Aerial view of a cruise ship with virtual healthcare icons

How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse

Learn how to specialize as a Cruise Ship Nurse, including the education and certifications you’ll need

Aerial view of a cruise ship with virtual healthcare icons

If you’re a Registered Nurse (RN) or nursing student who would like to travel, a career as a Cruise Ship Nurse could be the perfect solution for you. Not only will you receive a paycheck and voyages to worldwide destinations, but you will have the unique opportunity to live at sea, save on living expenses, and avoid the 9-to-5 lifestyle.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, more than 29 million people went on a cruise in 2019. Since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in travel across the skies and the seas. As the passenger lists grow, so will the need for Cruise Ship Nurses. These medical professionals play a critical role on the healthcare teams that perform several services. For example, they may treat patients for conditions like seasickness, sunburn, food poisoning, and even cardiac arrest.

This article serves as a comprehensive guide to help you learn about the role of a Cruise Ship Nurse, common duties, required skills, expected salary, and job outlook. We’ll also review the steps you’ll need to take to become an RN and advance your nursing career.

To learn more about starting your career as an RN, click here to learn how to become a Registered Nurse. You can also read about other popular healthcare careers by exploring the highest paying nursing jobs.

Cruise Ship Nurse Definition

What is a Cruise Ship Nurse?

Cruise Ship Nurses provide one-on-one medical care for guests or crew members on the ship. Their tasks can range from common wellness checks to emergency care. Typically, Cruise Ship Nurses are part of a small but efficient team who cares for everyone on the boat. Some of these nurses report directly to a ship physician and work under the supervision of the head nurse. Because Cruise Ship Nurses are often the first line of defense, some cruise lines prefer to hire RNs with emergency room experience. In addition, nurses who speak more than one language are in high demand on cruiseliners.

Cruise Ship Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Cruise Ship Nurse Do?

Cruise Ship Nurses are specialized nurses who have gained experience in the field. At sea, they care for passengers and crewmembers of all ages. Not only do they serve as first responders during emergencies, but they perform patient assessments, assist doctors with clinical diagnosing, and administer medications or tests. Their daily responsibilities are dependent on the size of the ship. For instance, an average cruise ship holds about 3,000 guests, while some of the biggest ocean liners hold closer to 7,000 passengers.

While shifts can run between 10-12 hours, many Cruise Ship Nurses rotate with other medical staff, allowing them to have scheduled time off both on board and on land.

Cruise Ship Nurse Duties

Besides assisting other members of the medical team, you will complete several tasks to help patients on their seafaring journey. These duties may include the following:

  • Act as a first responder during medical emergencies, such as sudden injuries, heart attacks, or strokes.
  • Perform medical tests, like X-rays, blood draws, and lab tests.
  • Treat patients for various medical issues (i.e., seasickness or sunburn).
  • Help create care plans for patients aboard the ship.
  • Administer medications prescribed by the physician.

N95 mask on a chair with a view of the ocean

Cruise Ship Nurse Skills

Some essential qualities for a Cruise Ship Nurse include empathy, communication, and stamina. But you’ll also want to continually develop your knowledge and training to stay up to date on the latest nursing practices. Some of the most important skills to develop include:

Critical-thinking skills. To effectively treat patients at sea, Cruise Ship Nurses must possess strong critical-thinking skills. They will need to quickly assess changes in the health status of each patient, determining when to take corrective action or consult their team.

Communication skills. Not only must RNs communicate well with their patients—they need to evaluate them correctly—but it’s essential that Cruise Ship Nurses communicate with other members of their team. Remember: These are small but mighty groups of healthcare professionals. They rely heavily on one another.

Compassion. Cruise Ship Nurses should be empathetic when they work with patients. In addition, they need emotional resilience due to human suffering, emergencies, and other stressors.

Detail oriented. All nurses can benefit from a detail-oriented nature. However, Cruise Ship Nurses must also be aware of shipboard safety procedures. Knowledge and attention to detail are vital to their success at sea.

