How Much Do Cruise Ship Nurses Make?

Janice Monti, Ph.D.
Updated January 11, 2023
Are you a registered nurse interested in working on a cruise ship? Read on to learn how the average cruise ship nurse salary compares to general RNs, and explore answers to frequently asked questions.
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Are you a registered nurse (RN) with a desire to travel the world? A job as a cruise ship nurse might be a good fit for you.

Although cruise ship nurses typically work longer shifts and earn less than their counterparts working in large hospitals, they enjoy an array of other benefits, including comped living expenses, discounts, and ample time to travel between contracts. As the cruise industry rebounds from the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for these nurses should continue to expand.

Average Salary for Cruise Ship Nurses

Cruise ship nurses perform many of the same duties as general RNs. Payscale reports the current average salary for RNs in the U.S. as $68,820 annually, or $31.32 an hour. However, it does not provide specific salary information for cruise ship nurses. Contractual obligations and terms of employment for cruise ship nurses vary significantly from RNs who work in hospitals, clinics, or other conventional healthcare settings, making salary comparisons difficult.

Cruise ship nurse salary depends on the size of the ship and the number of passengers, as well as the professional’s level of nursing experience and scope of authority. A popular recruiter for cruise positions reports starting salaries for cruise ship nurses between $4,200 and $4,900 per month.

The highest-paid cruise ship nurses include nurse practitioners, whose practice authority allows them to offer medical services without a doctor’s supervision and lead or chief nurses who perform administrative roles. These advanced practice nurses earn considerably more than cruise ship RNs providing day-to-day healthcare for passengers and staff. RNs with experience and certifications in emergency medicine, ICU, or other acute care settings also garner greater job opportunities and higher salaries.

Average Annual Salary
Source:Payscale, August 2022

Average Hourly Wage
Source:Payscale, August 2022

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The Highest-Paying States for Cruise Ship Nurses

Many RNs who choose to work as cruise ship nurses are motivated primarily by the opportunity to travel and the flexibility of short-term contracts. Although salary may not rank as the most important motivational factor, aspiring cruise ship nurses should compare the full compensation package offered by a cruise ship employer with the average pay levels for RNs in the state where they are licensed.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2021, RNs earn the highest pay in California, Hawaii, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska. Average wages in these states range from $124,000 in California to $97,230 in Alaska.

Cruise ship nurses in entry-level positions typically make less than average RN salaries, but they often receive other benefits, such as comped food and lodging, health insurance, travel allowances, and discounts.

3 Ways to Increase Pay As a Cruise Ship Nurse

You can pursue several options to enhance your earning potential. Pursuing certifications, earning a graduate degree, and demonstrating fluency in languages other than English will boost your earnings and set you apart from other applicants.

  1. 1

    Consider Pursuing Certifications

    Because of the nature of cruise ship work, earning the advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) certification can enhance your chances at getting hired and increase your salary by demonstrating your preparedness for whatever situations may arise while at sea. Cruise lines also pay top dollar for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), especially those with certifications in acute, critical, and emergency care.

  2. 2

    Increase Your Education Level

    Almost all cruise ship employers hire only RNs with at least a bachelor of science in nursing degree. Graduate-trained nurse practitioners whose scope of practice allows them to perform many of the same functions as doctors are in high demand and can expect better rates of compensation.

    RNs who hold at least an master of science in nursing degree and certifications in nursing leadership and administration can find well-paying positions with major cruise lines managing their medical teams.

  3. 3

    Proficiency in a Language Other than English/Cultural Competency

    As a cruise ship nurse, you interact daily with passengers and crew members from across the world. Proficiency in one or more languages can increase your employment and earning prospects. Experience working with culturally diverse patient populations can also boost your chances at landing a well-paying cruise ship placement.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cruise Ship Nurse Salaries

question-mark-circleCan cruise ship nurses bring their families?

Depending on the cruise line, some nurses may have the option to bring family members aboard with them. This benefit is sometimes conditional on length of service or limited to a specific number of days per contract.

question-mark-circleHow long are cruise ship nurse contracts?

Contracts vary by cruise line operator and the type of nursing position. They typically range from four to ten months. After each contract ends, nurses have the option to take up to 60 days off before taking another assignment or choosing not to renew their employment.

question-mark-circleHow long is a cruise ship nurse shift?

Depending on the nursing position and type of ship, cruise ship nurses may work 10-12 hour shifts, even longer during emergency situations, and sometimes on duty seven days a week. Nurses generally rotate days off and on-call days with other staff. They may leave the ship if their day off falls on a day the ship is in port.

question-mark-circleCan APRNs work as cruise ship nurses?

Because many graduate-trained APRNs hold a broad practice authority that does not require a doctor’s supervision, they make a good fit for cruise line nursing. Cruise ships, especially those with passenger capacities over 3,000, are particularly interested in hiring APRNs with certifications and experience in fields, such as acute and critical care, emergency procedures, and cardiology.

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