How Much do Cruise Ship Captains Make? (Salary 2024)

Have you ever wondered how much does a cruise ship captain make a year? The exact amount can vary depending on several factors, including experience, the size and prestige of the ship, and more.

It’s estimated that cruise captains make an average of $96,000 a year. Some may even earn upwards of $200,000 per year while at the other end of the spectrum for small vessels and those newly promoted to the position make approximately $50,000 annually.

Read on to see how we arose at these figures and the various factors that influence the amount.

Cruise Ship Captain

What is the Average Cruise Ship Captain Salary?

According to Comparably, a US Cruise captain on average earns a US$93,328 annual salary.

Another source of cruise captain salary data is from Payscale which indicates a ship captain’s average salary at US$ 96,347 a year.

From their stats, we can see they estimate the bottom 10% earn $48,000 a year and the top 10% $190,000 a year.

Interestingly they also break down estimated earnings by “Pay by Experience Level for Ship Captains”.

On average the ship captains with under 10 years of experience earn on average of US$70,000 to $77,000 a year, compared to those with over 10 years expecting to earn US$98,000.

Bear in mind the Payscale stats are based on “ship captains” and not specifically cruise ship captains, but we can expect the earnings to be in the right ballpark as they are on par with the Comparably stats.

However, this is just an average, and as you most likely know there is a wide range of cruise ship sizes, from those that carry 100 to 200 passengers to mega-ships that carry and are responsible for over 5000 passengers as well as 1500+ crew members.

So in this post, we look at the factors that influence a cruise captain’s annual salary and how much they make a year plus a look at some of the added perks of the job to be added on top.

Average Cruise Ship Captain Salary Per Month

Taking the average salary of cruise ship captain at US$93,328, this equates to a monthly average salary of US$ 7777.33.

We have also worked out the monthly salaries for those cruise ship captains earning higher annual salaries as follows:

  • $125,000 a year equates to US$ 10,416 a month
  • $150,000 a year equates to US$ 12,500 a month
  • $175,000 a year equates to US$ 14,583 a month
  • $200,000 a year equates to US$ 16,666 a month
cruise captain cap on deck

Factors That influence Cruise Captain Pay

There are a number of factors that have an impact on how much a cruise captain can expect to get paid a year.

Years of Experience

One of the most important factors determining a cruise ship captain’s pay is their experience.

A newly qualified captain with little experience can expect to earn much less than a captain who has been sailing the seas for many years.

It’s not unusual for a cruise line to require that a captain has at least 10 years of experience before they can be considered for the role, including a number of those as Staff Captain, which is the second in command.

Quite simply, the more years of experience they have as an actual captain, the more they can expect to be paid.

Size and Prestige of Vessel

The next big factor is the size and type of vessel they are the captain of.

Generally, the larger the vessel, the more responsibility the captain has and the higher their salary will be.

Of course, there are other types of vessels such as smaller luxury cruises or cruise ships that have to navigate particularly difficult waters. These types of cruises will often pay their captains a little more to account for the extra skills and experience required.

Company Size

The size of the company can also affect a cruise ship captain’s salary.

For example, a small company that only operates one or two vessels will not be able to pay its captain as much as a large corporate company with dozens of ships.

However, it is worth noting that some of the smaller companies may be more willing to negotiate on salary and offer other perks, such as a share of the profits, which can make up for the lower salary.


The final factor we want to mention is location.

Captains who are based in Europe or North America will generally be paid more than those based in other parts of the world, such as Asia or South America.

This is because the cost of living is higher in these regions and companies need to pay their captains enough to cover their basic expenses.

Extra Benefits/Perks of Being a Cruise Captain

As well as a well-paid salary, a cruise captain may also be entitled to the following perks:

  • Luxury suite accommodation which includes rooms for guests
  • Free meals
  • Room and Laundry service
  • Use of the ship’s facilities, such as the gym and spa
  • Free flights
  • Paid Holidays
  • Health and Dental plans

What is a Cruise Ship Captain?

A cruise ship captain is a hugely responsible role overseeing all crew departments involved in the overall operation of the vessel.

The captain is in charge of many aspects including navigation, safety, security, maintenance, crew, and passengers.

They need to have an in-depth knowledge of maritime law and be able to navigate using both modern technology and traditional methods.

The captain is responsible for maintaining the ship to a high standard and ensuring that all aspects of safety and equipment are in good working order.

It’s a role that can take years of maritime experience and training to achieve.

Responsibilities of a Cruise Captain

The captain of a cruise ship is responsible for the lives of everyone on board as well as the safe operation of the vessel.

