Set sail for cruise ship nursing after completing a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree (BSN). This a dynamic, fast-paced job with enviable perks, but it’s not for everyone. Potential cruise ship nurses must meet specific requirements, stand out in a crowded applicant pool and quickly find their sea legs. Here’s everything potential nurses need to know about this exciting career opportunity.

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Minimum Requirements

At a bare minimum, cruise ship nurses must have a current nursing license, a BSN and 2 years of clinical experience. Because so many nurses want cruise ship jobs, applicants need to boost their chances of getting hired. Learning a second language is helpful, especially one commonly spoken in the United States like Spanish, Chinese or Tagalog. Because medical services on cruise ships are similar to those offered by acute care facilities, it’s a good idea to seek working experience in an emergency room, high-volume walk-in clinic or similar environment with a diverse workload. A master’s degree in nursing (MSN) can be helpful but may not result in additional pay. It’s vital for applicants to demonstrate flexibility in unusual living and working conditions. Volunteering with Doctors Without Borders, joining the Indian Health Service or working as a traveling nurse can demonstrate adaptability on a resume.


Do cruise ship nurses earn a lot of money? According to, a staff nurse will earn between $4,000 and $5,000 per month. Nurses in traditional roles in urban settings or specialty practices can earn more, but cruise ship nurses get special benefits. Cruise companies offer free food, free housing on the ship, free travel to exotic destinations, access to a gym and many more amenities. Over the duration of a cruise contract, nurses can expect many days off to explore exotic ports or attend on-board entertainment like comedy shows or live piano music. With careful planning, cruise ship nurses can store away 100 percent of their income. Although cruising nurses don’t earn quite as much as their landlubber counterparts, it’s easy to save up much more than traditional nurses.

Working Conditions

Cruise ships are crowded, but the medical bay can feel oddly empty compared to hospitals. It’s rare for cruises to hire certified nursing assistants (CNAs), surgical techs or medical assistants. This means nurses have to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with basic tasks. Some days at sea are full of adrenaline; if a passenger has a heart attack or traumatic injury on board, the medical team must scramble to keep the patient alive until a fully stocked, land-based facility is available. Most days are less exciting. Cruising nurses can expect to hand out sunscreen, comfort patients with upset stomachs and hold a lot of hands. Nurses also work in a team with other nurses and physicians, so working well with others is mandatory.

With the right career plan and the right expectations, anyone can become a traveling cruise nurse. First, complete a nursing degree; second, apply to cruise ship nursing positions; and third, head to the open seas for the nursing adventure of a lifetime.