Cargo Ship Captain Salary – How Much They Actually Earn and How You Also Can Get There

Being a captain is fun only when you are role-playing as a captain in a children’s game. When it comes to the real-life, a captain is bearing a massive responsibility on his shoulders. There is only one captain, and he is solely responsible for the ship, who is inside, what is inside, and all activities happening inside. Not just any captain, think about being a captain of a cargo ship with hundreds of containers of worthy goods! Then he is responsible for a safe voyage, keeping the ship afloat, sailing crew, loading/unloading of cargo, safe delivery of passengers. Seeing how much responsibility he holds; you might be wondering how much a cargo ship captain salary would be. Well, the most straightforward answer is it varies! Their pay depends upon the size of the vessel, the responsibility born by the captain, and the country/company they work for.

Large cargo ship sailing on a calm ocean, with a crew member standing on deck

You might be someone interested in being a cargo captain, Or you are looking this up out of general curiosity. Whatever the reason might be, we have all answers to the questions regarding ship captain salaries. We will also provide you with a guide on the nature of the job and how to become a cargo ship captain

How much does a cargo ship captain make?

Before moving on to the golden question, let us first clarify what a cargo ship is and who is a cargo ship captain. 

  • Cargo Ship – 

A freighter AKA “a cargo ship,” is a merchant ship that carries cargo/ goods and materials from one port to another. Hundreds of cargo carriers sail across the world’s oceans every day, handling the volume of international trade. Cargo ships are specially designed for this particular task and are usually equipped with cranes and other tools for loading and unloading. Today’s most cargo ships are built of welded steel and bear a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years.

  • Cargo ship captain – 

A cargo ship captain is a licensed mariner who bears the overall command and control of the navigation, cargo handling, maneuvering, communications, stowage, and safe handling of the ship.

Cargo ship captain salary per month 

As mentioned before, how much do cargo ship captains make depends on the experience, responsibility, and the country or the company they work for. 

However, if we take the United States as an example, the average salary of a cargo ship captain is around $72,340 per annum. Generally, wages start from $37,270 and go up to $153,700, depending on the variables mentioned above.

This is just a rough and vague figure. Therefore, now let us be a little specific about how a container ship captain salary varies according to the hierarchy of the captain. 

  • A Top-level ship captain’s salary begins typically at:

73.89 USD per hour


153,700 USD per annum

  • Senior-level ship captain’s salary begins typically at:

50.64 USD per hour


105,330 USD per year

  • Mid-level ship captain’s salary begins typically at:

34.78 USD per hour


72,340 USD per year

  • Junior-level ship captain’s salary begins typically at:

24.05 USD per hour


50,020 USD per year

  • Starting level ship captain’s salary begins typically at:

17.92 USD per hour


37,270 USD per year

Captain cargo ship salary also differs significantly according to the years of experience. 

  • In his early career, a cargo ship captain with 1-4 years of experience earned a total compensation (including bonus, tips, and overtime) of 77,419 USD. 
  • A mid-career cargo ship captain with 5-9 years of experience receives an average total compensation of 85,000 USD. 
  • A well-experienced cargo ship captain with 10-19 years of experience gets an average total compensation of 98,618 USD. 
  • In their late career, which is 20 years or more, a cargo captain earns an average total compensation of 99,630 USD.

International cargo ship captain salary differs from the country he is serving as well. Now let us look at a few famous countries from different parts of the world to get an overall idea of the ship captain salary. 

  • Cargo ship captain salary U.K.

In the United Kingdom, a cargo captain earns an average salary of £52,901 per annum and £25 per hour. The average salary range for a cargo Captain fluctuates between £37,349 and £65,549. 

  • Ship captain salary Philippines 2022

In the Philippines, a cargo captain earns an average salary of PHP 596,581 per annum and PHP 287 per hour. The average salary for a Philippine ship Captain ranges from PHP 424,824 to PHP 745,584. 

  • Cargo ship captain salary in India

In India, a cargo captain earns an average salary of INR 928,171 per annum and INR 446 per hour. The average salary scale ranges from INR 665,417 to INR 1,167,837 for an Indian ship captain. 

