How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain

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How to Become a Cruise Ship Captain. A cruise ship captain is the master of his vessel, and lives his life on a luxury cruise liner with high pay and many benefits. He has complete authority over every aspect of life on a cruise liner, including all rules, regulations, people and activities. Because there are so many responsibilities, becoming a cruise ship captain requires education, experience, licensures and certifications.

Study hard and get good grades in high school. Most students at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy are in the top fifth of their graduating class in high school. You'll need to take as many courses as you can in math, science, English and computers.

Apply to, attend and graduate from one of the seven colleges that offer a degree-granting maritime program. The most popular is the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, but several state universities offer programs well. See "Resources" below for links to these programs.

Earn your certification for Basic Safety Training (BST).

Sit for and pass the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers Exam to get your STCW-95 license.

Get a job as a third mate officer on a cruise ship.

Work your way up the job ladder, promoting through second mate officer, first mate officer, staff captain or chief mate, and finally master captain of a cruise ship. Make sure you keep your licenses and certificates up to date as you progress through your career.


Be prepared to pass driving register, criminal background, credit, drug screening, medical, and physical fitness checks in addition to the other license and certifications.


Becoming a cruise ship captain requires extensive amounts of time at sea. You may miss important holidays, milestones and family events.


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