The Real Salary of a Cruise Ship Captain

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captain of a cruise ship

As you can imagine, the captain is the most important person on a cruise ship.
He is in charge of the ship but has many other duties and responsibilities.

Because of the large number of things he does, his salary can be quite high. In this article, we will look at how much he gets per month and how the salary can change based on different cruise lines and locations.

Cruise Captain job

Cruise ship navigation

Nowadays, captains rely on a high number of sophisticated navigational tools, from GPS systems and radar to electronic charts that ensure the vessel’s precise positioning and course.
Even though the technological tools help navigate the ship, the captain’s judgment remains indispensable. The captain must interpret weather patterns, ocean currents, and other vessels’ movements to make real-time decisions that balance efficiency with safety.

Cruise ship navigation is an intricate job that always requires the presence of someone at the command deck, when the captain is busy with another task there’s always a First Officer or Second Officer in charge.

Safety and security of all passengers

Above all, a cruise captain is the guardian of lives. The safety and security of passengers and crew are a priority that must influence every decision.

This responsibility includes a wide range of activities: overseeing the maintenance of life-saving equipment, conducting regular safety drills, and implementing comprehensive security protocols against potential threats.

In case of emergencies, the captain’s leadership is crucial and they must be experts in managing crises or difficult situations.

Crew management

On some cruise ships, the crew can be quite big and can exceed 2000 people. The captain’s leadership style is crucial in cultivating an environment where diverse crew members from various backgrounds and cultures work harmoniously towards a common goal.

The captain in particular is responsible for the crew of the command bridge and the officers on the ship.

Attend social events

A unique aspect of a cruise captain’s role is their presence at social events, an opportunity to engage with passengers in a more relaxed setting.

As you may know, there are a few occasions when you can meet the captain during your cruise. For example the welcome aboard speech, the captain’s gala dinner, or the captain’s cocktail party. These events are often memorable and can add a personal touch to the adventure of cruising.

Factors that influence the Captain’s salary

There are also several key factors that contribute to the variability in captains’ earnings. They range from individual qualifications and experience to external variables such as the size of the ship and the company’s prestige.
Let’s see them in detail.


Experience stands as one of the most significant determinants of a captain’s salary. In the maritime world, every nautical mile enriches a captain’s expertise, making them more valuable. Seasoned captains can usually aspire to have higher salaries.
This experience is related to navigational proficiency, but also to the experience in crisis management and operational knowledge that can only occur over time.

Ship Size

The size of the ship is another of the main factors that influence a captain’s compensation. Larger ships usually require a captain with a higher level of navigational skill and technical knowledge.
Bigger cruise ships also entail greater responsibility in terms of safety, crew management, and passenger satisfaction. We have seen in the ranking of Carnival cruise ships by size how the modern ships can have more than 6.000 passengers on board. Consequently, the compensation reflects the increased complexity and demands of these floating cities.


The company employing the captain plays a crucial role in determining salary levels. Prestigious cruise lines, known for their expansive fleets and luxurious cruises, often offer higher compensation to attract and retain the most skilled captains.

These companies usually recognize that the captain’s expertise and leadership directly impact the passengers’ experience and safety- Furthermore, company-specific factors such as financial health and operational regions can all influence the salary for captains. Later in the article, we will look at specific salaries for some of the most famous cruise companies.


While practical experience at sea is invaluable, formal education also plays an important role in shaping a captain’s salary. Captains with advanced maritime degrees or certifications from recognized maritime academies or universities may have an edge in salary negotiations.

Usually, a degree is not necessary to become a cruise ship captain but it still is an industry where regulations and technologies are constantly evolving, so education ensures that captains remain at the forefront of maritime safety, navigation, and management practices.


Finally, the location where a captain is employed can significantly affect their salary. Factors such as the cost of living, local demand for maritime professionals, and the economic conditions of the region all play a role. For instance, captains working in regions with a high concentration of cruise operations or in countries with strong maritime industries may command higher salaries.

Down below we will look at the salaries for some specific regions such as the US, the UK, and Europe.

The Captain’s salary by company

cruise captain

As we said before, the salary of a cruise ship captain varies significantly based on several factors, including the cruise line they work for.

Captains working for major cruise lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and MSC are very well compensated.

In addition to a competitive salary, cruise ship captains often have several perks, including suite accommodations, free flights, paid holidays, and health plans.

Cruise captain salary for Carnival Corporation

Carnival Corporation is the biggest cruise operator in the market with over ninety vessels across nine cruise lines. As you can imagine, since they’re so big, their captain’s salary can vary a lot based on many factors.
To make an estimate we can say that the range for a captain’s salary is typically between $60,000 to $160,000 annually.

Cruise captain salary for Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean offers a competitive salary range for their captains as well, with figures generally falling between approximately $120,000 to $180,000 or more per year. This variation accounts for the diverse fleet and operational demands specific to Royal Caribbean’s global cruising operations.

Cruise captain salary for MSC

MSC Cruises is a cruise company that has grown a lot in recent years and their salary range is now competitive with other major cruise lines. According to our information, MSC’s Captains can make approximately $80,000 to $160,000. The range can vary significantly based on the size of the ship and the years of experience.

Captain salary based on location

Captain salary in the US

Among other factors, the salary of a cruise ship captain varies significantly based on their location. In the United States, the average salary for a cruise ship captain is approximately $94,000 per year, with variations depending on the city and state. Cities in California, such as San Jose and Santa Clara, offer the highest salaries, reaching an average of $120,000 per year​​​​.

Captain salary in the UK and Europe (Germany, Italy, France, Spain)

In Europe, captains can have a very good salary if their company operates in the richest European countries like the UK, Germany, Italy, France, and Spain.

According to Check a Salary, a cruise Captain in the UK has an average Salary of £108,000 with a max that can reach £140,000.
On the other hand, according to Salary Expert, the average for other European countries like Germany is €80,000 but with big swings based on the size of the ship and the experience of the captain.

Captain salary in India

In other parts of the world such as in Asia or South America, the salary of a captain is definitely lower.

For example, the salaries in India do not reach the levels seen in North America and Europe. The mean salary is more or less of INR 1,800,000 which is like 20,000 dollars.

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