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Career profile Ship Captain

Also known as Boat Captain, Boat Operator, Captain, Ferry Boat Captain, First Mate, Ship Captain, Ship Pilot, Tugboat Captain, Tugboat Mate, Vessel Master

Ship Captain

Also known as Boat Captain, Boat Operator, Captain

Interests Profile
  • Realistic
  • Enterprising
  • Conventional
Pay Range
$36,810 - $153,070 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Operation and Control
  • Operations Monitoring
  • Active Listening
Knowledge Areas
  • Transportation
  • Public Safety and Security
  • Law and Government
Core tasks
  • Conduct safety drills such as man overboard or fire drills.
  • Direct courses and speeds of ships, based on specialized knowledge of local winds, weather, water depths, tides, currents, and hazards.
  • Prevent ships under navigational control from engaging in unsafe operations.
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What does a Ship Captain do?

Ship Captains command or supervise operations of ships and water vessels, such as tugboats and ferryboats.

In addition, Ship Captains

  • required to hold license issued by U,
  • s,
  • coast Guard.

What kind of tasks does a Ship Captain perform regularly?

Ship Captains are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Direct courses and speeds of ships, based on specialized knowledge of local winds, weather, water depths, tides, currents, and hazards.
  • Prevent ships under navigational control from engaging in unsafe operations.
  • Serve as a vessel's docking master upon arrival at a port or at a berth.
  • Consult maps, charts, weather reports, or navigation equipment to determine and direct ship movements.
  • Steer and operate vessels, using radios, depth finders, radars, lights, buoys, or lighthouses.
  • Dock or undock vessels, sometimes maneuvering through narrow spaces, such as locks.
  • Operate ship-to-shore radios to exchange information needed for ship operations.
  • Stand watches on vessels during specified periods while vessels are under way.
  • Inspect vessels to ensure efficient and safe operation of vessels and equipment and conformance to regulations.
  • Read gauges to verify sufficient levels of hydraulic fluid, air pressure, or oxygen.
  • Report to appropriate authorities any violations of federal or state pilotage laws.
  • Provide assistance in maritime rescue operations.
  • Measure depths of water, using depth-measuring equipment.
  • Signal passing vessels, using whistles, flashing lights, flags, or radios.
  • Signal crew members or deckhands to rig tow lines, open or close gates or ramps, or pull guard chains across entries.
  • Maintain boats or equipment on board, such as engines, winches, navigational systems, fire extinguishers, or life preservers.
  • Advise ships' masters on harbor rules and customs procedures.
  • Maintain records of daily activities, personnel reports, ship positions and movements, ports of call, weather and sea conditions, pollution control efforts, or cargo or passenger status.
  • Observe loading or unloading of cargo or equipment to ensure that handling and storage are performed according to specifications.
  • Calculate sightings of land, using electronic sounding devices and following contour lines on charts.
  • Learn to operate new technology systems and procedures through instruction, simulators, or models.
  • Direct or coordinate crew members or workers performing activities such as loading or unloading cargo, steering vessels, operating engines, or operating, maintaining, or repairing ship equipment.
  • Arrange for ships to be fueled, restocked with supplies, or repaired.
  • Purchase supplies or equipment.
  • Supervise crews in cleaning or maintaining decks, superstructures, or bridges.

The above responsibilities are specific to Ship Captains. More generally, Ship Captains are involved in several broader types of activities:

Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials
Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
Making Decisions and Solving Problems
Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.

What is a Ship Captain salary?

The median salary for a Ship Captain is $77,130, and the average salary is $89,740. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Ship Captain salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Ship Captains earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Ship Captains earn less than $36,810 per year, 25% earn less than $51,770, 75% earn less than $108,310, and 90% earn less than $153,070.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Ship Captains is expected to change by 13.4%, and there should be roughly 3,600 open positions for Ship Captains every year.

Median annual salary
Typical salary range
$36,810 - $153,070
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)

What personality traits are common among Ship Captains?


Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as a Ship Captain are usually higher in their Realistic, Enterprising, and Conventional interests.

Ship Captains typically have very strong Realistic interests. Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.

Also, Ship Captains typically have very strong Enterprising interests. Enterprising occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. These occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.

Lastly, Ship Captains typically have moderate Conventional interests. Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.


People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as a Ship Captain tend to value Independence, Support, and Relationships.

Most importantly, Ship Captains very strongly value Independence. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions.

Second, Ship Captains moderately value Support. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees.

Lastly, Ship Captains moderately value Relationships. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Ship Captains must consistently demonstrate qualities such as dependability, leadership, and self-control.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Ship Captains, ranked by importance:

Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.
Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
Stress Tolerance
Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
Attention to Detail
Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.

What education and training do Ship Captains need?

Ship Captains often have training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree.

Ship Captains usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Ship Captains

  • 10.1% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 32.8% completed high school or secondary school
  • 29.0% completed some college coursework
  • 6.5% earned a Associate's degree
  • 15.9% earned a Bachelor's degree
  • 4.6% earned a Master's degree
  • 1.1% earned a doctorate or professional degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Ship Captains

Ship Captains may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as transportation, public safety and security, or law and government knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Ship Captains might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.
Public Safety and Security
Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
Law and Government
Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.
Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
Knowledge of principles and methods for describing the features of land, sea, and air masses, including their physical characteristics, locations, interrelationships, and distribution of plant, animal, and human life.

Important Abilities needed by Ship Captains

Ship Captains must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Ship Captains need abilities such as oral comprehension, far vision, and oral expression in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Ship Captains, ranked by their relative importance.

Oral Comprehension
The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
Far Vision
The ability to see details at a distance.
Oral Expression
The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
Problem Sensitivity
The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
Control Precision
The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.

Critical Skills needed by Ship Captains

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Ship Captains frequently use skills like operation and control, operations monitoring, and active listening to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Ship Captains, ranked by their relative importance.

Operation and Control
Controlling operations of equipment or systems.
Operations Monitoring
Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
Critical Thinking
Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
Talking to others to convey information effectively.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.