How to Become a Ship Captain

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Transporting passengers and cargo across bodies of water is an essential and effective way of transportation. All water vessels must have a trained professional that command and oversee the overall operation. This is the job of ship captains.


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What does a ship captain do?

Ship captains are responsible for the overall control and operation of ships and other large water vessels. They oversee all of the crew, supervise the loading and unloading of passengers and cargo, make sure the correct safety precautions and other procedures are followed, and check equipment and machinery to make sure they are working properly. They also determine the speed and course of the vessel and maneuver it to avoid obstacles. They constantly monitor the position of the vessel with navigational aides and charts. Ship captains also maintain records that document the movements and speed of the ship, weather conditions, the passengers and cargo carried, and pollution controlling efforts.

What kind of training does a ship captain need?

Ship captains must have at least a high diploma, but many have associate, bachelor, or master degrees in marine science, marine engineering, or other related field. Formal training programs usually combine classroom instruction, simulations, and practical experience. Students typically complete courses in navigation, ship safety, maritime laws, logistics, and management. Some ship captains start their career as a deckhand or officer and move into captain positions as they gain skills and experience. Ship captains typically need a license and some employers require the United States Coast Guard captain’s license. Licensing requirements typically include minimum experience and passing a written examination.

What are the prospects for a career as a ship captain?

Employment of ship captains is expected to grow faster than average for all professions, increasing 17% from 2006 to 2016 (1). Increasing water transportation and growth in offshore oil and gas production will drive job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be good and there will be many job openings from the need to replace ship captains that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons. Ship captains with advanced training and extensive experience will have the best job opportunities.

How much do ship captains make?

As of November 2009, ship captains with 1 to 4 years experience earn average annual salaries between $54,000 and $105,000. Those with 5 to 9 years experience earn average annual salaries between $57,500 and $121,188 (2).

A career as a ship captain is a great choice for individuals with a strong interest in operating ships and other large water vessels. Ship captains must have a thorough knowledge of the maritime laws and regulations and be able to direct and lead others. Good physical health, problem-solving skills and administration skills are necessary characteristics. They must have excellent communication, be able to adapt to constantly changing conditions, and be able to make quick decisions in emergency situations.

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