10 Pros and Cons of Being a Cruise Ship Nurse

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

If you are considering a non-traditional career as a nurse, working onboard a cruise ship might be a career that you may want to consider. Have you ever dreamed of being a nurse on a cruise ship? I know I have. Cruise ships are an excellent career choice for those looking for a destination to escape the chaos of land life. It just sounds so glamorous, right? It sounds like the perfect job, but there are some pros and cons of being a cruise ship nurse you should know about before jumping in head-first. This article will give you the top 10 pros and cons of being a cruise ship nurse. In this article, you will find the information that will help you decide if being a cruise ship nurse is the right fit for you!

What Does A Cruise Ship Nurse Do?

A cruise ship nurse is a registered nurse whose job is to take care of the health and well-being of all passengers and crew. The work that you will perform is not like general nursing as there are no specialty doctors or hospitals available. If an emergency were to occur, the closest hospital would be at least 3 hours away by sea. This means that the cruise ship nurse has to be skilled and highly qualified in their field. The daily tasks of a cruise ship nurse are very similar to nursing ashore. They are responsible for coordinating healthcare amongst the crew, performing medical examinations, and abiding by all local laws/regulations. The nursing duties can be divided into two distinctive areas: onboard the ship and shore side. Onboard responsibilities include providing care to passengers, while ashore; the nurse is attending to the needs of their medical staff members.


Where Does A Cruise Ship Nurse Work?

Cruise ship nurses work aboard cruise ships. They are usually in charge of the ship's infirmary, which consists of a very small staff that can include other nurses or medics for rotation. As a nurse on a cruise ship, you will work long hours and be called upon to work various shifts, including days, nights, weekends, and holidays. The work can be physically demanding, depending on the size of the ship. Most cruise ships are large floating resorts with anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 passengers.

How Much Does A Cruise Ship Nurse Make?

As a nurse working on a cruise ship, your salary will depend on a number of factors, including the ranking of your job and your experience level. Your salary will increase substantially as your experience level increases. The average salary of those working as a cruise ship nurse is $36.67 an hour which is $76,283 a year. Let’s break down your earning potential a bit more according to your experience level. If you are just starting out as a cruise ship nurse, as an entry-level employee you can expect to be earning $18.99 an hour which would give you an annual salary of $39,500 per year. Now, if you have been working for some time you can expect a much higher hourly pay rate of $50.00 an hour due to having mid-level experience. That is $104,000 a year. That is quite a jump in salary. If you continue with the career of being a cruise ship nurse you will reach the top-level of the pay scale and earn around $64.66 an hour for an annual salary of $134,500.

Level of
Average Salary$36.67$76,283
(Source: Ziprecruiter.com)

Steps To Becoming A Cruise Ship Nurse

1. The first step to becoming a cruise ship nurse will be to attend and graduate from an accredited nursing school. Although it may not be required to work on a cruise ship, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing will give you a more robust skill set and decision-making capabilities.

2. Obtaining a nursing license by successfully passing the NCLEX exam would be the next step.

3. You would then need to possess specific certifications in order to become a cruise ship nurse. These certifications would include advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) and pediatric advanced life support (PALS). You will need to pass a multiple-choice exam and a practical hands-on portion to obtain these certifications. You will be required to recertify every two years in order to maintain these certifications. Keep in mind that specific ships may require additional certifications.

4. You will need to gain some valuable experience. Most jobs on cruise ships will require that you have at least two to three years of experience. Critical care and acute care are preferred areas of expertise.


(The following are the top 10 disadvantages of being a Cruise Ship Nurse.)

1. You may not have much privacy.

Everybody needs and wants some privacy at times. Unfortunately, one of the top disadvantages of being a cruise ship nurse is that you will not have much privacy. Between cabin mates and your schedule, privacy is something luxury cruise ship nurses will rarely have. Shipboard life can be pretty cramped, to begin with. Most rooms are around 150 sq ft, which is about the size of a decent-sized master bedroom. Add two beds, two sets of drawers and closets, two people's worth of clothes, two people's hygiene supplies, two people's belongings of just about everything, and you have a very crowded space.

