Ship's Captains


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Ship's captains must have good communication and organizational skills, in addition to solid maritime knowledge. While in high school, take classes in English, business, math, science, computers, and, if offered, marine science.

Postsecondary Education

Most ship's captains have an associate's or bachelor's degree. Many receive their degrees from maritime colleges or academies. Undergraduate programs include marine transportation, maritime operations and technology, marine engineering, and logistics and intermodal transportation. Other areas that are typically covered are meteorology, electronic navigation, ship construction, and maritime law. Courses in communications, English, business management, computers, and math are also helpful for this type of work.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Most ship officers and engineers have the Merchant Marine Credential, which is an endorsement certification issued by the U.S. Coast Guard upon passing a written exam. Captains and mariners who operate ships with U.S. flags must have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential from the Transportation Security Administration. They must pass a drug screening and take a class on shipboard safety. Ship captains and mariners who operate vessels on open oceans must have the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping endorsement from the U.S. Coast Guard. All of these credentials must be renewed every five years.

Ship's captains who also pilot the boats must have a license issued by the state in which they work and licensing requirements vary by state. The U.S. Coast Guard issues licenses for those who work on the Great Lakes.

Other Requirements

Ship's captains can expect to be required to pass a drug screening test as well as a physical to ensure they are healthy and have good vision and hearing. They must also pass training shipboard safety. Some employers may require background checks.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Ship's captains have years of experience on the job. Some get their start in entry-level positions as deckhands and work their way up through the ranks by advancing to jobs with increasingly more responsibility. Ship's captains must have strong leadership, management, and communication skills to effectively manage staff and interact with passengers and customers. Knowledge of navigation, logistics, and maritime safety and laws is required. They must also be problem-solvers and quick thinkers, particularly when faced with emergency situations while operating the ships. The job requires multitasking abilities coupled with interpersonal skills.