July 19, 2016

Sail Your Way To Becoming A Cruise Ship Nurse

Sail Your Way To Becoming A Cruise Ship Nurse Staff By: Staff

Written By: Dawn Papandrea

If you're an aspiring nurse or are already working in the profession but looking for a change of pace, becoming a cruise nurse can be an appealing opportunity. Especially for someone who isn't tied down to responsibilities on land.

Being a nurse on a cruise ship is not unlike working in a busy ER or clinic setting – except that you're in the middle of the ocean on your way to some exotic locale. If you think you might like to hop aboard a career as a cruise nurse, here's what you need to know.

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Licensing And Requirements

The qualifications for working as a nurse aboard a cruise ship are basically on par with any other nursing job, along with a couple of other requirements. First, you must have your nursing license and be a practicing nurse. Any approved state license will do, as you’ll be traveling all over the world. Or, as explained on the Princess Cruise line’s website, applicants must have “current registration and licensing with appropriate governmental or provincial regulatory agencies.”

Don’t expect to get a job on a cruise ship right out of nursing school, however. Most cruise lines require at least two years of working experience (some specify 3 years), and most prefer that you’ve worked in an emergency or acute care.

Finally, all cruise ship nurses have to earn their certification in advanced cardiac life support, to ensure that they are well prepared to handle such emergencies on board.

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Nursing On The High Seas

If you’re wondering what a day in the life of a cruise nurse entails, it has similarities and differences to a land-based nursing position.

For starters, nurses on cruises offer patient care for everything from first aid, sea-sickness, and bad sunburns to more serious issues like cardiac arrest, serious injuries, and critical care. In some instances, the main objective of the nurse and the whole team is to get the patient stable enough to transfer them to the nearest facility on land, sometimes by helicopter or small boat. In these situations, at least one nurse will likely accompany the patient for that ride.

Cruise nurses work within a small medical team consisting of other nurses and physicians, and most major cruise lines have a well-equipped medical facility on board, complete with labs, X-ray equipment, a pharmacy, and more.

What is slightly different is that there usually isn’t a big support staff comprised of technicians, aides, and other workers like you’d find in a hospital. Therefore, cruise nurses have more hands-on interaction with their patients.

Shifts are similar to what nurses might expect, usually about 12 hours, and days off will rotate. However, at sea, nurses will also have to take turns being on call.

Related: Nursing Careers: Which One Is Right For You?

Salary And Contract

Most people who become cruise nurses are probably not in it for the money, since the salary is typically far less than one can earn at a hospital or other institution. However, the private cabin, free meals, and chances to the travel the world offset the lower compensation. Cruise lines usually cover travel expenses to get nursing staff to the ships as well.

Cruise nurses are usually hired for a six-month contract. At the end of the job, nurses will usually take off a few weeks before beginning a new contract and heading back out again. If traveling is something you prioritize along with your nursing career, we encourage you to look into Travel nursing as well!

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Ups And Downs Of A Cruise Ship Nurse


If you’re someone who loves cruising, taking a job on board isn’t exactly like a vacation, but you’ll get the chance for some downtime. On days offs, nurses get to explore the ports of call, as well as enjoy some ship amenities.

Some people also prefer the flexibility of a short-term contract if they’re not ready to settle anywhere in particular.

Cruise nurses also have an exciting job in that every day is different and you don’t know what to expect. Working within a small team also gives cruise nurses a lot of autonomy and more responsibility than they may get as a shift nurse in a hospital with a larger staff.

Finally, cruise nurses get to meet and treat people from all over the world, and from all walks of life.

Looking for a change of scenery?  See available nursing jobs by location.


Cruise nurses have to be comfortable with being away for months at a time, something that isn’t appealing to everyone, especially if you have family ties or other responsibilities.

As mentioned above, the salary for this position is usually not comparable to other nursing jobs, but your cost of living is very low because of the free room, board, and food.

Lastly, cruise nursing jobs are not as abundant as you might think, so if you’re really interested in pursuing this field, know that the job market is competitive. One way to stand out from other candidates is if you’re bilingual, or have experience working in a multicultural setting. Cultural sensitivity and awareness is a big part of the job.


Finding Work As A Cruise Ship Nurse

If you think a cruise nurse is a great fit for you, the best way to find a job is to contact the medical departments of cruise lines directly on their company websites. The American College of Emergency Physicians website has a handy round-up of contact information, but note that information may change or become outdated.

Whether or not becoming a cruise nurse is the right career move for you, it goes to show that nursing is a versatile skill that can take you places, both professionally and literally. Bon voyage!

How Can You Advance Your Nursing Career?

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Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, an NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle,, Parents,, and more.

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