How Much Do Yacht Captains Make? (Salary Including Tips)

In Boating by Shelby Sullivan

Do you love boating? The wind and the water? The smell of sunscreen and sea salt? The feel of a powerful machine beneath your hands?

If boating is your passion, you might be wondering how you can do it for a living. Well, you might be in luck.

How Much Do A Yacht Captain Make?
The captain of a yacht typically makes between $60,000 and $150,000, depending on the size of the yacht and his/her experience. On top of that, charter yacht captains will typically earn 10-15% of the price of the charter from tipping.

Here’s everything you need to know about how much a yacht captain makes.

How Much Money Do Yacht Captains Make?

One of the major determining factors of salary for yacht captains is the type of license you possess, the type of yacht you work on, and your level of experience.

Yacht captains often get paid a base salary. It will typically be in the size of $60,000 to $150,000.

In addition to a base salary, they can also get:

  • Bonuses
  • health insurance
  • flight expenses
  • paid vacation
  • training reimbursement
  • tips
  • uniforms

If your position requires you reside on the vessel you are also likely to be supplied with food and sundries.

Tips are often earned on yachts that are available to be chartered.

Tip
Here’s our guide to how much you should expect to earn from tipping as a crew member on a yacht.

Different Ranges of Salaries for Yacht Captains

  • If you are a captain that is operating boats that range from 60 to 100 feet, the salary range would be between $48,000 and $100,000 per year.
  • A captain who operates vessels between 100 and 130 feet, can earn a salary between $90,000 and $140,000 per year.
  • A captain who would operate a vessel that can range between 130 to over 160 feet, could earn anywhere between $120,000 and $180,000.
  • If the vessel that you operate falls between 160 to 190 feet, your salary could be between $150,000 to $210,000.
  • If you operate a vessel that is 190 feet or more you could make over $200,000 per year.

Variations to these averages can depend on factors such as owner/guest use, the qualifications that are required with the position, and the itinerary of the vessel.

How Do I Become A Yacht Captain?

After looking at the earning potential, you are probably ready to sign up! However, you cannot just get on a yacht and become the captain.

To become a yacht captain, you first need to obtain a license. There are a few different levels of Captain’s licenses and you should attend the class that will give you the highest leveled license that you can qualify for.

There are two main license types that you can get. These are the “Six-Pack Captain’s License” or the “Master License”.

The Six-Pack Captain’s License would allow you to captain a boat with up to 6 paying passengers plus crew. The vessel can only weigh 100 gross tons or less.

This license is generally used for vessels that engage in charter fishing, scuba diving, or tour cruises.

This course includes topics such as the navigational rules, navigation aids and chart plotting, electronic navigation, characteristics of weather systems, and lifesaving equipment and safety.

To qualify to get this license you need at least 360 days of documented experience in the operation of vessels with 90 of those days being within 3 years of getting the license. You also have to complete the test that is given.

Any experience that was gained before the age of 16 cannot be used.

The Master License would allow you to captain a boat with more than 6 paying passengers.

Any vessel that is authorized to carry more than 6 paying passengers requires a Master license. Boats that require this type of license can include ferry boats, harbor tour boats, whale watching vessels, and water taxis.

For the Master License, the topics include everything listed for the Six-Pack license but also includes basic seamanship skills, tides and currents, marine radio operation, pollution prevention, vessel handling skills, and emergency procedures.

Requirements for a Master License depending on which type of Master License you get.

These include:

  • Master Inland: 360 days underway experience since age 16. 90 of those days must be within 3 years of getting the license. Completion of course and test.
  • Master Inland/OUPV: 360 days underway experience since age 16. 90 of those days must be within 3 years of getting the license. 90 days must be outside the boundary lines. Completion of the course and test.
  • Master Inland/Mate N.C.: 360 days underway experience since age 16. 90 of those days must be within 3 years of getting the license. 180 days must be outside the boundary lines. Completion of the course and test.
  • Master Near Coastal: 720 days underway experience since age 16. 90 of those days must be within 3 years of getting the license. 360 days must be outside the boundary lines. Completion of the course and test.

Other Requirements Include:

  • A Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC Card).
  • You must be 19 years or older.
  • Pass a physical examination.
  • Pass a drug test.
  • CPR/First Aid Training.

In addition to your license, you can also add endorsements.

These endorsements include a towing endorsement that would allow you to assist vessels in need for a fee, or sail or auxiliary sail endorsement which would allow you to operate a sailing or auxiliary sail vessel.

These endorsements are not required but may help you find a wider variety of jobs.

You also need a captain’s license if you are choosing to be a fishing guide. A fishing guide is the captain of a fishing vessel that holds paying passengers.

What is the Work Schedule Like for a Yacht Captain?

A six-figure salary can come with hard work and high levels of responsibility. 

While a yacht owner might only utilize their vessel between 6-8 weeks a year, you will most likely work all year. 

Your average year could consist of between 6-8 weeks of work with the owner, 10-12 additional weeks of work if the vessel is chartered, and another 8-10 weeks spend moving the yacht between ports.

The job duties of a yacht captain can include:

  • The ultimate safety of the passengers, crew, environment, and vessel.
  • Following the instructions of the yacht’s owner.
  • Crew hiring and dismissal as well as general personnel management.
  • Training and coaching the rest of the crew.
  • Legal and regulatory compliance.
  • Navigation including plotting a safe course, following the plotted course, docking and departing.
  • Management of the ship’s maintenance and upgrades.
  • Management of the vessel’s finances, porting options, and other accounting.
  • Negotiating for goods and services for the vessel.

There are personality traits better fitted to this job than others.

The ideal personality traits of a captain include:

  • A calm personality especially in an emergency situation.
  • Superior leadership, communication, and management skills.
  • Diplomacy skills.
  • Organized and methodical behaviors.
  • Knowledge of other languages and cultural sensitivity.

In addition to these personality traits you should also have the following skills:

  • Boat handling and navigation skills that can come from acquiring a license.
  • International Safety Management (ISM) and International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) knowledge.
  • Maintenance and engineering/troubleshooting experience.
  • Financial management skills.
  • The proper licensing.

The captain of a yacht is more than just a manager of people and assets. They are the manager of an experience. It is the captain’s job to run the vessel according to owner preferences to ensure the best experience.

The ultimate goal of the captain and the crew should be the happiness and experience of the owner and his guests.

Once the owner of the vessel describes what type of yacht he wants to own and how, when and where they would like to use the vessel, the rest of the management is often clearly defined.

It is up to the captain to maintain these standards and stay within the boundaries set forth by the owner. After all, without an owner of the vessel, the captain would not have a job.

The captain should also concern himself with the safety of all the passengers, other vessels, the environment they are in, and the vessel itself.

How Much Money Does It Cost to Run A Yacht?

For an average mega yacht that operates with 12 crew members, your expenses for the operation could be anywhere between 4 and 10 million dollars.

This budget is based on where your yacht is moored, whether your yacht is available for charter, and where the travel destinations are.

Making these decisions can be the responsibility of a management company or can fall to the captain of the vessel.

These decisions include all aspects of the budget, what charters to take, where to station the vessel between charters, when to service the boat, and where to get it serviced when you do.

If you are intending to own a yacht and run it, in addition to the crew and the above expenses you will also be looking at spending money on food, drinks, and other amenities that are needed while on your voyage.

Overall, Yacht owning is an expensive hobby. One of the biggest expenses is the pay and benefits for the crew. 

If you work on a yacht you should have no trouble turning your passion into a prosperous career with high earning potential.