Are you dreaming about the glamorous lifestyle of a cruise ship captain? Sailing mega yachts around the world sounds like an appealing experience, right? You’re in charge of a massive vessel, and you’re responsible for thousands of lives aboard your cruise ship.
Being a cruise ship captain is a position of power, and with great power comes great responsibility. Becoming a cruise ship captain takes more effort, training, and experience than just filling out an application form.
It takes years to qualify as a cruise ship captain, and the people that do end up at this level are usually in their 40s and 50s. Being a captain is the pinnacle of a marine career and a life spent on the water. As a captain, you have several important duties, and your commitment to your crew and passengers extends way beyond a welcoming handshake to your guests and a few gala dinners.
So, how to become a cruise ship captain? Is it really the right career path for you? To start, you’ll need a high school diploma and a college degree in maritime studies. Most ships will also require a master’s degree from the applicant.
Along with your qualifications, you’re going to need decades of experience out on the water operating a sea-going vessel. Captains also require correct licensing with the Federal Maritime Authorities.
How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain?
Getting to the status of cruise ship captain isn’t going to happen overnight. So, you need to be sure that you’re willing to do whatever it takes during your career to reach this pinnacle of success. Let’s look at some more of the qualifying criteria for becoming a ship captain.
The primary duty of the cruise ship captain is to manage the staff and crew and make decisions with their safety in mind. Our key responsibilities held by the cruise ship captain include planned scheduled stops and plotting the ship’s cruise course. You’ll also have to know how to read the weather and how it influences ocean conditions.
The captain is solely responsible for the vessel’s navigation, and they may involve themselves in steering the ship, particularly when docking. There are five primary requirements needed to become a cruise ship captain.
- Education, qualifications, and training.
- Career experience working on ships.
- Industry qualifications and certification.
- Captains licensing exams.
- Diverse range of skills.
- Let’s look into each of these factors in detail.
Education and Training
What are the required qualifications for becoming a cruise ship captain? What do I have to study, and how long do I need to study to earn the right degree? These are common questions from people considering a career as a cruise ship captain.
To start your education, you’ll need a high school diploma. You’ll need to go to college and study for a maritime degree, obtaining your B.A. and masters. Marine Engineering and Marine Science are the two best options for your studies, holding the best potential in the workplace in the future.
Your degree will take around four years to complete, and it’s another two to three years for the master’s degree. If you’re in high school and considering a career in the maritime industry, try to go to a maritime college for specialized training and qualifications.
During your studies, you’ll need to work hard to pass your exams and assignments, and you’ll need an above-average grade to qualify for admission into the college. During the summer vacation, try to get a job in the maritime industry.
You could work on board a ship or in a shipyard to gain work experience in the industry. This strategy places you in an environment of continuous learning, and you’ll gain massive amounts of experience over your classmates that choose to spend their summer relaxing.
Working in the summer at a shipyard or on a cruise liner helps you learn about how ships work, the command structure, and the duties of the crew and captain.
After you gain admittance to a maritime college, you’ll need to specialize in your training. Marine Engineering, Marine Science, Marine Transportation, and Ocean Science are some of the top-rated courses available through maritime universities and colleges.
You’ll spend four years studying to achieve your bachelor’s degree, and by the time you finish, you’re going to spend another two to three years completing your master’s degree. Typically, candidates studying for their masters will also be working in the industry full or part-time during their studies.
Attending a maritime university or academy is the best way to fast-track your career prospects due to the specialized training it brings to your qualifications. You’ll have the edge over all the other candidates that don’t have technical maritime degrees.
While a master’s degree is not always a prerequisite for a job as a cruise ship captain, it helps to bolster your case against other candidates that don’t have that qualification.
Work and Career Experience
Having the best degree possible is a fantastic way to build your foundation for a career as a cruise ship captain. However, sometimes a master’s degree isn’t required if you have enough experience captaining other vessels.
Experience brings a sense of confidence and security to the crew and your passengers. If a team has to choose between the qualified guy and the experienced guy, they will go with the experienced captain every time.
After you graduate with your bachelor’s degree, apply for a job as a third mate or deck officer on an ocean-going vessel. These jobs are often entry-level positions on ships and the ideal starting point for anyone who wants a cruise ship captain career.
Every cruise ship captain commanding a sea-going vessel started in these positions and worked their way up the chain of command into the captain’s chair. Some maritime colleges and universities also assist students with applications for maritime jobs.
You also have excellent job opportunities with the Navy Reserve and the Coast Guard Reserve.
If you find a job using these placement services, it lands you with the foothold you need to start gaining experience towards becoming a cruise ship captain.