2. You will be living with a stranger.

One of the pros and cons of being a cruise ship nurse that you will need to take into consideration is that you can either end up with a fantastic roommate or a nightmare roommate. When you work and live on a cruise ship, you must prepare to spend time with people that are not like you. The people you will encounter while working on a cruise ship will come from diverse backgrounds and may have different values, goals, cultures, religions, etc. It is essential that you understand this because you will be working and living with people from all walks of life. As far as your room is concerned, you will be in very close quarters with people you do not know. If you are not social and open-minded, this is not the job for you.

3. You may end up having seasickness.

One of the biggest disadvantages of being a cruise ship nurse is that you may get seasickness. Once you are on the ship, you are stuck on the ship. So, if you get seasick, well, you will have to ride it out till you get back to land. There is no magic pill to fix this problem.

4. You will be tied into a contract.

As a cruise ship nurse, you will be tied into a contract. Once you sign on that dotted line, well, they own you. You cannot just quit and not do your job because that is breaching a legal contract that you signed. You will be stuck there until you are done with the contract’s terms. If you breach your contract, it will be almost impossible to get another job on a cruise ship.

5. You will have decreased job security.

One of the worst parts about being a cruise ship nurse is the decrease in job security you will experience. Cruise ship nurses are required to work contract to contract, meaning that every two months, you will have to re-apply for your position. This can be highly frustrating for nurses who have worked onboard a cruise ship for several years and are hoping to keep their job. The turnover rate can be extremely high since nurses are constantly coming and going due to this aspect of the job.

6. You may not get days to rest.

When you think about being on a cruise, you think about relaxation and rest. Well, that is not the case if you are on a cruise ship to work, such as with a cruise ship nurse. You will not get many days off. You may end up being more tired at the end of your contract than at the beginning. You have to think, yeah, you will get to go to some great places, but you will not have time off to explore it. Depending on the cruise line, you might be allowed to take a vacation day after you have worked 6 months consecutively. You may not be able to get any significant consecutive time off. Not only will this interfere with your social life, but it may also affect your home life.

7. You will be working long hours.

As a cruise ship nurse, you will end up working long hours. Depending on the ship you are working for, each nurse works an average of 10 -12 hour days or longer with no scheduled time off. At least 4 months out of the year is spent at sea, which means there is no opportunity to have a vacation day during these times. You may end up working 7 days a week. I feel like you are putting in so much time working for such little reward.

8. You may end up working late at night.

One of the cons of being a cruise ship nurse is that you are never sure what time of day or night people may need your assistance. It does not matter if you have already worked a long shift or want to spend some private time with friends, there is always the risk that crew members and passengers will need assistance at any hour of the day or night. You may end up working longer than you initially thought and end up with many sleepless nights.

9. You may become homesick

One of the most significant downsides to being a cruise ship nurse is that you may become homesick. This happens to many people who are on this career path. This may be because you are used to your life back on land and everything that goes with it. You may miss all of the things that you used to do when you lived on land, such as sleeping in your own bed or being able to drive around in your car whenever you want. When you are on a cruise ship, you will not see your family, friends, or even pets, and it may be difficult to call them because of the cost of long-distance phone calls at sea or not having phone service at sea.

10. You can become sick.

Since working on a cruise ship means treating sick people, being exposed to so many germs could make it easy for you to be infected. One of the biggest disadvantages of being a cruise ship nurse is that you run the risk of becoming ill. Also, since germs spread quickly over large populations, especially when you live and work on a ship in close confined quarters, you could find it difficult to stay well. You will find that if there is an outbreak on the ship with a specific illness, it will only be a matter of time before it infects many people, and you may be one of them.


(The following are the top 10 advantages of being a Cruise Ship Nurse.)

1. Your salary is not too shabby.

One of the top pros of being a cruise ship nurse is that you have the potential to earn an excellent salary. Cruise ships offer some of the best wages in the nursing world, and many people who love to travel and work at sea work as nurses on board these vessels. The other appealing factor regarding your salary as a cruise ship nurse is that your salary will increase as you gain experience. This sounds like a win-win to me. Let me refresh your memory on your earning potential. The average salary of those working as a cruise ship nurse is $36.67 an hour which is $76,283 a year. Keep in mind your experience level will affect your salary. As an entry-level employee, you can expect to be earning $18.99 an hour which would give you an annual salary of $39,500 per year. Now, if you have some experience, you will be considered a mid-level employee and can expect a much higher hourly pay rate of $50.00 an hour. That is $104,000 a year. A top-level employee can expect to earn around $64.66 an hour for an annual salary of $134,500.

