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Home > Profession > Does an airline captain outshine a ship captain?
Does an airline captain outshine a ship captain?
Flying - Profession
Saturday, 24 September 2005 12:04

Hello Captain Lim,

Thank you for creating such a wonderful and informative website. I'm a student from the maritime college. I have this question that always ponder me:

In the transportation industry, we have the airline transport pilots, that's you guys, handling the aircraft, whether it*s cargo or passenger. On the maritime side, we have the captains who are overall in charge of the whole vessel. Well both cases require pilots to start off as cadets (deck cadet for the maritime, cadet pilot for the aviation). However, the requirement for deck cadet is not as demanding as cadet pilot as the nautical side does not require a University degree (which is broadly preferred by airlines), undergo aptitude tests, attend difficult interviews, (yes, nautical side does have such but it isn't that stringent) etc.

For a deck cadet to become captain, he needs to attend the relevant course at the maritime college, then sails for 18 months in order to take the Certificate of Competency (CoC) examination that will qualify him as a 3rd Officer. Thereafter, he sails 36 months in order to take the Masters* CoC (comprise of written, oral and simulator examinations) before he becomes a Captain of a ship.

As regards to the route from a cadet pilot to captain, I have read about it in the SIA and your website. In the nautical CoC exams, you can fail more than twice and not get expelled, but you can*t do that in the ATPL exams (as I read from Japan*s Koukuu Dai - students who failed a ATPL module twice are forced to give up their flying career).

Why is the difference between becoming a ship captain and an airline pilot so wide? I mean, both captains are competent to take charge of huge and sophisticated transports yet it seems like the road to becoming an airline captain is much more tougher and stringent than a ship captain. Is it true that an airline captain outshine a ship captain?

Your views on this discussion are greatly appreciated.

Asakura Hideki

Hi Asakura,

Different countries subscribe to different policies. For example, in the European countries, they have the JAA or JAR ATPL. In the USA, the license awarded to an airline commercial pilot is known as an ATP. (Outside, it is known as ATPL - Airline Transport Pilot License). A US ATP (same as ICAO ATPL) is not equivalent to a JAA ATPL even though both pilots with the different licenses can still fly the same Boeing 777 or 747. So, a US airline pilot holding an ATP will have problem getting a job in Europe unless he spends more money and time converting his license to a JAR ATPL.

What I am trying to say is that, a country can stipulate its own policy for the award of the ATPL. I am not familiar with the Japanese Civil Aviation policy of only allowing 2 failures for the ATPL examination, but the rules for other countries are less stringent. For instance, in Australia, for the award of the theoretical ICAO ATPL examination, candidates may choose to sit any number of papers at any particular sitting. When all the seven subjects have been passed, a candidate is awarded an ATPL. However, all the examinations must be passed within a 3-year period. Perhaps the gap between becoming a ship captain and an airline pilot is wider only in Japan.

Does an airline captain outshine a ship captain? I don't think so. Both undertake an equally responsible job. It is just that each person carries out a different function. I think it is probably a perception only. Somehow, I must admit that, anything to do with aviation (especially air accidents) tends to hog the limelight more. A good example is the case below - the JetBlue landing gear drama had a good live TV coverage in Los Angeles as it was burning off 3 hours worth of fuel in the air. Yes, Captain Scott Burke was the hero of the day. See what I mean? More publicity is always generated, especially involving flying and the plane. In that sense, an airline captain gets a little more public exposure than a ship captain, but in other sense, both shine equally! :-)

Happy sailing!


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Which Pays better Pilot Captain or Ship Captain
Hello Cpt Lim,

Thanks for creating this wonderful websites and giving we young ones opportunity to get knowledge. I have been wondering which pays better salary between beign a ship captain (Master Mariner) or beign an aircraft captain. I am already in a maritime colledge and i am hoping to go to a flying school someday as i have passion for flying. I will appreciate your response.

Once again V.good website you have
Seye , 02 Sep, 2009
AB REX , 09 Jan, 2011
Does an airline captain outshine a ship captain? YES , Low-rated comment [Show]
Not really
1. a ship can sink in literally seconds
2. you cant escape from a capsizing ship, a ship that explodes or perhaps a ship on fire
3. when a ship sinks other ships come to aid as well as aircraft, a helicopter or sea plane is useless at aiding ships in trouble, they can merely remove personnel and if the weather is bad enough then they become totally useless (incidents at sea generally happen in the worst weather conditions)
4. Your number 2 doesnt make any sense - why would you put that when obviously someone on a ship would have to deal with those exact things, you guys fly around hurricanes, however, a ship can easily be caught in one, try abandoning a ship in those conditions
5. Ship captains have to actually understand the overall stability of a ship and be able to carry out these calculations manually. A commercial airline pilot merely keys it into a computer which is prepared by someone in an office.

PS: I have both a commerical pilots license and an Officer of the Watch unlimited ship license
Jonnny32 , 03 Mar, 2013
Sea Captains VS Pilots
you pilots steals everything from the navy the sextant was invented by the marine officers your college only 1 year and a half which is nothing compared to us you only drive and take control of the plane..A Sea Captain takes control and supervision in every single thing related to the ship we Study Celestial navigation Stability Safety of the Ship Navigation too many theoretical thing we have unlike you only simulating how you fly and land the plane...aaah come on give me a break smilies/cool.gif
zeko , 29 Nov, 2014
hey pilots tell me what you study !! just simulation even your celestial navigation is nothing compared to us and you don't have terrestrial navigation like in the Navy, pilots are just driving nothing more we have ship stability do you know what that means ?!!!smilies/cheesy.gif
mild epileptic sufferers
in my opinion mild epileptic sufferers can be shipping captains but not airline pilots as ships are safer and there's less responsibility to a ship then a plane.i have very mild epilepsy and i am considering been a shipping captain in the future as i love ships
chris , 24 Jun, 2015
shipping captains
i have mild epilepsy and i still have a better chance of been a captain of a ship but defiantly not a aircraft pilot .ships go slow and there's less responsibility to a ship then a aircraft that is fast and up in mid air..a ship is on water and goes slow and mild epileptic sufferers have a chance with been a ships captain
chris , 24 Jun, 2015
Less Stringent?
I dont think the interview on our side (nautical) are less stringent, we are subject to extreme scrutiny from multiple organisations from cadetship until right up to captain, and its neverending story. i would say a sailor life is much more stressful compared to airline captain, my friends who are pilots(airline) seem to think so. and we spent what? total 3 months in a year with family ? no days off for 6 months while at sea, neverending operations, quick port rotation, do u make the plan yourself? cargo operations? drills and trainings? required to attend training with what little time we have with family??
Dev Kamal , 16 Feb, 2017
Can a Officer from a changing career to airline pilot.
Hi Capt Lim.

Just want to enquirer since I am working in a ship as a 3rd mate. I decided I am not happy with my career of choice. Can achieve my dream of becoming a airline pilot if i decide to make a career change. Since my age is in my mid 20s
Bryan , 27 Mar, 2017

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