How to Become a Ship's Captain (With a Step-by-Step Guide)
Updated 25 April 2023
Being a ship's captain is a profession that offers ample opportunity for travel. If you're passionate about leading and travelling and have an interest in maritime skills, a career as a ship's captain may be a fulfilling role for you. Ship captains require a specific skill set that's essential for performing their daily duties efficiently, and learning more about the requirements and career steps can help you decide if this is a career you want to pursue.
In this article, we discuss what a ship's captain is, describe how to become a ship's captain and explain the daily required duties alongside the job's average salary income.
What is a ship's captain?
A ship's captain is the individual in charge of leading a vessel across the sea and navigating it safely towards its intended destination. When learning how to become a ship's captain, it's important that you understand the different purposes of ships, as this may affect how you command them as the captain. Typically, most ships transport cargo or tourists to a set destination. This requires captains to prioritise the speed of the ship along with the safety and enjoyment of the passengers.
On a fishing boat, a captain is likely to have different priorities pertaining to finding animal products. Fishing vessel captains use their maritime knowledge to locate hotspots for fish or other sea creatures so they can harvest and sell them in large quantities. All captains of a ship, whether a cruise, cargo or fishing vessel, are ultimately responsible for everyone on board the ship. This includes passengers, crew and ship officers.
How to become a ship's captain
If the role sounds interesting to you, you may want to know how to become a ship's captain. A captain needs a wide range of relevant qualifications and years of professional experience to be in position to ensure that everyone on the ship is safe and that the vessel itself has adequate seaworthiness. The seven-step guide detailed below can help you earn these skills and qualifications to begin your successful career as a ship's captain:
1. Complete your secondary school studies
Some form of higher education is necessary if you want to become a ship's captain, which often requires you to complete your secondary school education first. If you're currently a secondary school student, think about taking classes that are directly relevant to the role of captain. Classes, such as science and mathematics, can help to build up your skills in the field and offer an introduction to marine science and engineering. Your success in these classes may also increase your chances of being accepted to universities that offer marine-related degrees.
2. Obtain a bachelor degree in a relevant course
Most positions as a ship captain require a bachelor degree. After finishing secondary school or an equivalent form of education, look for universities that specialise in maritime qualifications and credentials. Courses relevant science and marine biology, though a similar bachelor of science degree may also suffice. These courses typically take around three to four years to complete.
Universities located near the coast may be able to offer you some practical experience on ships, so look for opportunities for professional development when choosing which universities to apply to. This may also depend on your degree course and the modules you choose, so this may be something to ask during your university open days.
3. Take part in extra training
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
While you're studying at university, there may be opportunities for further training in the field. It can be beneficial to note any certifications or extra training qualifications that current employers are looking for, even if you're not searching for a job at the moment. This can provide you with a better understanding of what employers are searching for and enable you to partake in extra training for the best chances of obtaining an entry-level position.
Certification requirements can also change depending on location and time, so checking regularly can help you get the most up-to-date information. You may also want to consider taking any necessary coursework, modules or certifications in the desirable skills to help you gain an advantage in the application process. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority also outlines a range of registered training organisations, including certificates of competency, that you can take to show employers you're a skilled seafarer.
4. Gain professional experience
Captains of ships typically have many years of experience in other roles before they assume the leadership position of captain. This helps them to build up their practical knowledge around the ship and understand how each crew member contributes to the smooth functioning of the ship when it sets sail. The best way to gain professional experience is by finding internships or volunteer positions while you're still at secondary school or university.
If you're in secondary school, your local community may have sailing clubs you can join to learn some hands-on experience. For university students, look for any extracurricular opportunities for boating. Alternatively, you may search for part-time job roles assisting a ship's captain as a crew member. Making the most of these opportunities can help to build your resume while widening your industry network.
5. Consider a postgraduate course
Obtaining a master's degree at a university in a course related to marine engineering and transport can be beneficial for understanding the skills involved in the job and enhancing your resume. Consider attending a military or maritime organisation to gain training specific to working as a ship's captain. These courses can train you extensively in the industry, showing prospective employers that you have advanced knowledge. Graduate degrees aren't always necessary for each job position in this industry, but if your desired position is competitive, these extra credentials can give you an advantage.
6. Research available job roles
After gaining the right level of experience, you can explore openings for the role of ship's captain to gauge the job requirements and whether you require any additional credentials or certifications to qualify for the available positions. As it's likely that you will spend a significant amount of time travelling at sea, it's also a good time to think about how flexible you can be about the job's base location and to research how long you are expected to be at sea. It's also important to research salaries for ship's captains as these can vary, depending on the particular job, vessel and so on. During your salary research, you may also want to consider other factors, such as the cost of living in different areas when you're not at sea because travelling can also affect your salary.
Once you've researched job posts, you may also personalise and update your resume and cover letter according to each job position.
7. Apply for full-time jobs
At this stage, you may feel confident enough to finalise your resume and cover letters to apply for full-time positions as a ship's captain. Using your prepared research, you can easily showcase your specific qualifications, professional experience, and developed skill set for each suitable role.
Tailor the information you include in your application to the specific requirements of each role to ensure you meet the employer's standards. Be sure to use keywords from the listing itself, as some application processes use software that screens resumes for relevance before they reach a hiring manager. Using keywords can help you significantly increase your chances of finding employment as a ship captain in a short amount of time.
What are the responsibilities of a ship's captain?
The daily responsibilities of a ship's captain depend on a variety of factors, such as the type of ship they manage, the amount of crew on board and the intended route of travel for the ship. There are usually general tasks and duties that all captains of ships have in common, regardless of these differences. These may include the following responsibilities:
setting the travel course of the ship
updating the vessel's position on computer maps
assisting with docking and releasing the ship
navigating the ship
assisting with the safe loading and unloading of any cargo or passengers
overseeing the safety and well-being of crew and passengers
logging the ship's speed
logging any repairs or damages to the ship's exterior or internal structure
checking the weather and sea updates
communicating with crew members to ensure the optimal functioning of the ship
communicating with docking stations and other shore-side personnel
supervising the operation and maintenance of any deck machinery.
How much does a ship's captain make?
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
The average national salary of a ship's captain is $119,427 per year. A ship captain's salary is likely to vary depending on the location in which your employment is based, your specific job duties and skill set and your level of experience.
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