Shipping captain salary and the privileges can vary depending on the company a particular captain would work for. For example, let us take Maersk Line company. Maersk Line, AKA Maersk SeaLand, is an international container shipping company in Denmark. It is also the most prominent operating subsidiary of Group Maersk, which is a Danish business conglomerate. They pay an average of 9500–11000 USD per month for the captain, depending on his/her experience. Since it is a well-known company, the Maersk cargo ship captain salary scale would help you get an idea about the competitive captain salary rate in the market. 

Captain of cargo ship salary also fluctuates according to the type of license born by the captain. There are several licenses such as Six-pack, 25 Ton, 50 Ton, 100 Ton Captain’s License. The USCG 25/50/100 Ton Masters License lets the bearer perform the duties of a Charter Boat Captain and operate Inspected Passenger Vessels that carry seven or more passengers. One 100-ton vessel is about 65 feet or more in length, depending on its manufacture and commercial uses. 100-Ton license is well-recognized; hence, “How much do 100-Ton captains make?” is a frequently asked question. The national average salary of a 100 Ton Captain is approximately 74,939 USD per year in the U.S. 

How do you become a cargo ship captain?

Now that you know everything about a cargo captain’s salary, maybe you are interested in being one. But it is essential to ask what it takes to become a ship captain before wondering How much do you make working on a cargo ship?

Images of a cargo ship navigating the ocean, captured from different perspectives.

 It is not just one simple task to complete within a couple of months. To be a ship captain is a process and requires several steps to gain suitable education and experience applicable to the position. 

  • Institutes: –

If you are from the U.S., The U.S. Coast Guard controls the training and licensing for maritime. For someone from elsewhere in the world, the International Maritime Organization supports naval education and licensing. Every organization has several schools that have the approval to train candidates and prepare for the licensing exam. 

  • Qualifications: –

Qualifications for the licensing exam consist of having a four-year Bachelor of Science degree, with coursework in navigation, meteorology, and cargo management. If a candidate meets these qualifications and passes a licensing exam, he/she can find work as a deck officer or else a third mate on board a ship.

  • Career: –

The process of climbing up the ladder of ranks in the crew is strictly defined in terms of time served as a particular crew member. Once qualified as a third mate, one year of experience is required to become a second mate. After becoming a second mate, another year of service with 13 weeks of classes and passing multiple examinations will lead to graduation as a chief mate. Similarly, a chief mate must serve for one more year to qualify for the master of vessel licensing, which is crucial for becoming a ship captain.

  • Military Training: –

The military provides a second training that will eventually guide the candidate to become a ship captain. This training is often on-the-job for lower positions, like officers, quartermasters, or ship operators. This military training usually requires a period of committed service and possible combat duties after completing the training period.

  • Further licensing: –

U.S. Coast Guard requires military and academic trainees to pursue a maritime occupation to receive further licensing. The candidates must approve their Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and get the U.S. Department of Homeland Security certification. A Certification via International Maritime Organization will require similar security credentials from the intended country of occupation of the candidate. If a particular candidate seeks higher priority positions on a cargo ship, he/she must also get a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) to qualify for the job. However, it is not a requirement for an entry-level seaman.

  • Work Experience and other licenses: –

Finally, apart from the essential educational experience and licenses, becoming a ship captain requires work experience and specific other licenses. A potential candidate must have a license to operate the particular size and type of boat they expect to supervise. Completion of licensing in basic first aid and CPR training also is a must. Depending on the candidate, they must also have logged a specific number of hours on a ship. They need to pass vision, physical, and drug screenings too.

How long does it take to become a cargo ship captain?” 

So, if you wonder, ” how long does it take to become a captain?” it will typically take around ten years!

So, if you wish to become a ship captain one day, we advise you to start as soon as possible. However, make sure it is what you actually want to be, then do your research, follow the right path with passion; how long it takes would not matter. Eventuallyyou will get there and be living your dream life as a cargo captain! Good luck!!

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