To apply for these maritime positions, you’ll need to work your way through exams to test your knowledge and physical exams to test your fitness and response in the field. You’ll also have to comply with a criminal background check.
Industry certifications help to show that you understand the government compliance necessary to operate a cruise ship. Most cruise ships require captains to have a Merchant Mariner Credential and Transportation Worker Identification Credential.
These certifications require you to take more exams and submit to a drug-testing program. You’ll also have to write practical and theoretical exams.
Captain Licensing Exams
Along with your degree, you’re also going to have to take exams issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to qualify as a cruise ship captain. After you have ten years of experience working on commercial vessels, you have the option of taking this exam.
If you pass the test, you qualify to work as a marine captain. You’ll need to work as a marine captain for several years before you can apply for a job to captain a cruise ship. You’ll also have to have an impeccable track record and safety history to qualify for the job.
As a cruise ship captain, you’ll need a diverse skill set to get through tough situations that require tough choices. You have the entire crew and the passengers under your care, and you need to prepare for any ocean-going possibility that puts the boat at risk.
Cruise ship captains require strong leadership skills and characteristics, and they need plenty of experience dealing with customer relations. You’ll also need administrative skills, strong communication skills, and good problem-solving skills.
Above all, the ship’s captain must have the confidence to stay calm in emergencies and pressure situations.
Ranking Structure on Cruise Ships
Cruise ships operate on a strict command chain. You can think of a cruise liner as a small business. The captain is the CEO, and he leads the rest of the team through the business environment. The ship’s captain has several executive officers that report to them, acting as the company’s vice presidents.
Here is the senior officer structure on a cruise ship.
- Staff Captain
- Cruise Director
- Hotel Director
- Chief Engineer
- Food and Beverage Manager
Cruise ships are large vessels housing hundreds or thousands of people. So, there are different departments handling tasks onboard. Each department comes with managers, crew members, and supervisors.
Some of the departments on a cruise ship include the following.
- Engine Department.
- Deck Department.
- Hotel Department.
- Medical Department.
The rank describes the person’s authority on the ship, and it also provides a job description and title. The rank of crew and officers dictates their role in the working environment on board the vessel. As you rise in rank, you earn stripes for your epaulets. The epaulets have a color-coded classification.
- Deck Departments – Gold and Black stripes.
- Engine Departments – Gold and Purple stripes.
- Hotel Departments – Gold and White stripes.
- Medical Departments – Gold and Red stripes.
If you look at the number of stripes, it tells the individual’s rank on the boat. The more lines the officer has the higher their rank. The captain has four bars, the most of anyone on the ship.
Key Responsibilities of Cruise Ship Captains
As a cruise ship captain, you’re responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone on board, and you’re accountable for any damage or incidents that happen on board while you are in charge of the vessel.
The captain is like the CEO of the ship, and they are aware of every department’s activities and the current status of the workforce. They are the first people to find out when something goes wrong, and they make the final decisions regarding the passengers, crew, and ship.
We can boil down the captain’s duties into nine specific responsibilities.
- Working with crew members and senior officers.
- Navigating and operating the cruise ship.
- Monitoring of the ships position.
- Determining and setting the speed of the vessel.
- Avoiding any hazards in the water.
- Ensuring the maintenance of the ship is up to date.
- Ensuring the correct application and following safety procedures.
- Compliance with international and local law, including flag state policies.
- Compliance with local immigration requirements and customs laws.
The captain is the only person responsible for anything that goes wrong on the ship while he is on board. As a result, the captain must know how to react in the case of an emergency on the vessel. The captain also holds the sole authority to issue the order to abandon the ship.
The captain also has social duties and responsibilities. The captain oversees the arrival and disembarkation of the passengers. The captain will welcome the guests as they arrive and thank them as they leave the vessel.
The cruise ship captain also has the duty of attending and hosting the Captain’s Welcome Party and other events for guests onboard the ship. You might find it surprising that the ship’s captain also has the authority to conduct weddings in international waters.
As a final note, the cruise ship captain is the line of communication between the ship and the home company running the cruises.
Conclusion – How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain
Becoming a cruise ship captain is no easy feat. You’ll need plenty of commitment to your studies and decades of experience out on the water before anyone will consider you for the position. However, if you make it to the top as a cruise ship captain, you’ll enjoy a life of adventure and the respect of all the people on the cruise liner.
It all starts with your desire and what you’re willing to do to achieve your goal as a cruise ship captain. Follow the advice in this post, and take the first step towards your dream career. Good luck in your quest!