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Career Profile: Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water Vessels

Command or supervise operations of ships and water vessels, such as tugboats and ferryboats. Required to hold license issued by U.S. Coast Guard.

Salary and Outlook

According to the US Department of Labor, there are 29,900 people employed as captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels in the United States. The median annual salary is $77,100. Entry level employees earn approximately $36,810 per year and senior employees earn approximately $153,070 per year.

Estimates do not include other potential benefits such as health insurance, overtime pay, or retirement benefits that may be offered by employers.

Job Duties

  • Direct courses and speeds of ships, based on specialized knowledge of local winds, weather, water depths, tides, currents, and hazards.
  • Prevent ships under navigational control from engaging in unsafe operations.
  • Serve as a vessel's docking master upon arrival at a port or at a berth.
  • Consult maps, charts, weather reports, or navigation equipment to determine and direct ship movements.
  • Steer and operate vessels, using radios, depth finders, radars, lights, buoys, or lighthouses.
  • Operate ship-to-shore radios to exchange information needed for ship operations.
  • Dock or undock vessels, sometimes maneuvering through narrow spaces, such as locks.
  • Stand watches on vessels during specified periods while vessels are under way.
  • Inspect vessels to ensure efficient and safe operation of vessels and equipment and conformance to regulations.
  • Read gauges to verify sufficient levels of hydraulic fluid, air pressure, or oxygen.
  • Report to appropriate authorities any violations of federal or state pilotage laws.
  • Provide assistance in maritime rescue operations.
  • Signal passing vessels, using whistles, flashing lights, flags, or radios.
  • Measure depths of water, using depth-measuring equipment.
  • Maintain boats or equipment on board, such as engines, winches, navigational systems, fire extinguishers, or life preservers.
  • Signal crew members or deckhands to rig tow lines, open or close gates or ramps, or pull guard chains across entries.
  • Advise ships' masters on harbor rules and customs procedures.
  • Maintain records of daily activities, personnel reports, ship positions and movements, ports of call, weather and sea conditions, pollution control efforts, or cargo or passenger status.
  • Observe loading or unloading of cargo or equipment to ensure that handling and storage are performed according to specifications.
  • Calculate sightings of land, using electronic sounding devices and following contour lines on charts.
  • Learn to operate new technology systems and procedures through instruction, simulators, or models.
  • Direct or coordinate crew members or workers performing activities such as loading or unloading cargo, steering vessels, operating engines, or operating, maintaining, or repairing ship equipment.
  • Arrange for ships to be fueled, restocked with supplies, or repaired.
  • Supervise crews in cleaning or maintaining decks, superstructures, or bridges.
  • Purchase supplies or equipment.
  • Tow and maneuver barges or signal tugboats to tow barges to destinations.
  • Perform various marine duties, such as checking for oil spills or other pollutants around ports or harbors or patrolling beaches.
  • Assign watches or living quarters to crew members.
  • Interview and hire crew members.

Career List

Job Outlook


Total Current Jobs:
29,900
Annual Openings:
3,600
Increase in Openings by 2030:
14%
Annual Salary Range:
$36,810 - $153,070
Education Requirements:
Some college