In the days when ships were the only option for international travel, "seafarers" referred to the sailors, deckhands and captains who manned the boats. In the current era, this romantic term describes any person who works on vessels designed for water transportation. Their salaries depend on their position on the ship as well as who is hiring them.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the latest information, from May 2010, for all occupations in the water transportation industry. It tallies over 59,000 jobs in this area at mean wages of $26.23 per hour or $54,550 per year. However, that number includes managers and cooks. The seafarer designation is more accurately confined to the transportation and material moving occupations in the industry, which include captains and pilots of water vessels; sailors and marine oilers; and ship engineers. Mean salary for this category of occupation is $25.54 per hour or $53,120 per year, far lower than the industry mean.
Captains and Pilots
The captains are the final authority on any water vessel and are assisted by mates. Both are responsible for charting the course of travel, supervising crew members and ensuring the safety of passengers and cargo. This category of seafarers have mean salaries of $33.89 per hour or $70,500 per year. Pay for the lowest 10 percent descends to $14.76 per hour or $30,690 per year, while amounts for the highest 10 percent ascend to $56.40 per hour or $117,310 per year. They receive their highest salaries driving the giant tankers for oil and gas extraction. Pay here runs a mean $43.96 per hour or $91,430 per year.
Ship engineers repair and maintain the propulsion engines, generators, pumps and boilers necessary to keep their vessels running. They spend most of their working day in the engine room, watching the machinery in shifts. Large boats may have a chief engineer, as well as a first, second and third assistant engineers. They make a mean $34.09 per hour or $70,920 per year, with a low of $18.35 per hour or $38,170 per year, and a high of $54.19 per hour or $112,720 per year. Their biggest employers are deep sea, coastal and Great Lakes water transportation, where pay is a mean $38.03 per hour or $79,100 per year. The highest salaries of $39.62 per hour or $82,420 per year are in the gambling industry.
Sailors and Oilers
Sailors perform the grunt work on ships, under the supervision of ship’s officers. They may stand watch and look out for other vessels, move cargo, clean the decks and repair broken lines. Marine oilers lubricate gears, bearings, shafts and other moving parts to keep the vessel running. The mean wages of both occupations are $18.28 per hour or $38,030 per year, with lows at $10.73 per hour or $22,320 per year, and highs at $27.18 per hour or $56,540 per year.