Ship's captains work for companies that have cruise lines, ferries, sightseeing boats, fishing boats, tugboats, and freighters. There are 15,840 ship and boat captains and operators employed in the United States, according to the Department of Labor. About 21 percent of all water transportation workers are employed in inland transportation; 19 percent work in deep sea, coastal, and Great Lakes water transportation; and the remainder are employed in scenic and sightseeing water transportation, in government agencies, or in support activities for water transportation.
Many ship's captains receive training through maritime academies and by starting out as deckhands on ships. They must meet specific requirements, including a certain amount of sea time, to receive a license to work in the United States. Each state issues ship captain licenses and the requirements vary by state. Many states will also allow ship captains to work in the state if they have captain's or ship master's licensing from the U.S. Coast Guard. This is a small, highly competitive field. Those with maritime education, appropriate certification and licensing, and experience in the field improve their job prospects.
Deckhands with years of experience advance to higher levels, from third mate to chief's mate. They become a ship's captain after meeting work requirements and passing the licensing exam. Once in the job, ship's captains may advance by changing to different types of ships. If they work for a small, scenic water transportation company, they may explore working for larger ships. Those who work in inland transportation may decide to work for ships that travel overseas. They may advance by securing different licenses to operate large vessels with large passenger and cargo capacities. They may also start their own companies, such as a fishing boat or sightseeing boat company.
Tips for Entry
If you live near a port, get a part-time job on a sightseeing boat, fishing boat, or any other type of boat where a crew is employed. This will help you learn if the boat life is for you.
Visit the Web sites of maritime colleges and academies to learn more about educational requirements for various careers in water transportation.
Visit the Web sites of trade associations such as the Passenger Vessel Association, among others, to learn more the news and events in the industry.