passengers into rough seas. Just to demonstrate the idea: one of the most significant cruise companies is “Royal Caribbean,” which owns as few as 5 cruise ships of the Oasis class. Five!

So, as a cruise captain, you must have an outstanding education and years of superior experience in everything and speak foreign languages fluently. You chase your dream for ten years or more, growing your skills along with your knowledge, passing hundreds of exams and medical checks, to finally face the toughest competition with other captains for only five positions! That’s hard.

If we call a salty master of the seas a “sea dog” in the language, then the cruise ship captain must be a goddamn’ timber wolf to stand fast clashing for his future position and the heart-warming salary of a few hundred thousand per year.

What are the Requirements for a Cruise Ship Captain for This Salary?

We have reached out to a random cruise agency to ask them to share a random CV of a cruise captain for the purpose of this post. So hereinbelow is a proposed quintessential of what a cruise captain must be able to do, not a full list, though:

  • A Bachelor’s degree is a must for a cruise ship of significant size, but for the biggest ones, which are already “floating cities” with all their pools and roller coasters, a Mastery or a Doctorate is a de facto requirement.
  • Mastery in operating big ships, which is not the same as operating anything else. For example, a really big private yacht is yet a dinghy compared to a cruise ship. Also, this trait for a cruise captain’s CV stands mainly for a practical skill, one you gain over that decade of experience before you even apply, while the next one describes the academic knowledge.
  • Mastery in navigation as a whole. This includes, of course, astronomy and excellent chart-work skills, meteorology, being god-gifted in predicting the weather, and a whole ton of other sciences and meta-sciences. They learn it for several years.
  • Supervising a crew – includes all hands onboard: high- and middle-class officers, engineers, chefs and cooks, doctors, cleaning staff, servicing staff, bartenders, stewards, literally everyone. We can imagine our superman captain better have outstanding interpersonal abilities. Harsh enough, I’ve pulled it once with 400 souls, it was nearly a mare, and it was not even a cruise ship balancing on waves but an office in downtown.
  • Budgeting ship maintenance and repair, controlling it, and being responsible for the resulting outcome. Oops, yeah, even this! Should we mention that a cruise ship captain competently understands all nuances of a ship’s engineering, from top to bottom? Is it even humanly possible, I wonder? Needless to say, a huge cruise ship is way too complex mechanics.
  • Application of a ship safety protocol, which is the safety of the ship herself, and her crew, including medical safety, the safety of food onboard, and safety of a few thousand half-seas over passengers, who are there to rock, while you are on duty.
  • Excellent eye-hand coordination.
  • Good seeing and hearing abilities.
  • Speaking languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian. Not necessarily all of them, but the more is better and is an advantage. Oh! Thank you for excluding Chinese from the list… Cruise captains usually speak a few languages, more than two.
  • Great leadership abilities, which is already too obvious, right? 😉

We realize a ship cruise captain must be a radically tough guy.

I can guess physical attractiveness plays an effective role too; at least a cruise ship captain should not be a Quasimodo, and we have never met an ugly cruise ship captain after all.

Royal Caribbean cruise ships
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas and the MSC Seaside.

What is the Highest Salary of a Cruise Ship Captain?

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class cruise ships (more than 5000 passengers and 2000 people on a crew) suggest one of the industry’s highest pay for cruise ship captains.

A cruise ship captain of the Oasis-class cruise ship, like “Oasis of the Seas,” reportedly makes $200,000+ per year.

I have no idea at all how they even drive that Oasis-class. There are onboard ice-skating and rock climbing walls, multiple pools for sport and different ones for leisure, also carousels, water slides, laser tag battle arenas, countless bars and restaurants, and a theater showing musicals.

$1,400,000,000 (one and a half billion) in one man’s hands!

That is what we call responsibility!

Oasis class cruise ship captain salary
“Symphony of the Seas”, an Oasis-class cruise ship. (Image: WikiEK CC BY-SA 4.0)

What are the Average Wages of Cruise Ship Captains?

The average industry pay for the cruise ship captain is $100-150,000 annually.

However, the exclusivity of a profession, a limited number of that big cruise ships in the world, and a limited number of excellent captains in the market make it a little challenging to determine an exactly “average” wage of a cruise ship captain. The same reason is that the mathematical average temperature of patients in a hospital is 98 F! if you know what I mean.

It also depends on the captain’s experience and the company pay scale.

What is the Lowest Salary of a Cruise Ship Captain?

The industry’s lowest pay for a cruise ship captain is reportedly $70-80,000 annual, and it is such for smaller cruise ships, say, about 1500-2000 passengers, I guess.

Also, the cruise ship captain’s quest to reach the sky does not end with employment. For the highest pay and the biggest ship, he must gain even more experience while he is already a cruise ship captain.

What is the Starting Salary of the Cruise Ship Captains?

On the junior and intermediate levels, the cruise ship captains make $35,000 on average for junior, and $55,000 on average for intermediate, annually.

This does not mean any Oasis-class, of course, but significantly smaller ships or ferries, where a cruise ship captain only starts enhancing his already-great experience.

How Many Cruise Ships Are There in the World?

That’s a good question when considering a career as a cruise ship captain. Another one is: for the highly probable case if I start my cruise ship captain career right now, is there any space for the future me in the market?

Well, the luxury cruise ship market is a brutal place for competition. There are 314 cruise ships globally, of which less than 50 are luxury cruise ships in the whole world. Statista website promises there shall be 86 luxury cruise ship units by 2027.

And of course, there are smaller ones you can be a captain on, but the ultimate and the dream you see on the postcards are luxury ones that make you wonder how much do cruise ship captains make.

Just compare to the 55,000 merchant ships, considering your seafaring dreams, becoming a cargo ship captain, maybe? However, the good news is that the two leading cruise ship companies are located in the United States; the “Royal Caribbean” and “Carnival Corporation.”

five Cruise Ships bahama
Five Oasis-class cruise ships in the Bahamas.

Conclusion on a Salary of a Cruise Ship Captain

So you already know how much do cruise ship captains make for a living, and you can see that the money is good, the best in the sailing industry.

But getting there is not easy, and the list of requirements is enormous. However, no one can stop you from dreaming, and once there is a dream, you may actually get there.

Keep reading our sailing blog; you will find more exciting things, including fascinating sailing quotes and our glossary of sailing terms.

Good lock, future Captain!


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igor desperatesailors

Hi, I’m Igor, Skipper of S/Y "The Hooker". A decade ago, I conquered my childhood dream: to be a sailing skipper, own a sailing yacht. Yes, it knocked dullness out of my urban life — Read more →

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