What are the best merchant marine experiences

How do I become a captain?

If you want to become a captain and have the technical college entrance qualification, you can take an 8-semester maritime or nautical degree. If you have acquired a secondary school leaving certificate, you will first complete a 3-year training course as a ship mechanic. In this way, you can shorten the subsequent course of studies to 6 semesters, as you have already gained sufficient practical experience. Then, depending on your experience at sea, you will start your career as a second or third officer on watch. After every 12 months you will automatically reach the next higher rank before you finally receive the captain's license and are allowed to take over the corresponding post on a ship.

What does everyday work look like?

As a captain, you are usually at sea for several weeks and then spend a similarly long period at home. Then you will learn an example of what the everyday work of a captain on board a cruise ship looks like:

09:00 a.m.

You leave your private suite and walk the few meters to the control bridge. After a brief inquiry by radio to the port authority, you will receive the green light from the responsible officer to leave the port. During this time, your two officer colleagues also received positive feedback from the individual areas of the ship. You therefore begin the casting-off maneuver and slowly steer the MS Fidelio out of the port basin of Barcelona.

10:35 a.m.

After a while you left the port area behind you without incident and steered the cruise ship into the open Mediterranean. You take the opportunity to greet your passengers and provide them with various information about the itinerary, the weather and today's entertainment program on deck.

11:00 o'clock

The autopilot regulates the rest of the journey to Palma de Mallorca. You hand over the helm to the first and second officer for supervision and take a tour of the ship.

11:50 a.m.

You go to the logistician's office to check that everything is going well. So far, he is satisfied with the food and sales products that were stocked up in Barcelona and that are on display in the ship's own supermarket.

12:30 pm

It's time for lunch and a little kitchen inspection. To do this, go to the crew canteen in the stern of the ship. You talk to the staff briefly and enjoy today's main course. In a one-to-one conversation with the head chef, you thank the chef for the good quality of the food and also learn from him that the two new interns have made their way into the kitchen team very well.

2:25 pm

After dense clouds had already come up in the morning, dense fog now appears over the water. Your assistants on the navigating bridge will call you by radio. Once there, you first call the German Weather Center to find out more about the clouds of fog and the further development of the weather. This largely gives the all-clear. Nevertheless, you will stay at your post for the time being.

3:45 p.m.

Since the view normalizes again to some extent, you can calmly go to the personal question and answer session in the theater room. The passengers are interested in many different data and facts about your cruise ship. You will round off the event with a few stories you experienced yourself about strange passenger wishes and the most beautiful coastal regions.

17:00 o'clock

Then you go to your small 2-room apartment to continue working at your desk on the planning for the fire alarm exercise scheduled for the day after tomorrow.

7:00 p.m.

At the end of the day there is the so-called captain's dinner. You greet each guest personally, hand over a free drink on request and then have the special feast with your passengers. You can end a long and varied day in a relaxed atmosphere.


  • Middle school; University entrance qualification
  • Medically certified fitness for sea service
  • Willingness to work partly abroad
  • Good English knowledge
  • High sense of responsibility
  • Ability to work in a team

What does a captain do?

Your most obvious task as captain of a ship is of course operating the steering wheel. When mooring and casting off from the harbor basin or when passing through narrow canals, it depends on your particular instinct to move the clumsy vehicle safely and quickly. Nowadays you get support from a programmed autopilot who reliably maneuvers the majority of the stored route between two ports. In addition, you do not work alone on the navigating bridge, but have officers of different ranks as well as sailors who take turns with you to take over the controls and call on you in dangerous situations.
Depending on the size of your ship, you leave the navigating bridge when the situation is calm to check that the various areas and departments are in order. You talk to the machine operators about the condition of the technical systems, talk to the logistician about the stocks on board or find out about the situation in the kitchen. In addition, sailors and other personnel usually carry out minor repairs and maintenance work, which you inspect in the meantime. On cargo ships, you especially ask whether loading and unloading is going smoothly.
As a captain, you will have to deal with many other tasks that vary depending on the type of ship. On cruise ships you also have to fulfill representative duties in order to give the passengers the most pleasant journey possible. This includes, for example, question time, joint dinners, and welcome and farewell celebrations. In addition, you can strengthen the cohesion of the crew by going out to eat with them in the canteen and taking time for a one-on-one conversation in between.
The young nautical trainees gain practical experience on real cruises during their training or studies. Accordingly, the young seafarers are subordinate to you as captain and receive a lot of important advice under your care. The officers on watch, in particular, who strive for a career as captain, guide the ship with you on the bridge and learn, among other things, the subtleties of certain steering maneuvers, the correct interpretation of the weather situation and its consequences for the ship's command. Depending on the level of their rank and the sea experience they have acquired, you entrust them with appropriate management tasks so that you can pursue your other duties as a captain.
As a skipper on board, you take on a role similar to that of a manager in a company. So you have to deal with some administrative activities that involve more or less paperwork. Among other things, you keep sea diaries in which you document the events on deck, check the billing of various cost items and handle bureaucratic formalities with port authorities and freight suppliers.

