What Is a Yacht Captain?

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  • Written By: B. Turner
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  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2019
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A yacht captain is an individual responsible for the operation of a large sailing vessel, or yacht. This individual is hired by the owner of the boat, or by a management company representing the boat's owner. Yacht captain oversee all aspects of operating and maintaining the vessel, including managing the crew and piloting the ship. This leaves the owner free to enjoy his time on the yacht, or to come and go from the boat as needed. A yacht captain may work on a private yacht or charter vessel, depending on experience and available positions.

Prospective yacht captains should have a true love of the sea, as they spend a great deal of time onboard the vessel. Many work their way up from deck hand or maintenance positions to reach the rank of yacht captain. This allows the applicant to accumulate the hours of experience required to earn state and federal licenses in various countries. Some gain experience through commercial shipping jobs, while others work strictly on pleasure craft. A yacht captain may also gain experience through military work, such as with the United States (US) Coast Guard or Navy.


In the US, and in many other developed nations, people employed on boats must earn licenses from the local state or county. This involves logging hours on a vessel, and keeping a written record of these hours. Once the log is submitted along with an application, the candidate may also be required to pass a written test in some areas. Most regions require applicants to work their way through several levels of license before reaching the level of yacht captain.

A yacht captain is generally qualified to work on a specific size and type of boat. Many people will work on smaller vessels first, then gradually work up to yachts and super yachts. This may also include promotions from deck hand to management positions, including chief mate or engineer.

Yacht captains must be prepared to handle a host of responsibilities. This includes interacting with the owner and his guests, and working with the crew to provide top-notch service. It also requires managing all staff members, often with the assistance of other officers. The yacht captain also pilots the vessel, and schedules all maintenance to ensure the boat will always be ready for use. He should also have a basic understanding of mechanical principles to assist engineering personnel with repairs or emergencies.

Those interested in a career at sea should be prepared to spend months or even a full year living on a yacht. Most yacht captains are paid year round, whether or not the ship is in use. When not at sea, the captain must still manage the boat and handle painting and repairs. For all this responsibility, yacht captains enjoy high salary potential, as well as the possibility of significant tips or charter vessels.


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