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The Untold Truth About How Much a Cruise Captain Earns (And What They Do)

On every cruise, you will find a captain. The captain is well known for being the person in charge of sailing the ship but a captain’s job is much more than this. In this article, we explore everything that a cruise captain does and look at how much a cruise captain can expect to earn.

What is a Cruise Captain?

A cruise captain is responsible for the overall cruise operation. The safety of the guests and crew is primarily the responsibility of the captain and the captain is in charge of sailing the cruise ship between ports. The captain also is in charge of various social activities onboard and is usually a recognizable face on most cruises.

Being a cruise captain is an incredibly difficult and demanding job, cruise captains often work for long periods and are responsible for many things onboard the ship.

cruise ship captain photos

Cruise Captain Job Roll – What do Cruise Captains do?

Piloting the Ship and Avoiding Hazards

The primary focus of a cruise ship captain is to make sure that all guests and crew get from point A to point B safely.  Safety is the primary motivator behind everything that a cruise ship captain does.

An example of where this wasn’t the case was the Costa Concordia disaster of 2012 where the captain decided to take a different route closer to land. The cruise ship hit a rocky sea bed, capsized and 32 people lost their lives. Traditionally a captain must always ‘go down with the ship’ meaning that the captain shouldn’t leave the ship until the last person on board has left. Once again, this wasn’t the case in the Costa Concordia example, captain Francesco Schettino abandoned the ship with guests still onboard.

cruise captain bridge

Supervising the Maintenance of Various Pieces of Onboard Equipment

On a cruise ship, you’ll find various teams who will look after different parts of the ships, the engines, and navigational equipment for example. The cruise ship captain is generally speaking the person who oversees all of this and has the final say on most things. Cruise ship captains have to have wide knowledge on a variety of subjects.

Rather unsurprisingly the job of a cruise ship captain also comes with a lot of paperwork!

Marrying Couples and Shaving Heads

It’s quite common for the captain of a cruise ship to be a prominent part of guests weddings if they chose to get married on board. They also conduct wedding renewals.

cruise ship captains weddings

What is less common is shaving the heads of passengers. That said, I let the captain of the cruise ship shave my head, yes really! I was taking part in ‘brave the shave’ to raise money for a cancer support charity.

We raised £5000 and you can watch the video here:

Managing a Large Team of Officers and Crew

On every cruise ship, you’ll find a variety of staff members who work on the bridge. There are usually quite a few officers, safety officers, and cadets, all of whom work together to ensure a smooth safe sailing. The captain is the head of this hierarchy and can often have many crew members beneath them. The crew will take turns working in shifts to ensure that the bridge is always manned.

Each crew member will have specific tasks and jobs to complete and the captain oversees each member to ensure that everything is done correctly.

Crew Ranks

The rank of the officers/captain can be seen on their epaulets. An epaulet is a shoulder piece on an item of clothing, generally speaking, the more stripes the more senior the member of the team is.

Enforcing Security Plans

All crew members onboard cruise ships have drills and procedures that they have to practice in case of emergency. On cruise ships, there are drills for almost anything that you can think of.

The most common would be a situation like a fire or a flood but cruise ships do also practice pirate drills in case of pirate attacks. The cruise ship captain is in charge of safety and security plans like these.

To learn more about the very rare instances of cruise ships being attacked by pirates, check out the video below:

At the muster drill which all guests must attend the captain usually plays a prominent role and will speak to the guests over the overhead tannoy. It’s ultimately the responsibility of the captain to make sure that their ship complies with legal obligations and having all guests attend muster is part of this.

To learn more about muster drills, including what happens if you don’t attend, check out this post:

What is a Muster Drill on a Cruise? Everything You Need to Know

Social Events

A big part of the captain’s job is to attend social events around the cruise ship. You’ll often see the captain interacting with guests and they may do some form of welcome speech at the start of the cruise.

Top tip: The captain’s welcome drink is a great place to go if you’d like a free drink! You can usually pick up a drink (or two) just by being in the right place at the right time so it’s well worth attending.

The captain will also have photos taken with guests and may even dine with a select group of guests.

My favorite cruise ship captain is captain Wesley who you’ll find on P&O ships, meeting him was a delight! You’re in for a treat if you cruise with P&O and have Wesley as a captain.

To learn more about P&O cruises, including why I think they’re great for families, check out this page:

Recommended Cruise Lines

Tannoy Announcements

Cruise ship captains will often be responsible for speaking to guests over the tannoy and explaining things about sailing such as the cruise route, weather, and speed.

Other members of staff will also speak over the tannoy but on most cruises, the captain will also have some to do. A cruise director will usually do the most, informing guests about the entertainment and events going on onboard. To learn more about cruise directors, including how to become a cruise director, check out this post: What Do Cruise Directors Do? How Much Do They ACTUALLY Earn?

Do River Cruise Ships Have Captains?

All river cruise ships have captains but because river cruise ships are much smaller they don’t require the large bridge team that ocean ships have. A river cruise ship will usually only have one captain who will be responsible for all of the sailing of the ship.

The river cruise captain has similar responsibilities when it comes to safety and planning.

In my experience of river cruises, the captain plays a lesser role in the passengers day to day lives than an ocean cruise ship captain does. The captain will usually introduce themselves at the start of the cruise and may also attend farewell drinks at the end of the voyage.

Are River Cruises Boring? Some People Say Yes, I Don’t! Here’s Why

How do You Become a Cruise Captain?

To become a cruise ship captain you must have a good education and put in the time required to learn the skills needed.

Most cruise ship captains will have a degree in something like maritime science, maritime engineering, or something similar. After graduating most cruise ship captains will find a job at sea and spend many years working their way up through the ranks. The majority start as cadets before progressing on to become officers and eventually captains.

cruise ship captain photos

Cruise Captain Entry Requirements:

What Skills do you Need to Become a Cruise Captain?

Cruise captains must be organized, strong leaders and have the highest quality communication skills. It’s important to be able to stay calm under pressure as well as multitask. Cruise captains are at sea for long periods of time and must be able to work at all hours of the day.

Public speaking and being personable is always a bonus and appreciated by guests.

What is the Salary of a Cruise Captain?

The average salary of a cruise captain is $130,000 per year. This ranges from $52,000 to $190,000 and is dependent on the captain’s experience and the cruise line which they work for.

According to Cruise Critic (source) the average salary of a cruise director is $150,000 per year.

Pay Scale (source) estimates an average salary of $52,000 – $127,000 per year.

The National (source) suggests between $153,379. per year.

The Guardian (source) estimates a salary of $164,000- $190,000 per year.

There is, of course, a lot of variety within the salary of cruise captains. The size of the ship that the captain is sailing and the size of the company that the captain works for will all play a role. Generally speaking though, the captain is one of the highest-paid members of the crew on board, and rightly so!

What Other Perks Do Cruise Captains Receive?

In addition to salary cruise captains receive a number of other perks:

  • Accommodation on the ship free of charge
  • Family staying onboard
  • Meals onboard
  • Laundry and Housekeeping
  • Discounts, often on cruises and/or shops onboard

Because cruise captains live at home for long periods they are usually able to send the majority of their salary home and have very little onboard expenses. Another big perk to mention is that cruise ship captains get to visit some amazing places on their journeys.

Related Questions:

How much did the Costa Concordia Captain Make? 

It’s estimated that the captain of the Costa Concordia earned between $52,000 and $190,000 per year for this job as captain.

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