What are the job prospects?

After the financial crisis and the collapse in world trade at the end of the 2000s, the German shipping industry is only slowly recovering from the effects. The shipping companies had to sell countless ships and lost orders to foreign competitors. It is therefore difficult for young professionals to gain a foothold as a captain. However, once you have been able to get hold of a job as a captain, you can look forward to very good career opportunities in leading positions at shipping companies and ship administrations over the years.

What qualities should I have?

    What specializations are there?

    The world's most frequented artificial waterway for seagoing ships is the Kiel Canal (NOK), which connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea. In order to be able to pass through this passage, the ships are obliged to take a canal helmsman on board from a certain size. As the helmsman, you operate the rudder while crossing the canal and ensure that even large container ships pass the shallow water safely with a great deal of sensitivity. Through your work, you generally enable faster shipping traffic, as the freighters and passenger ships do not have to wait for each other in switch positions, but can pass each other in parallel. In contrast to the pilot, you do not act as an advisor to the actual captain, but are responsible for possible errors and accidents yourself. The work of the canal helmsman is unique in Germany, as he is only used in the Kiel Canal.
    As a port captain, you don't travel the lakes and seas of this world. Instead, you will work in the Oberhafenamt, where you will be responsible for organizing and coordinating shipping traffic at the landing and berths. In this way, you ensure that all watercraft enter and leave the port area safely and without avoidable delays. Furthermore, you and your employees will receive various requests, for example for booking berths, issuing skipper's licenses or the admission of motor boats for a harbor tour. In addition, the planning and implementation of ship parades is one of your tasks in many larger ports. To do this, you think about which different types of ships should appear and in which formation they provide an image that is as appealing as possible for the audience.


    • Salary according to the collective wage agreement for German shipping (HTV-See)
    • Multi-week to month long trips and vacations
    • Primary responsibility for passengers, cargo and crew
    • The captain is in command on board

    Did you already know, that ...

    • ... a ship nowadays uses about 90 percent of its travel route via autopilot?
    • ... captains and crew in freight traffic now hardly have time to look at the countries visited?
    • ... cruise ships carry more than 5000 passengers and around 2000 crew members?

    These celebrities are also captains

    Johnny Depp - actor

    Johnny Depp is known for his art of transformation in feature films. With a fancy costume and strong make-up, he also played a captain several times - namely the self-proclaimed Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. (Image: © Vanessa Lua / CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons))

    Tom Hanks - actor

    In real life, of course, Hollywood actor Tom Hanks is not a captain. In his role as Captain Phillips in the film of the same name by Paul Greengrass, which is based on real events, he played this job so impressively that he received a Golden Globe nomination for it. (Image: © Dick Thomas Johnson / CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons))

    What speaks for the job

    1. Leadership position with decision-making power on the high seas
    2. Promotion to leading positions in shipping companies, universities or shipping administrations with some professional experience is possible
    3. Comparatively high salaries through collective agreement
    4. Depending on the job and route, you will travel to many foreign places and countries

    What speaks against the job

    1. It is difficult to reconcile work with family and friends due to long periods of absence at sea, sometimes lasting several months
    2. 24-hour on-call service while driving
    3. Entry into professional life is difficult

    Starting salary as a captain

    As a captain, several factors affect your salary. Among other things, the size of the company as well as the respective ship and your professional experience play a role. Whether you are traveling on international waters or as an inland skipper will also be reflected on your pay slip.

    Your starting salary is an average of € 3,250 ¹ gross per month. In addition, you receive special payments, for example for night and weekend work as well as for work on public holidays.

    • captain3.250 €¹
    • pilot4.600 €¹

    Salary based on work experience

    After just a few years as a captain, your gross salary increases to around € 3,550 ¹ per month. If you have been in the job for more than 10 years, your monthly salary is around € 4,500 ¹. Your salary will vary depending on whether you work for a freight company, on a cruise ship or in the navy.

    The top salaries for captains are between € 8,000 ¹ and € 10,000 ¹ gross per month. You will usually receive such a salary from large cruise operators, where you are responsible for steering particularly large ships.

    Salary based on work experience

    After just a few years as a captain, your gross salary increases to around € 3,550 ¹ per month. If you have been in the profession for more than 10 years, your monthly salary is around € 4,500 ¹. Your salary will vary depending on whether you work for a freight company, on a cruise ship or in the navy.

    The top salaries for captains are between € 8,000 ¹ and € 10,000 ¹ gross per month. You will usually receive such a salary from large cruise operators, where you are responsible for steering particularly large ships.

    Salary by state

    You earn best as a captain in the port city of Hamburg. There you can expect a gross monthly income of € 5,200 ¹. You get similarly high salaries in Baden-Württemberg and Hesse. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is at the bottom of the salary comparison with € 3,650 ¹ gross per month. In general, the salaries in the new federal states are a little lower, but you usually pay less for your standard of living there.