The captain of a cruise ship is also responsible for the crew and will need to ensure that they are properly trained and aware of their roles and responsibilities and carry them out to the best of their ability.

Let’s look in more detail at each of the main roles of the captain of a cruise ship.

Navigation of the Cruise  Ship

The most obvious role of the cruise ship captain is to navigate the vessel to required destinations.

The captain will also be responsible for charting the course of the ship, taking into account weather conditions and other factors that could affect the safe passage of the vessel.

In addition to this, the captain will also need to determine the speed of the ship and make sure that it is within the safe limit to reach destinations at the correct time.

The captain will also be responsible for making sure that the ship stays within the safe waters and does not stray into dangerous areas, avoiding any hazards that could potentially damage the ship or put the lives of those on board at risk.

This will also include making the decisions of when to leave ports in the event of passengers not onboarding on time, and possibly leaving them behind.

Cruise Captain navigating ship from th e bridge

Safety of Passengers and Crew

It is also the responsibility of the captain to make sure that the ship is compliant with all maritime regulations.

The safety of the passengers and crew is the responsibility of the captain and in the event of an accident should be the last person to leave the ship, putting the safety of all passengers and crew before themselves.

Oversea Ship Maintenance and Operations

The cruise ship captain is in charge of overseeing the seaworthiness of the ship, ensuring correct maintenance and engineering operations of the vessel are upheld to the highest standards while at sea.

This includes making sure that all safety equipment is in good working order and that the crew is properly trained in its use.

The captain will also be responsible for inspecting or reviewing reports from heads of relevant departments of the ship on a regular basis to ensure that it is seaworthy and fit for purpose.

In addition to this, the captain will also be responsible for managing the ship’s paperwork and certificates.

Local and International Customs and Immigration Laws

The captain of a cruise ship is responsible for making sure that the ship complies with all local and international customs and immigration laws.

This includes making sure that all passengers have the correct documentation to travel to their destination and that they are adhering to the customs regulations of each country that the ship visits.

The captain will also need to make sure that the ship has the correct documents and certificates to dock at each port.

The captain may not deal with these issues first-hand, but it’s their responsibility to ensure the crew in the relevant departments are adhering to the rules and regulations as required.

Cruise Ship Security

The captain is responsible for making sure that the ship is secure at all times and that there are adequate security measures in place to protect the passengers and crew from any potential threats.

This includes ensuring that there are security personnel on board as well as CCTV systems and other security measures.

In addition to this, the captain will also need to make sure that the ship is compliant with the International Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS) an international maritime security measure that was introduced in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

There are many possible security issues a ship could encounter including piracy, stowaways, and terrorist threats.

It is the responsibility of the captain to make sure that the ship is prepared for any eventuality.

The captain of a cruise ship may also be responsible for dealing with unruly or even criminal activities and felons which may have to result in a passenger being imprisoned in the cruise ship jail or brig as they are otherwise known.

As well as possibly making decisions as to whether a passenger should be kicked off the ship.

Dealing with Emergencies

The captain of a cruise ship is responsible for dealing with any emergency situations that may arise during the voyage.

This includes anything from medical emergencies to fires on board the ship.

The captain would also oversee any incidents such as death on the cruise and the use of the onboard morgue.

In the event of an emergency, the captain will need to make sure that the correct procedures are followed and that the safety of all passengers and crew is paramount.

The captain may not deal with the emergency directly, but they will be responsible for coordinating the response and giving orders as necessary.

Managing the Crew

The captain of a cruise ship is responsible for managing the crew and making sure that they are adhering to the rules and regulations of the ship.

The cruise ship captain is the head of ship with a number of heads of departments and officers having to report or communicate issues to the ship captain.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Staff Captain
  • Safety Officer
  • Environmental Compliance Officer
  • 1st Navigation Officer
  • Chief Security Officer

The captain will also need to deal with any disciplinary issues that may arise amongst the crew.

Attend Onboard Social Events

The captain of a cruise ship is usually required to attend various social events that are held on board the ship.

This includes things like cocktail parties, dinners, and balls.

The captain may also be required to give speeches at these events.

While attending these social events is not strictly part of the job, it is considered to be good practice as it helps to foster good relations with the passengers.

Cruise Captain meeting guests at dinner

Marrying Couples

One of the more unusual duties of a cruise ship captain is to officiate at weddings that are held on board the ship.

This is often seen as a romantic gesture and many couples choose to get married on a cruise ship because of this.

However, it is important to note that not all captains are legally able to perform marriages.

