How to Become a Yacht Captain- An Expert’s Handbook

Do you want to become a yacht captain? Having watched my husband climb the ranks over the past 12 years, I have first-hand experience of seeing what it takes to become a yacht captain.

We started working on a small catamaran in the Seychelles, and today, he is the successful Captain of a world-traveling 50m super yacht.

Becoming a yacht Captain requires a significant investment of time and money, but the reward of commanding your own vessel and crew is immeasurable.

Let’s explore what it takes, including the salaries, necessary skills, and certifications.

Job Description of a Yacht Captain

The Captain of a superyacht is responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel, the safety of the crew onboard, as well as protecting the environment.

They are the primary source of communication with the yacht owner, guests, and management company.

They also handle all the daily operations of the yacht, including crew management and safety training. The Captain deals directly with management companies, port control, maritime legislation, budgets, accounting, and human resources.

a 60m super yacht docked in a marina with other yachts
A 60m Super Yacht Captain will hold a minimum of a Master 500ton license

Yacht Captain Salary

The below super yacht Captain salary guideline is based on my personal research using an average of over 10 major yachting platforms:

  • 20m-30m: $4000-$7500 p/m
  • 30m-40m: $5500-$9500 p/m
  • 40m-50m: $8000-$15000 p/m
  • 50m-70m: $13000-$19000 p/m
  • 70m+: $16500+ p/m

Additionally, with longevity a yacht Captain can also expect to see discretionary annual raises and bonuses.

If they work on a Charter Yacht there will also be charter tips received averaging $2500-$5000 per week of chartering.

the helm of a super yacht
The Helm

Roles and Responsibilities of a Yacht Captain

The job of a Yacht Captain can be compared to that of a CEO, CFO, and COO of a large corporation. The responsibilities are huge.

On a smaller vessel of 35m or less, the captain will need to be more hands-on, and they will likely also be the engineer of the vessel.

However, as the vessel size increases, you will have larger teams and heads of departments to assist in delegating tasks.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Crew Management and training
  • Hiring and dismissals of crew
  • Human resources
  • Accounting and budgeting
  • Safe navigation of the vessel
  • Safe navigational planning
  • Marine and environmental protection
  • Vessel maintenance – planning yard work and refits
  • Owner and guest liaison
  • Planning of guest trips and itineraries
  • Ensuring the yacht is compliant with maritime law
  • Ensuring the yacht is compliant with all flag state safety regulations

Soft and Hard Skills

When it comes to the question of how to become a yacht captain, besides the required licenses, it is essential to hold certain soft and hard skills:

  • Strong leadership skills
  • Team management
  • A quick thinker and problem solver
  • Calm under pressure
  • Exceptional communication skills
  • Diplomatic in decision-making
  • Excellent boat handling skills
  • Navigational skills
  • Administrative skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Computer literate
  • Strong understanding of maritime legislation
3 text books for legislation on how to become a yacht captain
Captains are required to follow maritime legislation

Mandatory Certifications for How to Become Yacht Captain

The license required when identifying how to become a Yacht Captain is dependent on the size/tonnage of the vessel they wish to drive.

Your entry-level Captain license is the Yacht-Master 200 ton. This allows you to drive a vessel of under 200 tons, which is approximately 35m/100ft.

From there, with enough sea time and experience, you can move up towards the Master 500 and then Master 3000 tickets.

If you were to start from scratch, you would first want to look at how to become a deckhand. This will give you all the information and guidance you require before you get to the point when you are ready to start your master’s licenses.

Here is the order in which you would complete your courses:

  • STCW2010
  • ENG1 Medical
  • Efficient Deckhand (EDH)
  • Yacht-Master Offshore (200ton)
  • Yacht-Master Ocean (200 ton)
  • OOW (Officer of the Watch)
  • Chief Mate 3000
  • Master 500 ton
  • Master 3000 ton

Yacht Master Offshore 200 ton Limited

Holders of this certificate can Captain a yacht up to 200 gross tons and must be within 150 nm from a safe haven whilst doing so. This course is also required to legally stand watch on a vessel of up to 500gt.

The course consists of theory and practical work and takes 13 days to complete.

Pre-requisites for Yacht Master 200t Limited:

  • 3,000 nautical miles while cruising at sea
  • 50 days at sea as an active crew member
  • 5 days as skipper on vessels less than 24m LOA
  • 48 hours on watch at night underway as an active member of a yacht’s crew. During at least six hours of this nighttime experience, the candidate must have acted as the vessel’s captain or watch leader.
  • A GMDSS-compliant Marine Radio Operator’s Certificate such as the RYA Short Range Certificate or higher
  • All qualifying sea time must be within 10 years prior to the exam
a compass on the dashboard of a yacht helm
Safe navigation of the vessel is one of the primary roles of a Yacht Captain

Master of Yachts 200 ton Ocean Unlimited

This certificate allows the holder to be in charge of a commercial yacht of up to 200 gross tons on unlimited voyages.

