Cargo Captain Salary

Cargo captains must hold a license from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Cargo captains must hold a license from the U.S. Coast Guard. (Image: Stephen Schauer/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Cargo captains are merchant mariners who are in overall charge of vessels used to transport goods. They oversee the loading and unloading of the vessel, making sure the cargo does not upset the vessel’s buoyancy, study tide, current and weather charts to determine the safest passage for the ship, and manage all members of the crew. Captains are charged with delivering cargo safely and on time. Salary levels for the occupation are variable, dependent upon factors like location and employer type.

Average Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), for the purposes of its May 2010 national survey, classified cargo captains alongside captains, mates and pilots of all other waterborne vessels. It calculated that the average yearly wage across the category was $70,500. This translates into a monthly income of $5,875, a weekly wage totalling $1,356 and an hourly average of $33.89. Individuals in the top 10 percent bracket earned an average salary in excess of $117,310, while those in the corresponding bottom group received less than $30,690.

Salary by Industry

The average salary of a cargo captain within oil and gas extraction was given as $91,430 per year, while in freight transportation arrangement the rate was $89,090, according to the BLS. Cargo captains may also be employed within deep sea, coastal and great lakes water transportation, which had an average pay rate of $72,560, and inland water transportation, which averaged $67,630.

Salary by Location

Wage comparison website undertook a survey of wages for merchant marine captains based in some major U.S. cities. Of those analyzed, salaries were highest in Miami and Houston, averaging $111,531 and $94,644 per year, respectively. New York City was listed at $74,641, Los Angeles at $61,442 and Orlando at just $55,653. Alabama and Texas were among the most lucrative states according to the BLS, with average salaries of $85,390 and $84,880, respectively. Rates were similar between Alaska and Hawaii, $62,670 and $62,830, respectively, while Florida was listed at just $55,900.


The BLS predicts a buoyant job market across all water transportation occupations in the coming years. It estimates a 15 percent increase in employment opportunities over the decade from 2008 to 2018, a faster growth than is expected for the country as a whole, thought to be between 7 and 13 percent over the same time. Increased international trade conducted by sea and continuing demand for bulk products such as coal, sand and grain, should mean that salary levels for cargo ship captains remain very competitive in the immediate future.

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