Nearly 10 million cruise passengers embark on trips at United States ports each year according to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA). Although cruise passengers plan to enjoy a fun, exciting journey to exotic global destinations, expected illnesses and injuries can occur. That’s precisely where cruise ship nurses come into the picture. Cruise ship nurses work in on-board medical centers equipped to handle minor to major trauma. As licensed RNs, cruise ship nurses help medical officers deliver high-quality, individualized care to passengers and crew whenever emergencies happen. Unlike nurses on land, cruise ship nurses must also be prepared to perform life-saving water rescues. Nurses live on the ship full-time to ensure the 2,500 to 3,000 guests aboard have access to medical treatment if needed.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the more than 2.6 million RNs currently working in America have an average yearly salary of $69,790, which equals a mean hourly wage of $33.55. Registered nurses working in the travel industry might slightly less than average at $64,200 per year. It’s estimated that cruise ship nurses generally bring home $4,200 to $4,900 each month at sea.

Beginning Salary

When just starting out as a new cruise ship nurse, you’ll likely land in the bottom tenth percentile of income earnings with an annual salary around $45,880. However, it’s important to remember that cruise ship nurses can eventually be named lead or chief nurse and make over $81,080 each year. Those who become nurse practitioners earn an average of $97,990 annually.

Key Responsibilities

Cruise ship nurses are given significant responsibility in addressing a varied clinical caseload of passenger patients suffering from a diverse acute health concerns. Cruise ship nurses provide modern medical care using the limited resources of the on-board infirmary to maintain optimal wellness during guests’ travels. Typical daily duties could include cleaning the medical center, keeping passenger illness logs, filling out accident injury reports, giving first aid training to crew, ordering medical inventory, leading lifeboat safety drills, testing water samples, assisting in staff drug testing, and giving direct patient care. In emergencies, cruise ship nurses may accompany evacuated passengers or crew to shore via helicopter for treatment.

Necessary Skills

Being a cruise ship nurse will require the clinical skills to treat everything from seasickness and sunburns to broken bones and near drowning. Cruise ship nurses must be good communicators with the interpersonal skills to collaborate between passengers, crewmembers, doctors, and other medical staff. Organizational skills are important for cruise ship nurses to maintain meticulous logs of injuries and illnesses reported. Cruise ship nurses need to stay calm under pressure and have the quick critical thinking skills when crisis strikes. Problem-solving skills are essential for cruise ship nurses to effectively assess passengers’ health state and take the right action. Cruise ship nurses must also be caring, compassionate, and emotionally stable.

Degree and Education Requirements

Before you can set sail as a cruise ship nurse, you’ll have to become a licensed registered nurse using one of three educational pathways. Aspiring RNs can complete a hospital-based diploma program, associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Most cruise lines will prefer applicants with a four-year bachelor’s from a school accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Taking specialized coursework in acute trauma care and emergency medicine is recommended. Going the extra step to receive a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) could pay off. APRNs could work as nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists on cruise ships.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Working on a cruise ship comes with its fair share of advantages and drawbacks. On the plus side, cruise ship nurses are given the unique opportunity to meet people of various cultures on their work expeditions across the globe. Cruise ship nurses receive decent pay and living expenses are kept minimal. Room and board is considerably less than rent onshore. Maritime law requires that cruise ship nurses be granted free medical insurance. However, constant travel can be a major downside. Cruise ship nurses generally work four to six months at a time, which may foster homesickness. It’s not a job recommended for those with spouses or kids. Cruise ship nurses typically work long 12-hour shifts to switch days on and off. Cruise ship nurses live in crew cabins with one or more roommates, which means little privacy.

Getting Started

Once you graduate with a nursing degree, you’ll have to take the steps to become licensed as a registered nurse and pass the NCLEX-RN examination. Requirements can vary from state to state, so check with your local board of nursing. Then, aspiring cruise ship nurses must build a resume with relevant staff nursing experience. Most cruise lines require infirmary nursing staff to have at least two to four years of clinical experience before climbing on deck. Working in an emergency room or intensive care unit is recommended. Cruise ship nurses typically must have completed Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) training. Although it’s not required, professional certification can aid in getting a cruise ship job. Nurses may wish to become a Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN).

Future Outlook

Since the early 2000s, there have been 94 new cruise ships constructed to fulfill demand in a growing travel sector. After all, statistics show that the cruise industry has grown by over 2,100 percent in the last three decades. Every cruise ship roaming our globe’s oceans is equipped with at least 800 to 1,500 staff members, including nurses. The BLS predicts that the overall growth of RN jobs will be rapid by 19 percent through 2022, thus creating 526,800 new openings. Competing for popular cruise ship nursing positions will be heated though due to the career’s apparent charm. Nurses will likely find the best prospects on international cruise liners after earning a bachelor’s degree and gaining years of intensive care experience.

Imagining reaching your goals of a rewarding nursing career while traveling the world. That could become a reality if you work as a cruise ship nurse. Cruise ship nurses play a pivotal role in providing onboard medical care for passengers and crew under the direction of the ship’s medical officer. Cruise ship nurses are first responders handling all emergency situations at sea in compliance with strict maritime regulations. Becoming a cruise ship nurse could be ideal for young, single RNs interested in venturing abroad and working with diverse foreign vacationers.