How To Become A Cruise Ship Nurse

5 Min Read Published December 30, 2022
How To Become A Cruise Ship Nurse

Nurses who love to travel, enjoy long breaks from work, and want to experience a one-of-a-kind career could make perfect cruise ship nurses. A cruise ship nurse provides care for guests and crew as the ship sails around the world. 

Cruise ships are pretty much small cities floating in the water with the average cruise ship holding around 3,000 guests, not counting the crew that works on the ship full-time. For nurses that want to escape busy ERs and clinics, working on a cruise ship could be a dream job!

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How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse

Becoming a cruise ship nurse isn't as easy as signing up right after nursing school. But here are the steps you’ll need to take if you want to become one:

  1. Become a Registered Nurse by attending and graduating from an accredited nursing program. You’ll also need to pass the NCLEX-RN.
  2. Gain Experience: Aside from having an active RN license, most cruise ships only want to hire nurses who have experience in multiple settings. Cruise ships usually require nurses to have 2-3 years of full-time experience, and experience in acute care or niche areas is a big plus.Nurses interested in working on a cruise ship should also be prepared to work odd hours. Shifts start whenever passengers or crew become ill, and this can occur at all hours of the day. Experience in emergency or ICU settings helps applications stand out. 
  3. Get Certified: Finally, nurses should earn the Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification. Not all cruises require this certification, but earning it ensures that you're eligible to work with any cruise line. To earn this certification, nurses need to:
    • Enroll in an in-person or hybrid ACLS course
    • Pass the multiple choice exam
    • Renew their certification every two years
  4. Learn another language: It also doesn't hurt to speak more than one language as cruises travel around the world and attract guests who might not speak English. While not required, bilingual nurses might have a huge advantage with some cruise lines.

What Does a Cruise Ship Nurse Do?

What does a day as a cruise ship nurse look like? Well, it ranges from treating patients with seasickness to providing healthcare services to patients in critical care.

Work With All Kinds of Patients

Much like hospitals on land, cruise ships see patients with all types of ailments, sicknesses, and health problems. Common issues like bad sunburns and food poisoning could be followed up by a passenger suffering from cardiac arrest. This is why cruise lines want nurses with plenty of ICU and emergency experience.

Work Alongside a Team of Healthcare Professionals

Fortunately, you won't be alone. Cruise lines employ a team of nurses, so someone will be available to provide healthcare at all times. When serious problems do occur, your team of nurses and other physicians will work to keep the patient healthy until they can be transferred to the nearest healthcare facility on land. 

Major cruise lines also equip ships with full medical facilities, including labs, a pharmacy, X-ray equipment, and more. Of course, cruise ship nurses still must make due with what's available to them onboard the ship. 

A cruise ship nurse can expect to work a 12-hour shift, and nurses rotate days off. However, if a serious problem occurs, you might be called upon on an off day to lend a hand. 

Cruise Ship Nurse Salary: How Much Do Cruise Ship Nurses Make?

Cruise ship nurses get to enjoy life on the seas as well as decent salaries. ZipRecruiter estimates that cruise ship nurses earn an average of $81,396 per year, though ZipRecuriter also estimates that more than half of current cruise ship nurses earn less. Glassdoor reports that Royal Carribean nurses earn an estimated base pay of $97,894 per year. Note that contract conditions vary based on cruise line and experience, and first-time cruise ship nurses probably earn less than what ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor report. 

Some additional good news is that nurses usually get weeks or months off between contracts, allowing for plenty of vacation time. 

Also, cruise lines cover the transportation costs of getting to and from home. So, if your cruise contract expires while you're overseas, the cruise line will pay for your flight home, then pay for your flight back to the ship when your new contract starts!

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Pros and Cons of Being a Cruise Ship Nurse

Like any other nursing career, working as a cruise ship nurse comes with its ups and downs. Here are some of the top factors to consider when deciding whether cruise ship nursing is right for you. 


  • Enjoy life on the sea. Cruise ship nurses have to work while they travel, but they travel nonetheless. You'll get to check out cool new places around the world, and you get to leave the ship if you have the day off. 
  • Plenty of flexibility. Contracts last no more than six months at a time. If you decide that cruise ship nursing isn't for you, your contract is probably close to expiring anyway. You can also take off as much time between contracts as you want. 
  • Low cost of living. While cruise ship nurses don't make the highest salaries, most expenses are paid for upfront. You don't have to worry about paying rent, covering utilities, or visiting the grocery store. 
  • Experience a unique work environment. There's truly nothing like working on a cruise ship. Each day could bring new challenges, and you get to enjoy spending time with your tight knit team of nurses. 

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  • Contract commitment. When you commit to working on a cruise ship, you can't just back out halfway through -- especially since you might be halfway across the world. Once you sign your contract, you're locked in.
  • Seasickness. This doesn't apply to everyone, but if you're prone to seasickness, then cruise ship nursing probably isn't for you.
  • Close quarters. Cruise ships feel big at first, but the more time you spend on them, the smaller they feel. If you don't think you can spend months at a time on a ship, then consider sticking to a land-based job. 
  • Live contract to contract. You may be ready to work as a cruise ship nurse, but cruise ships might not be ready for you. Contracts are limited (or during a pandemic, essentially nonexistent). Completing a contract with a cruise line does not guarantee a contract renewal, either. 

Finding Work As A Cruise Ship Nurse

If you're interested in becoming a cruise ship nurse, check out different cruise line websites to look for open positions. Nurse staffing agencies might also know of cruise ship nurse opportunities that you haven't found.

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