Revealing What Cruise Ship Captains Really Earn

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So, how much does a captain of a cruise ship really pocket? You might be surprised to hear it’s a pretty wide range. Starting out, a newbie captain can expect to earn around $50,000 a year. Not too shabby, right? But it doesn’t stop there. Those captains steering the largest ships across the globe, with years of experience under their belts and the bonuses to match, can rake in upwards of $400,000 annually!

A photo of a captain of a cruise ship

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Earning that kind of money comes with a mountain of responsibility. Imagine being in charge of thousands of souls, ensuring everyone’s safe while navigating Mother Nature’s mood swings. It’s not all about sipping cocktails by the pool deck. There’s no “off” button; you’re on duty 24/7 when you’re out at sea.

You might think $50,000 is a decent start, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But consider this: there are jobs on dry land that pay more without the constant pressure of being responsible for an entire ship. On the flip side, hitting that $400,000 mark is nothing to sneeze at, but getting there? It’s a long haul. You won’t see those numbers in your bank account until you’ve got a few decades of seafaring under your belt.

Take Captain Mickael Degerlund, for example. This guy’s journey to captaincy is nothing short of epic. He started as a deck boy at just 16 and didn’t get his Master’s licence until he was 30. That’s after years of continuous learning and climbing up the ranks. It goes to show that becoming a captain is more a marathon than a sprint.

And if you’re wondering about the average salary, it hovers around $92,000 to $96,000 a year. Not too shabby, right? But remember, this number can swing dramatically based on experience, the cruise line you’re with, and the size of the ship you’re commanding.

What’s in Your Wallet? Factors Affecting a Captain’s Pay

A photo of 20 dollar notes spread out.

Experience Counts

First up, experience is the big kahuna here. The longer you’ve been navigating those vast blue seas, the fatter the paycheck. It’s a bit like levelling up in a video game; the more quests you complete, the more skills (and loot) you gather. 

But it’s not just about the years at sea. It’s also about climbing that career ladder, from possibly being a deckhand with dreams all the way to the captain’s chair.

With the cruise industry booming and more ships setting sail, keeping a top-notch captain on board is like finding a treasure chest in the deep blue – cruise lines will do what it takes to keep you from jumping ship (pun absolutely intended).

The Bigger, The Better

Then, there’s the prestige and size of the ship. It’s a bit like being handed the keys to a vintage sports car rather than a family sedan. Steering a behemoth like the Icon of the Seas not only comes with bragging rights but also a heftier salary. More passengers, crew, and amenities all mean more responsibilities on your shoulders.

The Name Behind the Ship

The company’s size and reputation also play a role. The heavy hitters in the cruise world, think Royal Caribbean or Carnival, have deeper pockets. They’re like the big leagues of cruising, where the best captains are in high demand to ensure millions of holiday-goers have the time of their lives safely. 

Photo of Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Ship

Location, Location, Location

Where you sail from can also tip the scales. Captains from regions with a higher cost of living, like Europe or North America, might find their salary reflecting the need to keep up with their land-based expenses. It’s all part of the industry’s ebb and flow, balancing the global pool of talented captains with supply and demand economics.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

And here’s a twist in the tale: gender can influence a captain’s salary, too. With a push for more diversity and equality, some women captains are finding themselves not just breaking the glass ceiling but earning a bit more for their pioneering roles. It’s a sign of changing tides in the industry, with cruise lines keen to show their commitment to diversity.

Captain Kate McCue identified by her epaulettes and name tag reading 'Captain', stands proudly in the ship's bridge with a backdrop of large windows showing a coastal view and advanced navigational equipment around her.
Captain Kate McCue

Recommended reading: Check out what interesting facts about one the best female captains: Captain Kate McCue.

So, Who’s Cashing In the Most?

With all this talk of responsibility and hefty salaries, you’d think the captain would always be the king of the cash mountain. But it’s not always so. There are other high-rollers on board, like the Chief Engineer and the Hotel Director, who might just out-earn the captain if they’ve got more experience or a critical role in high demand.

And let’s not forget about roles like an art auctioneer. Picture this: an auctioneer selling a masterpiece at sea might just out-earn everyone on board during a good week. It all depends on the ship, the clientele, and the treasures being auctioned off.

A photo of an art auction

Becoming a Captain

Becoming a captain isn’t as simple as climbing aboard and taking the wheel. It’s more like embarking on an epic quest that takes years of dedication. Think of it as earning your stripes, or rather, your epaulettes. You’ll need a solid foundation in Nautical or Maritime Science, which means first hitting the books for a Bachelor’s Degree. And that’s just the starting line.

After the cap and gown come the real-world lessons. Starting from roles that might seem miles away from the captain’s chair, you’ll slowly but surely work your way up to deck officer, senior officer, and beyond. 

And let’s not gloss over the exams and certifications. There’s no skimping on safety and navigation know-how here. It’s intense, but hey, at the end of the day, you’re aiming to be responsible for thousands of lives and a floating city.

So, when do you get the captain’s hat? Well, after about 15-20 years of seafaring, give or take. And even then, you’re probably starting at the more modest end of the pay scale. It’s a journey, but imagine the stories you’ll have to tell.

The Captain’s Working Hours

Now, about those working hours. Let’s just say you can kiss the standard 9-to-5 goodbye. A captain’s workday stretches from sunrise past sunset, clocking in at around 12 to 16 hours. It’s a marathon of decision-making, overseeing operations, and, occasionally, shaking hands and making small talk with passengers.

And your workweek? That concept doesn’t really apply here. You’re on duty every single day for the length of your contract, which could be up to three months straight. But don’t worry, you’ll get equal time off to recuperate.

Related reading: How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Really Earn? The Truth About Their Pay

The back of a cruise captains head

Perks of Job

It’s not all about endless hours and the weight of responsibility. Being a cruise ship captain does come with its share of perks. Let’s peel back the curtain on some of the captain-exclusive benefits, shall we?

Prime Quarters

First off, your living quarters. We’re talking about a private cabin that’s more mini-apartment than a room, often with a view that beats any office window. Plus, you’ve got amenities that might make your land-based friends green with envy – space, privacy, and maybe even a personal steward.

Family Time, Ocean Style

Miss your loved ones? No problem. Captains can often have their families join them onboard at no extra cost. While it’s not all-day family fun, given your duties, it’s a perk that can make the ocean feel more like home.

Dining in Style

Food is a big deal at sea, and as captain, you don’t have to queue at the buffet (unless you want to, of course). You’ve got the best of the ship’s culinary offerings at your disposal, from fine dining to casual eats, all on the house.

No Laundry Days

Yep, you read that right. Forget about laundry day. Your uniform and personal attire are taken care of, so you can focus on steering the ship and not whether you’re running out of clean socks.

The Final Word

So, is the life of a cruise ship captain for you? It’s a role packed with prestige, challenges, and, yes, a handsome salary. But it’s also a lifestyle choice, complete with sacrifices and commitments. Whether you’re drawn to the adventure, the responsibility, or the chance to lead, one thing’s certain: it’s a unique job that not many will get to experience.

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I'm Hannah and I've been cruising for as long as I can remember.

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