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How Much Does A Cruise Captain Make?

Being the captain of a cruise ship is clearly a lucrative career, but it comes with enormous responsibility and extensive experience requirements.

So, how much does a cruise captain make, anyway? On average, cruise ship captains make about $93000 per year. Certain areas pay far higher than the national average, with a captain’s salary of about $140,000 per year or more. With this salary comes numerous benefits, including accommodation, food, flights, paid holidays, and more.

Keep reading below to learn what exactly a cruise ship captain does to earn this healthy salary and benefits, what’s required to get hired as a cruise captain, and more key info about important members of the cruise crew.

How Much Does A Cruise Captain Make | photo of three ship's officers presenting program on running a cruise ship

So How Much Does A Cruise Captain Make?

While the pay and the benefits associated with being a cruise ship captain are extremely desirable, the job itself is extremely stressful and demanding. It requires the captain to be on call 24/7 while onboard the ship. To become the captain of a ship, extensive experience working on ships as well as numerous qualifications and certifications are required.

Cruise ship captains can make, on average, between $90 000 and $140 000 per year. This figure naturally depends on the cruise line, the contract, the qualifications of the captain, and the amount of relevant experience he has in the field.  A well-seasoned cruise ship captain with many years of experience working at one of the larger cruise lines like Royal Caribbean or Carnival can earn close to $200,000 per year.

The majority of the money earned by a cruise ship captain can be saved as far as possible, as the expenses incurred while on the ship are minimal.

Accommodation is naturally provided on the ship, with the captain enjoying luxurious spaces of his or her own, and all of his meals are provided. Every other aspect of his daily life is catered to and taken care of at no extra expense to the captain. This allows him to focus fully on his job and ensures that he is able to save the majority of his earnings. (The overwhelming majority of cruise ship captains are men, but this has been changing in recent years and there are now more women cruise ship captains than ever before.)

What Does A Cruise Ship Captain Do?

The Cap is responsible for the entire ship and every soul on board. This means that he is also responsible for the safety of every person on the ship, with the safety of the passengers and crew being the main priority for every decision made by the captain. The captain also oversees the ship’s security and makes major decisions such as who will be tossed in the ship’s jail and who will be booted off the ship (at a port, of course!).

The captain’s responsibilities include working with the officers and the crew, handing down decisions to the respective departments. The captain is often required to make decisions with speed, and he must be able to act quickly and decisively in an emergency situation.

The captain is responsible for the navigation and operation of the ship, and he must monitor the ship’s position at all times to ensure it is on track. They must also determine and set the speed of the ship, ensuring that the ship is traveling at the optimal speed to reach its destination without unnecessarily wasting fuel.

Naturally, it is the captain’s responsibility to ensure that the ship avoids hazards out at sea, and they must also oversee the maintenance and the upkeep of the engines and all other equipment on the ship.

The captain of the ship must always ensure that safety protocols are followed at all times, and he must ensure that the operations of the ship are consistently compliant with local, international, customs, and immigration laws.

On top of all of the above, the captain is also expected to attend social events on the ship and interact with guests.

Photo of cruise ship captain supervising pirate drill (April 2019)
Cruise ship captain supervising a safety drill.

Must A Cruise Ship Captain Go Down With The Ship?

As noted above, a key component of a captain’s job is supervising the safety of the passengers and crew. You may have heard the old adage that a captain always goes down with the ship. But is that true as to cruise ship captains?

Fortunately, cruise ship disasters are quite rare. The most recent major cruise ship sinking was the Costa Concordia in 2013. Although it’s expected that the captain will remain on board to supervise a safe evacuation of the ship, he or she can also get to safety once that duty is done.

Notably, that’s not what happened in the 2013 sinking. There, the captain fled shortly after the crash and before most folks were evacuated. Ultimately, his decision to abandon his post was judged to be a crime under Italian law, and he was sentenced to sixteen years in prison in 2015.

How To Become A Cruise Ship Captain: Qualifications Needed

The road to becoming a cruise ship captain is a long one that requires a number of years of study and experience. In order to become the captain of a cruise ship, you will require the right education, with a master’s degree in maritime studies being required by most cruise lines.

Besides having the necessary university qualifications, becoming a captain requires extensive experience in working on ships, with any potential captain having had to work for ten to fifteen years in different positions on an ocean vessel before even being considered for the position of captain.

There are certain certifications that have to be achieved as well, and the majority of these can only be obtained after several years of working through the ranks on a ship. The captain’s license exam from the Federal Maritime Authority can be taken only after a minimum of ten years of experience.

In addition to the above, it’s essential for any cruise ship captain to possess an impressive skill set that will allow them to excel at the job. The skills required include great people skills, brilliant leadership skills, excellent communication skills, and the ability to remain calm and act decisively in an emergency situation.

The Benefits Of Being A Cruise Ship Captain

Besides the high salary and the prestige associated with being the captain of a cruise ship, there are several other benefits that make this job extremely appealing. The captain of a ship enjoys his own full suite of accommodation on the ship, with all the possible amenities of a luxury apartment, including a spare bedroom for guests.

The captain’s accommodation is of five-star quality, and all of their needs are taken care of, including all meals, laundry, housekeeping services, room service, and even coffee on demand.

The captain also usually enjoys first-class flights to his destination of choice when leaving the ship at the end of a contract. The contracts are usually around 3 months long, with 3 months spent at home on holiday. Paid vacations are also commonplace when you are the captain of a ship.

Do The Captain’s Family Members Cruise For Free?

It is not uncommon for the spouse and family of the ship’s captain to travel with them, although this is usually for shorter periods of time and for special events such as holidays.

What Other Positions On A Cruise Ship Make Good Money?

The cruise director usually makes a good amount of money on a ship, bringing in between $45000 to $100000 per year depending on experience levels. The cruise ship doctor and the executive chef are also paid well, as are the ship’s engineers.


There is no doubt that being the captain of a cruise ship is an extremely lucrative job; however, it comes with an extremely stressful working environment, long hours, and an enormous responsibility. All in all, it can take an aspiring captain up to twenty years to reach the position, and the industry is extremely competitive.