How much do Cruise Ship Captains make for a salary?

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Filed Under: Cruise Folklore

Imagine steering a colossal vessel like the upcoming Icon of the Seas through the vast ocean, ensuring the safety and enjoyment of thousands of passengers. This is the life of a cruise ship captain. But have you ever wondered how much do cruise ship captains make for a living?

What does it take to become a cruise captain for the major cruise companies? And what about the Cruise Ship Captain salary which seems to be a topic of much interest, especially for those considering a career in the cruise industry.

The Salary of the Cruise Ship Captain

According to recruitment specialists, Indeed, a Cruise captain can expect to earn an annual salary ranging from $92,000 to $190,000. However, this figure fluctuates based on factors such as experience, qualifications, the employer, and more. Some captains might pocket as low as $48,000 a year, while others could rake in almost $200,000 a year or more.

Despite the attractive pay, the job of a cruise ship captain is no walk in the park. They are on call round the clock, ready to tackle emergencies, from medical crises to severe weather. Efficiently managing a large crew is also part of their job to ensure the ship sails smoothly.

The Factors That Determine How Much Salary a Cruise Ship Captain Makes

A cruise ship captain’s salary will vary and is influenced by several factors. Let’s set sail and explore these:


A captain’s years at sea significantly impact their earnings. More experience often equates to a fatter paycheck. The top 10% of cruise ship captains’ can earn up to $190,000 annually, while the less experienced might receive around $48,000.


A captain’s educational background can also affect their earnings. Those with an advanced Master’s Degree in Maritime Studies or specialized training may command higher salaries. However, in this profession, experience often outweighs education.

Ship Size

The bigger the ship, the greater responsibility of the captain, the bigger the paycheck. Captains of larger vessels tend to earn more than those of smaller ships. For instance, captains of the largest cruise ships can make up to $200,000 per year, while those managing smaller day cruise ships may earn around $50,000.


The operating location can also impact a captain’s salary. Captains working for cruise lines in high-end or prestigious areas typically earn more than those in less desirable locations. UK-based captains average around $140,000 per year, while Australian captains may earn approximately $95,000 to $100,000 annually.

In a nutshell, a cruise ship captain’s salary can vary based on several factors, with experience being the most significant. Ship size, education, and location also play a role in determining their earnings.

how much do cruise ship captains make - The Ship's Bridge

The Responsibilities of a cruise captain

A cruise ship captain’s role is to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the vessel, as well as the well-being of the crew and passengers on board. Here are their key responsibilities:

Cruise Ship Navigation

The captain’s main responsibility is to navigate the ship safely to its destination. He or She must be familiar with the ship’s technical equipment, the waters they will be sailing through, and make any adjustments necessary to the ship’s course according to weather conditions.

Safety and Security Of the Cruise Ship

The Captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of the ship and all of its passengers and crew. The Captain has to ensure that all safety procedures are followed and that the ship is prepared for any emergencies. They also take measures to protect against security or terrorist threats.

Crew Management

Captains are the leaders of the onboard crew, ensuring they receive proper training and follow all safety procedures as determined by maritime law. Although many large cruise ships will have an onboard staff member responsible for Human Resources, the Captain will also have to address any concerns or needs the crew may raise.

Cruise Ship OperationS and Maintenance

Captains will also oversee the daily operations and maintenance of the ship. Via their department Heads he or she will ensure proper maintenance of equipment, secure loading of cargo, and that everything is in working order.

Operational Paperwork And Procedures

Even though it may seem mundane, Captains have to handle all necessary paperwork related to the ship’s operations, ensuring timely completion and filing.

how much do cruise ship captains make on Carnival Cruise Line

How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain With a Major Cruise Line

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The journey to becoming a cruise ship captain requires dedication and years of experience. To become a captain most positions demand a bachelor’s degree in nautical science or marine engineering. Specialized academies provide the necessary skills to excel in this role.

Experience is key. Most cruise lines like Carnival Cruise line and Disney Cruise line require at least ten years of maritime industry experience, with five years as a chief officer. This ensures the captain has the knowledge and skills to lead a team and navigate a ship safely.

In addition to experience and education, a captain must hold a valid license and certification from organizations like the United States Coast Guard. Familiarity with international maritime law, customs and immigration laws,  and familiarity with other federal maritime authority regulations is also essential.

