How to Become a

Boat or Ship Captain

The complete career guide to be a Boat or Ship Captain: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $83,150
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 10.3%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Get to Travel
    Career Attribute

A ship captain is in charge of leading an entire vessel, which vary between a small yacht to a big cruise liner. In this role, you need to have extensive experience with ships and their operation.

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What is a Boat or Ship Captain?


The duties of a boat or ship captain include the following responsibilities:

  • Oversee every department on board the specific vessel and ensure the economical maintenance and operation of the entire vessel including but not limited to accounting for overtime expenditures, tracking vessel certificates, etc.
  • Keep supervisory team informed regarding issues on seaworthiness of the boat or vessel concerned, the quality of the environment, service level provided to customers, and the safety conditions of ship and crew.
  • Take part in actively maintaining all ship systems and related facilities such as communications, navigations, gangways, and hydraulic.

Day In The Life

A captain’s responsibilities can include a wide range of duties which are not limited to navigational functions, operating the ship equipment, addressing business administration and monitoring the work of other crew members. You are expected to see that all equipment and machinery on board is in good condition and in compliance with environmental regulations.

Another important aspect of the role is to keep updating regular logs throughout the journey, and assign tasks to the crew members, especially with regard to passengers embarking and disembarking the ship. In some cases, the captain must observe the ship’s financial transactions and accounting, which may involve cash-on-hand and payroll, when the treasurer or accounts keeper is not present on board. The captain is in charge of the ship’s security, both in terms of day to day functioning and under severe circumstances, like responding to emergencies, terrorist threats, and so on.

Work Schedule

A ship captain’s workplace is on the boat itself, which can vary widely based on the type and size. The boat’s territory will include doing tours at sea, traveling up rivers, or going through various other waterways in-between harbours. Since maritime travel requires one to have flexible hours, as a captain you can be working for up to a day-to-day outing, or extend between several weeks and months.

Growth Of The Job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for professions such as boat or ship captains and mates of vessels is expected to increase by 10% between the years 2014-2024. The job projection is mainly due to the expected rate of increase of freight shipping and the growing popularity of tourism on cruise ships, in spite of such ocean-going vessels going on international trips versus national. You can expect to find promising job opportunities near coastal areas or at different freshwater ports and docks.

Captains of supply boats on inland waterways or rivers gradually advance from the position of deckhands through the ranks by gaining adequate experience and passing every rating exam. If you are planning to become captain of deep-water vessels you will find opportunities of advancement via professional training from merchant marine academies, before being promoted to captains.

Typical Employers

As a boat or ship captain you would be employed by operating private and government vessels which include fishing boats, barges, tugboats, freighters, cruise vessels, and ferry boats.

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How To Become a Boat or Ship Captain

A ship captain needs to have completed at least a high school diploma or GED. However, those candidates holding an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees in marine science or marine engineering will have a distinct advantage amidst the fierce competition for positions. Through college level coursework, you will become more familiar with concepts in navigation, management, administration, maritime safety and logistics. Besides getting the right educational qualifications, you may also get a foot in the door by building applied experience through various odd jobs at the entry level, such as that of a deckhand and eventually, an officer.

Based on the type of vessel you are commandeering, you may have to get a captain’s license from the United States Coast Guard. In terms of valuable skills, you should demonstrate a keen sense of communication, superior customer service and the ability to tackle unexpected situations on the go. Those who prefer focusing on an academic training career, will eventually enroll at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or one of the state academies. The completion of a four year program will eventually lead to the Bachelor of Science degree and prepare you for a licensing test.

Boat or Ship Captain Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range




High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Boat or Ship Captain salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Boat or Ship Captain's can make an average annual salary of $83,150, or $40 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $53,450 or $26 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #127 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Highest Education Among Boat or Ship Captains

  • 1.6%   Doctorate
  • 1.6%   Masters
  • 18.9%   Bachelors
  • 9.4%   Associates
  • 26.3%   College
  • 31.4%   High School
  • 10.8%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Boat or Ship Captain job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 3,600 jobs for a total of 38,700 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 10.3% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #187 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most Boat or Ship Captains

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Inland water transportation 8,400 1,700 2%
Support activities for water transportation 7,600 600 1%
Deep sea, coastal, and great lakes water transportation 5,000 400 0%

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