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The Salary of a Sea Captain

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In most cases, “sea captain” is not a title earned overnight. The few mariners that last long enough in the field and show superior skills can one day hope to become sea captains of the gargantuan cargo vessels, oil liners and cruise ships that traverse the world's oceans, commanding hefty salaries. Some seaman are lesser captains of their own ships, commonly running smaller fishing vessels and tugboats with the title of captain by merit of owning the ship.


The captain of a seagoing vessel and other officers have the primary role of determining the vessel's course, as well as its speed and other maneuvers such as docking. The ship's captain also has a lead role in navigational affairs, such as the use of instruments and charts to correlate the ship's position with either astronomical, geomagnetic or GPS indicators. The officers under the orders of the captain are responsible for communicating with other sea vessels and port authorities throughout their travels via radio communication systems. Ship captains are also responsible for cargo inspections to ensure that the cargo is safely stowed for ocean travel; however, in larger ships, this task may be delegated to a lieutenant.

Educational Requirements

One of the first and foremost prerequisites to becoming a sea captain is a fit physical body with keen eyesight and color recognition abilities. Having a high level of mental fortitude to withstand the long periods of time at sea is also a critical asset. Becoming a sea captain often requires a long career, starting at the bottom as a lower class mariner and passing a series of advancement examinations. The captain of a ship will need to have a solid background in the engineering behind the systems that make his ship run, and therefore may benefit from mechanical engineering schooling in addition to work experience. Having a high level of charisma and even formalized leadership training can also be helpful in earning a place as a sea captain in a larger organization. Sea captains looking for work in the U.S. must obtain an merchant mariner credential document from the U.S. Coast Guard, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which functions as a combined license and security background check, integrating older forms of documentation for American mariners.

Entry-Level and Best in Field Earnings as a Mariner

Very few start their careers in the captain's chair; however, those that do will find themselves with an average wage starting the lowest possible margin -- lowest wage of the middle 10 percent of reported earners -- of $29,000 annually as of May 2008. The best paid 10 percent of sea captains earned an average of nearly $103,000 annually. These higher wages are of course reserved for sea captains commanding larger and therefore more profitable vessels. The low-end earnings of a mariner or sailor just joining the field are reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as $21,000 annually representing the lowest earning ten percent, rising to just short of $52,000 annually for the most experienced sailors.

Average Salaries for Sea Captains and Mariners

The average sea captain, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earned between $42,810 and $83,590 in annual wages as of May 2008, with the wide discrepancy being due to the shift in earnings between captains of large vessels and those who captain smaller vessels such as tug boats. Amongst typical mariners and sailors, the average annual wage was $34,390 in May 2008.


Daniel R. Mueller is a Canadian who has been writing professionally since 2003. Mueller's writing draws on his extensive experience in the private security field. He also has a professional background in the information-technology industry as a support technician. Much of Mueller's writing has focused on the subjects of business and economics.