How to Become a Boat Captain in Canada

September 21, 2022

Ship’s Captain is as much a dream job as it is a job of the future. Boating around the world and constantly interacting with diverse cultures, the sea captain remains, in the popular mind, a profession of excellence. Although this image of “captain” reigns supreme in our minds, we tend to overlook the complex and competitive path that aspiring captains must face.

In this article, discover the different steps to become a boat captain in Canada.

What does a boat captain do?

By rank within the Navy, a ship’s captain has various duties and responsibilities. Often starting with a navigation officer’s license or as a deck officer, they learn the basics of their future job as captain. This includes learning about the different parts of a boat, nautical safety equipment, navigation tools such as the magnetic compass, as well as safety maneuvers.

Beyond that, once a boat captain has completed their training, they become the sole master on board the boat they sail, regardless of the type of vessel. They must then command ships, ensure the safety of passengers and crews, and make all decisions that apply to a specific situation.

For a quick comparison, the captain is the equivalent of a company director making all the decisions in order to maintain the successful operation of the company.

What skills and qualities does a boat captain need?

Beyond knowing where port and starboard are, a captain must possess certain essential qualities:

  • Enjoy traveling and working internationally, with a good command of foreign languages
  • Have an interest in marine sciences and professions
  • Have a good capacity for analysis, synthesis, autonomy and problem solving
  • Have good observational, organizational and leadership skills
  • Be dynamic, enthusiastic and disciplined
  • Be able to work under pressure and stress in order to make the best possible decisions in any situation

In this job, a ship’s captain must be adaptable and have great confidence in their skills. These are the reasons why it is so difficult to obtain a cruise ship captain’s license, and similar rank, even though the demand remains high.

Boat captain job outlook

By obtaining the rank of captain, lieutenants and midshipmen reach the highest rank of the profession. The future prospects, as we can understand them, concern especially the salary progression, which on average tends to be $100,000 per year in Canada.

What sectors can I work in as a boat captain?

There are four sectors and sub-sectors you can expect to work in as a captain:

  1. Merchant Marine
  2. Canadian Coast Guard
  3. Armed Forces
  4. Passenger Transportation

Training to become a ship captain

To become a ship captain, it is necessary to obtain both formal academic training and gain personal experience in the profession.

Academic streams

Various degrees and certifications are required to obtain a captain’s license and the first of these is a college degree in navigation. This first step allows candidates to pick up the scientific and mathematical basics that are essential in the profession. They will learn the basics of chart reading as well as the various emergency maneuvers (for example, how to deploy different types of boat anchors).

Once the basics are learned, midshipmen will also be required to complete 12 months of sea training as an officer of the watch, second officer, and first officer in the merchant marine. In order to progress, each grade will be tested at the end of each year of the college diploma. The goal is to apply the theory learned throughout the certification. Once the officer’s certificate is obtained, the midshipman can start his career as a navigation officer (2nd lieutenant).

It is also possible to complete a Bachelor of Technology in Nautical Sciences offered by the Canadian Coast Guard College. Divided between theory and time at sea, the training program offers a more professional approach to the theoretical, mathematical and scientific bases. Contrary to the college diploma, the bachelor’s degree offers more intensive courses in navigation and ship handling.

Military stream

If you are destined for a military career, the training program offered by the Canadian Forces trains midshipmen to become naval warfare officers. This training is more specialized than the bachelor’s degree. The midshipman will then be directly confronted with the real exercise of their duties, after acquiring the required knowledge and skills. Obtaining the rank of captain is faster.

Other diplomas and bachelor’s degrees lead to becoming an aspiring captain. Other streams include bachelor’s degrees in operations and logistics engineering, or in business administration with a specialization in marine transportation.

Experience in the field

The rank of captain, whether for cruise ships or cargo transports, requires a lot of experience.  The experience necessary ranges towards 10 years of active field experience.

Even if you have obtained all the necessary diplomas and certifications for this rank, you will have to progress by passing through as deck officer, towards chief of watch, and other levels. The goal is to gain as much experience as possible, either in the different nautical trades or vessels or the one that really interests you.

Internships, summer work and continuing your theoretical training by taking Transport Canada exams are all ways to gain new knowledge.  Without personal experience in the field, you are unable to become a ship captain.

Entry-level positions are possible

If you aspire to be a captain of a ship, don’t hesitate to start at the entry-level. The path to becoming a captain is tenuous and requires hard work. Don’t forget about the prospects for the future and for increasing your skills, because these can become opportunities.

Don’t neglect your first job and invest in it as if it will become your permanent position. The skills and experience that you will acquire will be assets that you will be able to put to good use when you change positions or grades.

Start your career with National Boating Safety School

Becoming a boat captain takes time and experience. Being a competitive profession, all experience and training is helpful in achieving your dream job. That’s why we offer the Transport Canada-approved online boating exam preparation boater safety course.

Register for the boating course now!

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