Excellent communication and leadership skills are vital as captains work closely with other professionals on board, such as the chief engineer, security officer, and crew members.

how much do cruise ship captains make on the Wonder of the Seas

The Perks That Cruise Ship Captains Receive

The Captain of a cruise ship will work long hours. But as well as working extremely hard, being a cruise ship captain will also come with numerous perks and benefits. Let’s explore some of the advantages that come with the job:

Free Meals and Accommodations

You know how much you enjoy cruise food, right? Well, Cruise ship captains enjoy complimentary meals at the ship’s restaurants and cafes, offering a wide range of cuisine options. They also have their own spacious and luxurious private cabins.

Access to Exclusive Events

Captains have access to exclusive social events like cocktail parties, captain’s dinners, and other gatherings. These events will also provide networking opportunities with industry professionals.

Hotel Manager Duties

Captains oversee the ship’s hotel operations, including housekeeping, food and beverage, and guest services. This allows them to work with a team of professionals and manage various tasks.

Weddings and Special Events

Captains can officiate weddings and other special events on the ship, creating memorable experiences for couples.

Travel Opportunities

Being a cruise ship captain offers the opportunity to travel to beautiful and exotic destinations worldwide. Captains get to explore new places and experience different cultures.

how much do cruise ship captains make on P & O cruises
Image Courtesy of P & O Cruises

The Reality of Being a Captain – Is The Salary of a Cruise Ship Captain Worth It?

While being a cruise ship captain may seem like a dream job, it’s important to understand the realities and challenges that come with it. Here are some key points to consider:

Demanding Work Schedule

A Captain’s job requires that they work around the clock, often being onboard the ship for months at a time, ensuring the well-being and safety of the passengers and crew members.


The demanding schedule means captains may miss out on important family events and holidays due to being on call at all times.

High Responsibility

Captains carry significant responsibility for the ship’s safety, operation, and compliance with regulations. They must make quick decisions during emergencies, which can be stressful.

Respect and Admiration

The Captain is the head of the ship. They are respected by their crew members and passengers, seen as leaders and role models. Their decisions are trusted and respected.

Being a cruise ship captain is a demanding job that requires responsibility and dedication. While it offers rewards and admiration, it’s important to recognize the hard work and sacrifices captains make to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on board.

how much do cruise ship captains make on Disney Cruise Line

How Much Do Cruise Ship Captains Make Working for Luxury and Popular Cruise Lines

Luxury Cruise Lines

Captains in luxury cruise lines, such as Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and Crystal Cruises, can expect higher salaries. On average, a cruise ship captain in luxury lines earns around $150,000 per year, with additional benefits like better accommodations, more time off, and access to exclusive onboard facilities.

Popular Cruise Lines

Although not dealing with the higher-end clients that the luxury cruise lines attract, salaries for cruise ship captains in popular cruise lines are also very competitive in the industry. Here are a couple of examples:

Royal Caribbean

Captains in Royal Caribbean can earn an average salary of $153,379 per year, with benefits like free accommodation, meals, and medical insurance.

Celebrity Cruises

Captains in Celebrity Cruises, like Captain Kate McCue can earn an average salary of $150,000 per year, with similar benefits as Royal Caribbean.

Frequently Asked Questions – How Much Does a Cruise Ship Captain Make

What is the salary range for cruise ship captains?

The salary range for cruise ship captains can vary depending on experience, ship size, and company. The salary can range from $48,000 up to $200,000. However, on average, captains earn around $96,000 per year.

How much do cruise ship captains earn annually?

Cruise ship captains earn an average salary of $96,000 per year, depending on various factors.

What is the average monthly income of a cruise ship captain?

The average monthly income of a cruise ship captain is approximately $8,000 per month.

Who are the highest-paid employees on a cruise ship?

Aside from the captain, other high-paid employees include staff in charge of food and beverages, such as the Executive chef. In fact, on some cruise lines, one of the highest-paid employees is actually the Cruise Director.

What factors affect a cruise ship captain’s salary?

Experience, ship size, company, and region sailed all contribute to a cruise ship captain’s salary.

Do cruise ship captains receive additional benefits besides their salary?

Yes, cruise ship captains may receive benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off, depending on their contract and company policy.

So how much do cruise ship Captains make? Well, as you can see it’s a lot! The position of cruise ship captain offers competitive salaries, but it also involves demanding responsibilities and sacrifices due to long periods of time away from home.

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It’s important to recognize and appreciate the hard work and dedication that captains put into their roles. So next time you see the Captain, remember it’s not all hand-shaking and glamour. There is a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes.

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Alan took his first cruise in 1991 and has been cruising ever since. When he is not writing articles for you'll find him either on a cruise ship (he's the guy in the kilt), or on the golf course!

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