2. You will travel to some pretty unbelievable places.

One of the biggest advantages of being a cruise ship nurse is that you will have the ability to travel to some pretty incredible places. In fact, most nurses who decide to become nurses on a cruise ship will be amazed with the types of places they will be able to travel to. For example, cruise ship nurses can travel to places in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, or Fiji. Other great destinations include the Caribbean Islands, Africa, and many more.

3. You will work at sea.

One of the pros and cons of being a cruise ship nurse that you will have to think about is that you will be living at sea. Sure, you will get to surround yourself with all the beauty the sea has to offer, but you will also not have the amenities of living on land. If that does not bother you then you will encounter stunning blue waters, animal wildlife, and let's not forget to mention working on your tan.

4. You will make friends from all over.

Being a cruise ship nurse isn't just about traveling to all these fantastic places; it's also about making new friends from around the world and having fun experiences that you will never forget. You will be able to build relationships that will last you a lifetime.

5. Your cost of living will be pretty low.

Nurses who work on cruise ships make a lot of money. This is because room and board will be paid for, meals paid for, and the cost of living is meager compared to other places such as living on land. You will not have to worry about paying your rent, car insurance, buying groceries, and paying utilities. All of those expenses will be paid for on the ship.

6. You will have a tremendous amount of flexibility.

Another one of the top pros of being a cruise ship nurse is that you will find that the career has a good amount of flexibility. The typical contract for a cruise ship nurse is about six months. So, if you are not thrilled with the current arrangement you are working on, well, then you do not have to renew it. You can look for a different one to pursue. You will also be able to dictate how much time you want to take off in between contracts. Maybe you want to dive right into the next contract, or perhaps you want to take a bit of a break. The choice is yours.

7. You will gain a unique work experience.

Unlike other nursing careers, a career as a cruise ship nurse offers unique experiences in various locations around the world. Unlike working in the hospital setting, where you are assigned to one location, cruise ship nurses can travel to many locations. You will gain exceptional assessment skills and learn how to intervene with a variety of medical problems. A cruise ship nurse also earns unique experiences regarding the technology available onboard to treat their patients. You, in the end, will become more marketable for future jobs because you have been able to adapt to working in this unique environment.

8. You can get discounts.

One of the pros of being a cruise ship nurse is getting discounts on cruises for your family and friends. These discounts can be pretty hefty. So, not only do you cruise for free, your family and friends can join you for the cruise at a great price.

9. You will be exposed to different cultures

As a nurse who works on a cruise ship, you will be exposed to different cultures. As you are working with people from different parts of the world, it is essential to understand their cultures and traditions. Some of the best practice protocols may not apply in other cultures, so you must understand these cultures as a nurse, especially if you work on cruise ships. Exposure to these cultures will serve as a learning experience for you. This will help you gain new knowledge, which will make you a better nurse.

10. You will gain some real vital experience

One of the advantages of being a cruise ship nurse is that you will gain such vital work experience. Working on a cruise ship as a nurse is nowhere near like working in a hospital. You will have the opportunity to perfect your assessment skills. You will learn important treatment modalities that will benefit you on your career path. Gaining these important skills will make you so appealing to those looking to hire an extremely skilled nurse.

My Final Thoughts

So, what are the pros and cons of being a cruise ship nurse? There are many pros and cons to being a cruise ship nurse. Some of the positive aspects include an opportunity for travel, meeting new people, and great pay rates. On the other hand, there are negatives such as not seeing your family often due to long periods away from home, lack of privacy on board because you share space with so many others (sometimes even strangers). The decision is up to each individual, but it may be worth looking into what life would be like at sea. Hopefully, this list of the top 10 pros and cons of being a cruise ship nurse will help you decide whether or not this career is right for you!

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.