Work Schedule On Call 24/7

Another factor to bear in mind is that the captain of a cruise ship is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This means they may be called upon at any time to deal with an emergency or problem.

While there are usually other officers who can take over in the event of an emergency, the captain is still responsible for the ship and its passengers.

Cruise captains tend to work in rotation, working 8 to 10 weeks on the ship followed by 8 to 10 weeks off-ship all covered by the salary.

How  to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

To become a cruise captain, you will need a master’s degree in maritime studies and 10 to 15 years of experience working in various positions on ocean vessels.

Captains will need to have passed the Federal Maritime Authority captain’s license exam once they have 10 years of experience.

Some of the skills that are required for this job include:

  • Top-level people skills
  • Strong leadership
  • Good communication

Captains also need to be able to maintain their composure and act decisively in an emergency.

Does a Cruise Captain Have to Go Down With the Ship?

In the event of a  disaster, it is the captain’s obligation and legal duty to be the last man off the ship.   The captain should stay on board for as long as possible ensuring that all passengers and crew are evacuated safely in the event of such an emergency.

One recent well-known case was that of the  Costa Concordia in 2013. In this instance, captain Francesco Schettino left the ship while passengers and crew members were still on board and ended up being one of the first to reach dry land.

He was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment, of which one year was attributed to his actions of abandoning passengers.

Thankfully these kinds of disasters are extremely rare events and the vast majority of cruise captains are worthy of their important and well-paid role on the ship.

How Many Captains are on a Cruise Ship?

There is only ever one captain at a time on a cruise ship. The captain usually takes the position for a set period of time, anywhere from 8 weeks to 12 weeks. Although it varies depending on the cruise line.

Often there will be two captains rotating work contracts on the ship. While one is on vacation, the other captain takes over.

Often a captain is on the ship for a few years at a time, usually with an eye to moving up to a bigger ship in the fleet should the opportunity arise.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Highest Paid Cruise Captain?

According to Payscale the highest pay for a ship captain is US$190,000 annual salary. In reality, this could be over $200,000 in some cases.

What is a Mega Cruise Ship Captain Salary?

We would expect captains of some of the world’s largest mega-cruise ships  to be paid the highest annual salaries in the range of $170,000 to $200,000. A Captain of a mega cruise ship will have many of years experience.

Cruise lines with mega cruise ships:

  • Royal Caribbean
  • Costa Cruises
  • P&O (their largest ship Iona)
  • AIDA
  • Carnival cruises
  • MSC Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Celebrity

Many of which have cruise ships with the capacity to carry over 5000 passengers.

How Much Does a Disney Cruise Captain Make a Year?

Disney cruise ships are captained by some of the most experienced and veteran captains in the business. It is not known exactly how much they earn, but we would expect them to be amongst the highest paid with an annual salary in excess of $150,000.

What is a Royal Caribbean Captain Salary?

A Royal Caribbean Cruise ship captain salary is not publicly known or shared, but we would expect the captain of one the world’s largest cruise ships to be one of the highest-paid with an annual salary possibly excess of $190,000 to $200,000 a year.

These would be captains of Royal Caribbean largest ships:

  • Wonder of the Seas
  • Symphony of the Seas
  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Allure of the Seas
  • Icon of the Seas

Captains of smaller ships in the fleet would be expected to earn less, but most probably above the average at a higher rate of 120,000 to $150,000+ annual salary

What is a Carnival Cruise Captain Salary?

A Carnival Cruise captain salary has not been publicly shared, as most individuals prefer to keep their salaries private.

With a fleet of at least 24 ships, the salaries would vary, depending on various factors, one of which being the size of the ship. Some of the larger Carnival Cruises ships are twice the size and have double the capacity of smaller ships in the fleet.

Can Women Be Cruise Captains?

Females can become cruise ship captains, although the numbers are very low. In fact, there are only a handful of female captains working for the major cruise companies.

The most notable is Captain Kate McCue of Celebrity Edge. She is the first American woman to be appointed captain of a mega cruise ship. 

What is Captain Kate McCue Salary?

Captain Kate McCue salary would be in the region of $150,000 to $190,000 a year. Celebrity Cruises are a premium cruise line with luxury modern cruise ships. As a captain of Celebrity Beyond, a luxury Edge class cruise ship it would be expected that Kate McCue would be one of the highest paid cruise ship captain.

As the most public well-known cruise ship captain, she no doubt earns extra from her large social media following.


The role of the cruise ship captain is a highly responsible and demanding one, with many different duties and responsibilities including the safety of the ship, its crew, and passengers.

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