Cruise Ship Captain Qualifications

Updated February 21, 2017

In the maritime industry, cruise ship captain is a highly sought-after job. The first steps to becoming a captain are fairly straightforward -- get the proper education and credentials. Because competition is fierce for the few positions available, odds are that you will have to put in a fair number of years working on a cruise ship in a different capacity. This gives you the time to prove that you have the right stuff to take control of a very expensive vessel hauling hundreds or sometimes more than a thousand passengers.


In days gone by, it may have been possible for a deckhand without any formal education to work his way up the chain of command and eventually command a vessel. A modern cruise ship, however, is a complicated technological feat of engineering, and a bachelor's degree in a math- or science-related field from a marine university -- marine engineering, for example -- is the very basic requirement if you hope to become a captain in the cruise industry. A master's degree would be even better.


Candidates must achieve two industrywide qualifications to be considered for a ship captain position -- a Transportation Worker Identification Credential and a Merchant Mariner Credential. Consider these to be your carrying cards for the type of work you seek, much like an airline pilot must have certain certificates and flight ratings before he can helm a passenger jet airliner.


After graduating with a marine-related degree, a prospective cruise ship captain will likely go to work as the low officer on the cruise ship totem pole, typically called the third mate. From there, if his performance is exemplary, he may be able to work himself up through the hierarchy to eventually gain a command of his own. However, far fewer jobs exist than the number of qualified candidates who would love to fill them.


Perhaps the most important qualification for a ship captain is the most difficult to quantify. Some people are natural mariners and have a sixth sense about how to read and recognise the behaviour of the sea and their ship. Keep in mind that a cruise ship captain is responsible for the safety of passengers, crew and a vessel worth millions of dollars. One of the oldest laws of the sea is that a captain is the last person off the ship in the event it sinks -- and must go down with it if there is even a single other soul on board who has not been rescued. That is a sobering responsibility and requires a recognition of that weighty burden.

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About the Author

Derek Dowell has ghostwritten dozens of projects and thousands of blogs in the real estate, Internet marketing and travel industry, as well as completed the novel "Chrome Sombrero." He holds a Bachelor of Science in environmental legal studies from Missouri State University.