What Is a Cruise Ship Nurse?

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Published September 30, 2022 · 3 Min Read

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If you're an RN or nursing student interested in travel, check out how a career as a cruise ship nurse can offer both a paycheck and voyages to worldwide destinations.

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What Is a Cruise Ship Nurse?
Credit: David Sacks | The Image Bank | Getty Images

How Long to Become

2-4 years

Job Outlook

6% growth from 2021-2031
(For all RNs)

Median Annual Salary

$77,600


Cruise ship nurses provide shipboard healthcare to passengers and staff. Days off offer opportunities for exploration when the ship is in port. Cruise ship nurses typically work under temporary contracts and can take as much time off as they want between assignments.

As registered nurses (RNs), cruise ship nurses earn an average annual salary of $77,600, with food and lodging included. They need strong communication and interpersonal skills, knowledge of maritime safety regulations, and clinical expertise. Knowledge of a foreign language can also be helpful.

If you're interested in travel and adventure, and don't mind working under short-term contracts, find out how to become a cruise ship nurse and more.

Featured Online RN to BSN Programs

What Does a Cruise Ship Nurse Do?

diploma, adn, bsn
Certification Optional

Cruise ship nurses care for passengers of all ages and cruise line staff as needed. They function as first responders during emergencies, perform patient assessments, assist providers with clinical diagnosing, and administer medications and tests.

RNs work under the direction of the ship's physicians. Nurse practitioners (NPs) can treat patients with more independence, often without direct physician supervision.

closeup of nurse hands on computer keyboard

JGI/Tom Grill / Getty Images

Key Responsibilities

  • Acting as first responders during medical emergencies, like serious injuries, and sudden conditions, such as heart attacks or strokes
  • Conducting medical tests, such as X-rays, blood draws, and laboratory tests
  • Treating a range of medical issues, including food poisoning, seasickness, and sunburn
  • Formulating care plans for patients aboard ship
  • Administering medications

Career Traits

  • Stamina to work long hours
  • Critical thinking to effectively treat patients
  • Experience in emergency medicine or intensive care
  • Collaboration with other medical staff
  • Knowledge of shipboard safety procedures

How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse?

Becoming a cruise ship nurse requires an RN license at minimum. RNs qualify for licensure with a nursing diploma or an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing. Some cruise ship nurses hold advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) licenses and work more autonomously as NPs. NPs earn master's or doctoral nursing degrees and certification in a specialty area, such as family, critical care, or pediatric nursing.

Nursing school graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to earn their RN licenses. Cruise lines often require experience in acute, emergency, or intensive care units and advanced cardiac life support certification. Some employers prefer to hire RNs with bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degrees, and RN-to-BSN bridge programs can accelerate the path to a bachelor's.

Nurses can opt for industry-specific training from organizations like the Institute of Cruise Ship Medicine.

Learn more about how to become a cruise ship nurse.

How Much Do Cruise Ship Nurses Make?

Cruise ship nurses hold either RN or APRN licenses, which determines how much cruise ship nurses can earn. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs make average median salaries of $77,600 and NPs earn $120,680. Pay rates vary by company, locale, education, and experience. ZipRecruiter reports as of September 2022 that cruise ship nurse salaries range from $39,000-$105,500. Salaries go further on cruise ships because lodging and meals are included with the job.

All types of nurses, including cruise ship nurses, are in demand, but positions aboard ship can be competitive. The BLS lists a 6% projected employment growth rate for RNs during 2021-2031 and a 40% projected job increase rate for NPs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cruise Ship Nurses


How long does it take to become a cruise ship nurse?

At the RN level, expect to spend 1-4 years earning a diploma or degree and an additional 2-3 years working as a nurse in a clinical setting. NPs can add 2-3 years to earn a graduate nursing degree.

How much does a RN make on a cruise ship?

RNs make median salaries of $77,600 per year, according to the BLS, and job listings posted on sites like ZipRecruiter offer annual salaries ranging from $39,000-$105,500.

Can cruise ship nurses prescribe medicine?

RNs cannot prescribe medications, but, generally, NPs can. Prescriptive authority varies and depends on the state in which the NP is licensed. Some states confer full authority to prescribe; others limit prescriptive authority and require collaboration with a physician.

How long are cruise ship nurse contracts?

Cruise ship nurse contract lengths vary. Job posting sites, such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter, list cruise ship nurse contract commitments ranging from 12 weeks to six months.


Page last reviewed September 23, 2022


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