This comprehensive six-day course on celestial navigation is designed to equip future yacht Captains with the knowledge necessary to navigate the globe using a sextant and air navigation tables.

Additionally, it will enable them to plan, undertake, and manage an ocean passage with confidence.

Pre-requisites for the Master 200 ton Unlimited:

  • Before enrolling in the course, candidates must have completed two voyages of 250 miles each or one voyage of 500 miles. The majority of the journey must take place out of sight of land, which means being at least 20 miles away from the shoreline.
  • For the qualifying voyage, it is expected to create a passage plan that can be reviewed during the course.

Officer of the Watch (OOW)

In order to obtain the MCA Officer of the Watch (Yachts Less Than 3000 GT) Certificate of Competency, candidates must complete seven distinct modules. These modules are designed to prepare candidates for the MCA oral exam.

Pre-requisites for the OOW:

  • IYT Master of Yachts Limited certificate
  • 36 months signed onto a crew list (of which 365 days must be in vessels of over 15m in length. Sea service must be broken down into:
    • A minimum of 250 days of actual sea service
    • 115 days can be either sea service, stand-by-service or yard service
  • A Completed MCA approved training record book

The 7 modules include:

  • Navigation and Radar (15 days)
  • General Ships Knowledge GSK (5 days)
  • Proficiency in Survival Crafts and Rescue Boats/Advanced Sea Survival (3 days)
  • Human Elements and Leadership Management HELM (3 days)
  • Global Maritime Distress and Safety Systems (GMDSS)
  • Efficient Deckhand EDH (5 days)
  • Electronic Chart Display and Information ECDIS (5 days)
  • MCA OOW Deck Oral Prep Work (12 days)
a large sailing catamaran sailing on the ocean. 2 men are putting up the sails
My first voyage on a 85ft Luxury Sailing Catamaran crossing the Atlantic Ocean

Chief Mate 3000GT

After obtaining the Officer of the Watch certification for yachts less than 3000gt, you can apply to the MCA for the endorsement of the Chief Mate (Yachts less than 3000gt) Certificate of Competency. It is possible to apply for both certifications at the same time.

Course Modules include:

  • STCW Advanced Fire Fighting (4 days)
  • Proficiency in Medical First Aid (4 days)
  • Human Elements of Leadership Management – Management level (4 days)

Master of Yachts (500GT)

This certificate is required in order to Captain a yacht of up to 500 gross tons.

Requirements for the course:

  • 12 months as a watch-keeping officer with an OOW Certificate
  • A valid ENG1

Modules include:

  • Stability (5 days)
  • Business and Law (5 days)
  • Navigation and Radar with ARPA Simulator (10 days)
  • Seamanship and Meteorology (5 days)
  • Celestial Navigation Refresher and Exam (5 days)
  • Proficiency for persons in charge of medical care onboard a ship (4 days)

Master of Yachts (3000GT)

This certificate is required in order to Captain a yacht of up to 3000 gross tons.

The modules for the Master 3000GT are the same as that of the Master 500.  If you pass all the modules and have met the requirements for the Master 3000GT, you can skip the Master 500gt Course and do the exam and oral for the Master 3000GT.

Requirements include:

  • A minimum of 24 months onboard yacht service as a Deck Officer
    • including not less than 240 days watch-keeping service whilst holding an accepted OOW Certificate of Competency (CoC).
    • All of this service must be completed in vessels of 15m or over in load line length and include 12 months in vessels of 24 m or over in load line length, or 6 months in vessels of 500gt or more.
  • A valid ENG1 Certificate

Final thoughts

Most crew don’t anticipate the significant amount of time and money it takes when wondering how to become a yacht Captain.

My advice to you is to start logging your sea time from the very beginning and plan ahead. You don’t want to miss out on opportunities due to not having the required license.

If you are still looking for more detailed information or if you are looking to book a course, head over to the PYT website. They are an MCA compliant training facility with schools in Fort Lauderdale and South Africa.

Good luck on your journey. I hope to see you out in the big blue ocean commanding your own vessel one day.

Hi, my name is Lisa, a Chief Stewardess in the yachting industry with 10 years of experience, as well as 8 years of hospitality experience prior to that. Being in the yachting industry has been a whirlwind of adventure, growth, challenges and some of the best experiences of my life, and I am excited to share my knowledge and experiences with all of you.