How to Become a Ship Captain

9 minute read
Ship Captain

If you have been an admirer of sea stories and exploring the sea is something you have always wanted to do, then the maritime career is right for you. A number of job profiles are associated with the ships for which aspirants take up Maritime Engineering or an ETO course but the most fascinating job on the vessel is that of a captain. The captain is the person who is responsible for the navigation of the ship and keeps track of the maintenance of the ship by guiding the maintenance team for routine checks. He directs all the crew members and ensures that the procedures are followed. If your goal is to be the master of the ship, then this blog will unveil to you a stepwise guide on how to become a Ship Captain.

Check Out: Career in Marine Engineering

What does a Ship Captain do?

Since we can’t control the winds, the captain can surely direct the sails.  A ship captain is a skilled individual who is the chief of the vessel. They navigate routes, assign essential tasks, manage business functions, and command the staff. They make sure the ship is maintained with every part and machinery functioning smoothly. They also maintain a record of their journeys, coordinate with other ships at the port, and supervise the crew and passengers. The skipper is also responsible for the safety of his/her ship and its members. They must be on their feet during an attack by pirates or hijackers. The Seamaster must also be quick to assist with any physical injury or death of any member on their ship and keep the crew prepared for any unforeseen conditions. A ship captain must also be able to read and interpret weather reports and regulate their navigation. 

What is the workplace of a Ship Captain like?

The workplace of a ship captain can vary depending on the type of vessel they are in charge of, but in general, their work environment is the ship itself. As the leader of the crew, the captain is responsible for the safe operation of the vessel and ensuring that all operations are conducted in compliance with maritime regulations.

Onboard a ship, the captain’s quarters are typically located in the upper deck or bridge area, where they have access to navigation equipment, communication systems, and other critical components of the vessel’s operation. They may also have a private cabin for sleeping and relaxation.

The captain’s daily routine involves overseeing the navigation of the vessel, making decisions on the ship’s course and speed, and ensuring that all crew members are performing their duties safely and effectively. They communicate regularly with other members of the crew, as well as with port authorities, shipping companies, and other vessels in the area.

Additionally, the captain is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the ship, and they may oversee a team of engineers and technicians to ensure that the vessel is in good working condition. They also handle administrative tasks, such as keeping logs and records of the ship’s activities and managing the ship’s budget and supplies.

Overall, the workplace of a ship captain is challenging and demanding, requiring strong leadership, decision-making skills, and in-depth knowledge of maritime regulations and operations.

What are the requirements to become a Ship Captain?

To become a ship captain, there are several requirements that must be met. Firstly, one must obtain the necessary education and experience in the maritime industry. This typically involves completing a maritime academy program or obtaining a degree in maritime studies. Some countries may require a certain number of sea-time hours to qualify for a captaincy.

Secondly, a candidate must obtain the appropriate licenses and certifications. The specific licenses required vary depending on the type of vessel and the jurisdiction in which it operates. For example, in the United States, a captain must hold a valid Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), which includes a Master’s license for the appropriate tonnage and operating area.

In addition to education, experience, and licenses, a ship captain must possess strong leadership and communication skills. They must be able to make quick and sound decisions, handle emergencies and crises effectively, and manage a diverse crew. A captain must also have a thorough knowledge of maritime law, safety regulations, navigation, and ship operations.

Finally, a captain must maintain ongoing training and education to stay up-to-date with the latest regulations and industry best practices. This can include attending seminars and conferences, completing safety training courses, and participating in continuing education programs.

Overall, becoming a ship captain requires a combination of education, experience, licenses, and personal skills.

Educational Qualifications

To become a ship captain, the educational qualifications required can vary depending on the country, but generally, a combination of academic and practical training is required. Here are some common educational qualifications required to become a ship captain:

  1. High School Diploma: A high school diploma or equivalent is typically the minimum educational requirement to pursue a career in the maritime industry.
  2. Maritime Academy Program: Many countries have maritime academies that offer specialized training programs in navigation, ship operations, and maritime law. These programs typically last four years and result in a bachelor’s degree in maritime studies.
  3. Degree in Maritime Studies: Some universities offer degree programs in maritime studies, which provide a comprehensive education in the various aspects of the maritime industry, including navigation, logistics, and maritime law.
  4. Sea-time Experience: In addition to formal education, candidates must gain practical experience at sea to qualify for captaincy. This experience can be gained through working in various roles on board a ship, such as a deckhand, mate, or officer.
  5. Licenses and Certifications: To become a ship captain, one must obtain the appropriate licenses and certifications from regulatory bodies such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) or the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

 “It is not the ship so much as the skilful sailing that assures a prosperous voyage.” – George William Curtis


Apart from receiving responses like ‘Aye Aye Captain!’, a ship captain has various monetary benefits. Owing to the extraordinary responsibilities, accountability for any mishap on the ship, and unanticipated hours in the ocean, the shipmaster earns a solid amount including overtime and bonus. The average salary of a ship captain in India is INR 4,500,000/ year. The salary during the initial years of work is approximately INR 4 million with an increase after 6-7 years up to INR 5 million. 

Skills Required

Leading a ship across oceans, bays, lakes, etc requires a strong will and a set of skills that will lead the way smoothly. The following are a few skills that are crucial for the journey how to become a ship captain. 

