How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

Cruise ship entertainers, DJs, and bartenders really know how to show the passengers a good time, making these positions some of the most visible and most glamorous jobs on the ship. While passengers flock to these individuals, they are not very high in the hierarchy. This is not to say that these positions are not fun and rewarding, it’s just that they don’t offer as much prestige and as many perks as the highest position on the ship – cruise ship captain.

Cruise ship captains are number one on several top ten lists when it comes to working on cruise ships. Cruise ship captains are number one when it comes to Top Ten Money Earners on Cruise Ships, Top Ten Jobs for Perks, and Top Ten most Glamorous Jobs. Cruise director is second for money earners and perks, while doctor is number 2 in the glamour department.

Cruise ship captains work in the “Deck Department.” They work alongside staff captains, navigation officers, radio officers, and deck hands. Cruise ship captains also work closely with the engineering department, which includes the chief engineer, chief electrician, and support staff.

The cruise ship captain is considered the “master of the vessel.” He outranks all other workers on the ship. He also has authority over everyone else on the ship. What he says goes. According to maritime law, the cruise ship captain is responsible for all actions taken. He is responsible for all actions not taken. And, he has the final word in all matters. In the end, the captain’s primary responsibility is the safety of the ship and everyone onboard. He must carry out company policy, and he must make sure the ship is in compliance with national and international laws. The captain is also granted legal authority from the ship’s flag state to enforce all laws.

So what does this mean for aspiring cruise ship captains? It means — this is the type of job that will be tough (but not impossible) to obtain. In many cases, aspiring cruise ship captains begin the journey in their teens by enrolling in a maritime high school. The U.S. Maritime Administration establishes the curriculum for these schools. After graduating from a maritime high school, you should enroll in a Bachelor of Science degree program at one of the seven merchant marine academies in the U.S. Entry, training, and experience requirements for most water transportation occupations are established and regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In addition to a Bachelor of Science degree, cruise ship captains and all other mariners on cruise ships must obtain two credentials, a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC). If you prefer to work your way up – which is the only other path you can take, you must accumulate literally thousands of hours of experience as a deckhand, then work your way up from there. This could take years and it still doesn’t guarantee a job offer. Most cruise ships prefer to hire applicants with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

During your studies, you will work as an intern or apprentice to gain hands-on experience. In some cases, your apprenticeship or internship will produce a job offer and in other cases, you will walk away with an excellent reference. If you end up having to search for a position on your own, don’t worry. Your merchant marine academy will have a job placement office to assist you every step of the way. In most cases, you will get a job as a third mate officer first (not a deckhand) and work your way up from there.

For more information about cruise captains, education, and more, visit the following websites:

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy,
United States Coast Guard U.S. Department of Homeland Security,
U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics,

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