Physical stamina. Many nurses should be comfortable lifting patients and performing other physical tasks. They may need to work long hours or be on their feet for most of each shift. In addition, Cruise Ship Nurses can benefit from physical experience in emergency medicine and intensive care.

Where Do Cruise Ship Nurses Work?

As their name says, Cruise Ship Nurses work on large boats at sea. Their contracts typically range from 12 weeks to six months on a cruiseliner. Many cruise lines maintain facilities that range from walk-in clinics to fully equipped medical facilities that can handle emergency or trauma injuries.

However, Cruise Ship Nurses do not typically work on yachts or other boats. Yacht nursing is a separate and lesser-known specialty. This often applies to nurses who work on vessels that are smaller than cruise ships. In most of these settings, Registered Nurses will work under the supervision of a doctor or physician.

Cruise Ship Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Cruise Ship Nurse?

Following are the typical steps to specializing as a Cruise Ship Nurse, including the necessary education, licensure, and experience.

1. Earn a Nursing Degree

To become a Cruise Ship Nurse, you’ll first need to attend a nursing school, either by enrolling in a two-year ADN program or a four-year BSN program. Bonus tip: The accelerated BSN Program at Unitek College can be completed in three years.

If you already work as an LVN, keep in mind that some schools offer Advanced Placement Options for LVNs who would like to enter their BSN programs.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you’ve graduated from your nursing program, you’ll prepare for and take the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) to become licensed as an RN. This exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Their website offers candidates information about the exam, its format, and study aids to help you prepare for the exam.

Nurse using stethoscope on male patient

3. Acquire experience as an RN

After obtaining your license and starting your nursing career, you’ll need to gain experience in the field. Some major cruise lines require their nurses to have two to three years of experience in acute care or critical care. Others prefer that this experience take place in hospital settings rather than outpatient clinics. If an RN has worked in emergency rooms and intensive care units, they have likely gotten used to long shifts and irregular hours.

4. Consider becoming a Cruise Ship Nurse

While organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center do not offer certifications for Cruise Ship Nurses, you can increase your chances of gaining employment by obtaining a master’s degree in nursing. Additionally, becoming a Nurse Practitioner would also open more doors.

Many cruiseliners require certification in basic life support and sometimes advanced cardiac life support. Once you have these certifications, a BSN degree, an RN license, and experience in the field, you’re ready to pursue a career as a Cruise Ship Nurse.

Cruise Ship Nurse Salary

How Much Do Cruise Ship Nurses Make?

According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for Cruise Nurses is about $82,000 per year or roughly $39 per hour. Keep in mind that your exact salary as a Cruise Ship Nurse will vary based on your geographic location, level of education, and experience. In addition, salaries stretch further on cruise ships because lodging and food are often included with the job.

Cruise Ship Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Cruise Ship Nurses?

Although the BLS doesn’t report job outlook data specifically for Cruise Ship Nurses, they project that employment of all Registered Nurses will grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031. This means that over 200,000 job openings will become available each year. Some of the demand is due to the ongoing nursing shortage, while additional jobs will be created by those who transfer to different occupations or retire from the workforce.

RNs may also find opportunities for advancement, including positions such as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner (NP). These are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). In some states, APRNs may provide primary care and prescribe medications.

Nurse holding a sign that says boat cruise

Consider Specializing as a Cruise Ship Nurse

Now that you’ve read about how to become a Cruise Ship Nurse, including some of the common duties, average salaries, and the job outlook, you may be interested in specializing in this nursing field. reports that Cruise Ship Nurses benefit from greater flexibility, short-term contracts, and international exploration. With the growing surge in the travel industry, the need for experienced nurses in this field will no doubt continue to grow. If you like the idea of helping others while traveling at sea, this may be a rewarding RN specialization for your career.

To start your nursing journey, check out the BSN Program at Unitek College. Or, if you already work as a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), consider our LVN to BSN Advanced Placement option.