  • Sound Judgement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Technical skills
  • Swimming skills
  • Physical competence
  • Effective Communication skills
  • Social perspective
  • Negotiation skills
  • Management
  • Persuasive skills
  • Good Coordination
  • Active listening
  • Good emotional control

Being a ship Captain means constant learning and gaining experience. As fascinating as the job looks, it is important that aspiring students are prepared to face unusual conditions in the sea. Keep building up on your education. There are various Maritime courses that offer professional courses that can keep you updated with your knowledge about new technological advancements.

Ship Captain: Choosing Education

The primary thing to become a Ship Captain is to choose the right education where the first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in Maritime Engineering. There are a number of universities and engineering schools that offer the best Marine Engineering courses. The course can take you 3-4 years to complete and will give you a strong footing in the field. Serving as the gateway to your dream job, the degree is the prerequisite to getting admission into a maritime training academy.

Top Marine Engineering Colleges in the World

The second thing after completing the academic qualification is to get into a maritime training academy. The academies are known for equipping students with the leading class skillset to carry the duties on the vessel. Being the easiest way to move up the ladder in marine jobs, the academies train students for the various job roles on the vessel and one of them is that of a Ship Captain. The academies offer full-fledged degree programs or diplomas comprehensively designed for the students to get hands-on training in the field. Admission into the academies may be a challenging task as they have a very strict selection procedure to screen out the best candidates for the job. A candidate is made to go through various subjective and medical tests. Qualifying all the stages of the entry exam guarantees admission into the academies. Some of the top maritime academies in the world are:

  • Tokyo University of Maritime Science and Technology.
  • Australian Maritime College
  • California Maritime Academy
  • Florida Institute of Technology
  • United States Naval Academy
  • Massachusetts Maritime Academy
  • Dalian Maritime University
  • Korea Maritime University
  • The Marine Society College of the Sea
  • International Maritime University of Panama

Also Read: Career in Naval Architecture 

Gaining Experience

Like any other technical field, gaining working experience is mandatory. The best way to get hands-on experience in the field is through internship programs. Internship plays a crucial role in the process of being a Ship Captain. If you are enrolled in a top maritime academy, then finding an internship won’t be a big deal as they have connections with the top vessels. The job of a Ship Captain is quite demanding as handling a ship with a bulk of goods or passengers on board is a great responsibility.

Obtaining Ship Captain Certification

Certification is important when it comes to working professionally as a Ship Captain. The certification depends on the country you want to work in. The process of the certification involves a range of tests such as physicals, vision tests, and drug screenings besides written and practical exams. For certification in the USA, you are required to pay a minimal fee of around $50 to $100. Certification acts as a license for you to be a recognized shipmaster. 

Work Environment

The work environment of a ship captain is extremely demanding in both physical and psychological ways. The main workplace is determined by the type of ship/boat like passenger, Naval, Cargo, Container, etc. and the roles may vary for each. The chief often spends weeks without any form of communication with the world due to the lack of a network in the open ocean. 33% of ships worldwide have no type of communication access with only 9% having internet access. The duration of stay on the ship depends on the length of the journey, the knots (speed) of the ship, and many unforeseen factors. The voyage could last for a day or for many weeks or months. 

Did You know? The term “knot” originates from the 17th century when sailors measured the speed of their ship by using a device called a “common log” which was attached to a rope. As the ship moved towards the log, the number of knots during the period of time would measure the speed of the ship.


What is the name of a ship’s captain?

The captain is the person in charge of a ship or boat. The “captain” is another term for the skipper, however skipper is far more entertaining to say. An informal way to refer to the captain of a ship or the person in charge of a boat is by the title “skipper.”

Do you mean ship captain or sea captain?

A sea captain, also known as a ship’s captain, captain, master, or shipmaster, is a highly qualified mariner with a licence who is in charge of a merchant ship at all times.

A ship’s captain is he a pilot?

A ship is steered by a captain and a pilot. The former is entrusted with navigating the boat through a perilous stretch and mainly operates in harbours or ports. On open waters, the latter retains control of it. They are in charge of overseeing the crew’s daily operations.

A career as a Ship Captain is an adventurous and demanding one. Controlling ship is a matter of pride and a task of great responsibility. If you are someone who is adventure-loving and have a great zeal for voyages, then the maritime career is right for you. To get a complete overview of the job profile and information on the best institutes to take your learning to a new level we are here to help you. On your journey to becoming a shipmaster, let Leverage Edu be your chief mate.

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  1. Dear Sir/Madam
    Hopefully this my email finds you previously well.
    I am a diploma holder in Civil engineering; and have shown my interest in Marine Engineering.
    How can I further my education in Marine Engineering field.

  2. The information provided here has helped me a lot.
    I do feel like knowing more about being a captain of a ship.
    Thank you.

    1. Hey Sanya,

      Yes. You can become a ship captain even if you wear eyeglasses. However, you must meet the vision requirements set. Apart from that you must fulfil additional eligibility requirements. For example, you must have necessary education, experience, and appropriate licenses and certifications. You must also demonstrate leadership and communication skills,knowledge of maritime law, safety regulations, navigation, and ship operations. For further information, consult the study abroad experts at Leverage Edu.

  1. Dear Sir/Madam
    Hopefully this my email finds you previously well.
    I am a diploma holder in Civil engineering; and have shown my interest in Marine Engineering.
    How can I further my education in Marine Engineering field.