How to Become a Boat Captain

Search Programs

Get information on programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

Sponsored Search
Boat Captain Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $95,220
Avg. Pay / hour $45.78
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 2%

A Boat Captain is also referred to as a merchant mariner and is responsible for commandeering and supervising civilian owned water vessels.

This includes supervising the crew and commandeering a boat to its final destination.

Search Programs

Get information on programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

Sponsored Search

Education Requirements to Become a Boat Captain

Individuals who want to become a Boat Captain will need a combination of experience, education and credentials to enter this profession.

Although not a specific requirement, individuals can opt to begin their career as a Boat Captain during their teens by attending a specialized maritime high school.

There are only 19 of these maritime high schools across the country, meaning the majority of individuals need to gain their education by attending a postsecondary school.

Individuals who want to become a Boat Captain can do so by attending a postsecondary school focused on maritime.

There are a handful of maritime academies that individuals can attend to earn a degree in marine transportation or maritime operations.

For a list of schools, visit the U.S.

Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration’s website at MARAD.

During a typical postsecondary program, individuals who want to become a Boat Captain will work towards a bachelor’s degree, earn a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC) as well as an endorsement as a third assistant engineer or as a third mate.

Typical degrees to become a Boat Captain include: marine engineering, marine transportation, maritime operations and intermodal transportation.

After completing a bachelor’s degree, individuals can apply for entry level positions such as a deck officer or third mate in order to gain experience in the field.

Individuals may also become a Boat Captain through years of experience in the industry.

Individuals pursuing this route may apply for an entry level position, such as a deckhand to gain experience in the water transportation field and work their way up to Boat Captain.

In addition, Boat Captains must also seek a credential from the Transportation Security Administration called Transportation Worker Identification Credential.

You may visit their website at TWIC.

Boat Captain Job Description

Boat Captains are responsible for the entire control and command of a boat or vessel.

They are in charge of managing the crew and assuring the proper protocol is followed to get to the assigned location.

In addition, they are also accountable for the safety of all individuals on a boat including all passengers, cargo and the crew.

Boat captains will observe and manage crew members such as other officers, deckhands, mates and pilots; this includes assuring crew members are following safety protocols.

Coat Captains will also prepare budgets that cover maintenance and repairs, supervise the boarding and unloading of passengers and cargo, track the movements a ship or boat makes and logging and recording the information.

Boat Captains will also perform customer service related activities by interacting with passengers.

Boat Captain Salary and Career Path

According to figures from 2012, professionals serving in Water Transportation occupations can expect to earn an annual median wage of approximately $48,980; however, because Boat Captains have additional duties, the income rises to a median wage of approximately $66,150 per year.

Exact wages will depend on the industry an individual chooses to work in.

The top five hiring industries for this profession include: government agencies, tourism industry and water transportation companies.

The job outlook for water transportation occupations as a whole is expected to grow by 13 percent through 2022.

The job outlook for boat captains, mates and pilots has a slightly faster growth at 14 percent through the same year.

The most favorable growth will affect water transportation occupations and is caused by the state of the economy and its recovery.

Individuals who are interested in maritime or water transportation may be a perfect fit for Boat Captain.

There are a variety of ways individuals can enter this field including starting at entry level such as a deckhand and working their way up, or attending a specialized maritime high school or postsecondary school.

No matter which direction an individual chooses, they can be assured that they will enjoy their career managing boats traveling by water.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Indiana- NA -
New Jersey$100,900
New York$96,100
North Carolina$60,170
Rhode Island$71,470
South Carolina$70,000
Tennessee- NA -
West Virginia$87,270
Puerto Rico$35,420
Virgin Islands$56,890

The top earning state in the field is Louisiana, where the average salary is $119,620.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Louisiana - $119,620
Mississippi - $111,800
Illinois - $105,980
Texas - $104,000
California - $103,910
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water Vessels, OCC Code 53-5021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a boat captain do?

Boat captains set the course and speed of the boat, supervise and direct crew members and keep records about the vessel.

As a boat captain, you are responsible for the vessel and the voyage.

Boat captains spend most of their time on the water, traveling between different places.

They need a variety of technical skills but also leadership abilities and communication skills.

Like all mariners, boat captains also need physical strength, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and visual ability.

How much does a boat captain make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels was $60,180 as of May 2018.

Salaries in this field vary based on a wide range of factors and a boat captain can make anywhere between less than $35,000 and more than $140,000 a year.

How much does it cost to become a boat captain?

Education requirements depend on the type of vessel you want to operate.

Boat captains need post-secondary education in the field and some of them hold a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in marine operations, marine transportation or a related field.

Tuition costs vary depending on the school you choose and the program itself.

For example costs for one year at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy sum up to approximately $8,000 for in-state students and around $25,000 for out-of-state students.

You can also learn the skills needed to do this job by attending one of the 19 maritime high schools that are available across the country.

What is the demand for boat captains?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels is expected to drop 2 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Employment in this field is highly influenced by fluctuation in demand for commodities.

Job opportunities also vary region by region.

How long does it take to become a boat captain?

Educational requirements vary depending on the type of vessel you want to operate.

If you want to become a boat captain you should start your training by earning a bachelor’s of science in marine transportation.

These programs can usually be completed in 4-5 years and give students the chance to get hands-on training through simulations and internships before graduation.

Admission requirements include holding a high school diploma or GED.

Graduate programs are also found at universities and maritime trade schools; there are master’s degree programs that focus on homeland security, finances, transportation management, economics or transportation planning- you can choose the one that best fits your career ambitions.

All crew members who work on vessels of a certain size or class are required to be a Certified U.S. Merchant Mariner- this credential is offered by The National Maritime Center of the U.S. Coast Guard.

To become certified you will need to submit records of physical exams and drug tests and you must have relevant experience at sea and academic training the field.

Before becoming a boat captain you will typically need a few years of experience as each step of the occupation ladder can typically be completed in around 1 year.

For example, it will take at least 3 years for third mates to become captains.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *