Who does what on a cruise ship

Most of the staff jobs on board are self explanatory, like shop assistants, casino staff, etc. You need to know, however, how the ship jobs are structured. Each type of job, apart from the two basic categories of employment, comes under a particular department.

Some are directly responsible to the captain of the ship, others to managers of departments. It's a command hierarchy.

The captain and the crew

On any ship, the traditional ship command structure is used.

The sailors operate the ship. The whole crew is comprised of trained professionals, in some cases more highly trained than their counterparts on land.

The ship's captain is legally responsible for the safe running of the ship, its sailing, and anything and everything covered by international maritime law.

Employers don't let just anyone sail their billion dollar babies, and luxury cruise line captains are at the top of their profession. The responsibilities are huge, and

Seamen have ranks and grades based on their expertise, and are all formally qualified.

Engineers and tradesmen are specialists in marine technology, also highly qualified both as tradesmen and specialists. The tradesmen, engineers and people like chefs, electronics and communication work on and use the operating systems of the ship, so they're considered 'crew'.

These jobs are careers in themselves. For sailors, CV Tips has a page showing the first steps. http://www.cvtips.com/employed_salior.html

Those interested in crew jobs should contact their local trades education sources, and check crew advertisements to get an outline of levels of qualification, apprenticeships.

The Hotel Department

This is the customer care part of the ship's operations, and there are some jobs which are specific to ships. The Hotel Department is responsible for services to passenger, the business end of the cruise.

The Hotel Manager is responsible for ship administration, ship's services, customer relations, complaints, and anything related to them. This is a sensitive role, because passengers are paying customers, and the cruise line is obliged to provide services. Passengers have legal rights regarding the services provided, on a ship, that's a very large range of services.

The Purser's Department

One of the most demanding jobs on board, responsible for the administrative running of the ship, and also the first port of call for customer complaints, is the Purser.

The Chief Purser runs the Purser's Department, directly reporting to the Hotel Manager. This would be one of the most challenging administrative jobs on Earth, covering the entire gamut of the ship's operations.

Because of the two category system, there are two divisions of the Purser's Department:

The Hotel Purser handles passenger matters. This is the customer relations end, and the Hotel Purser is also responsible for:

  • Financial transactions
  • Banking and safe deposits
  • Information to passengers
  • Complaints
  • Passenger manifests (formal system for keeping track of passengers and not losing them)
  • Voyage reports (A record of the voyage, any incidents or issues. It's a mission report, in many ways.)
  • Luggage
  • Accommodation
  • Services like cabin cleaning, etc.
  • Shopping, health, pool, entertainment and casino services for passengers

To this could be added 'Anything else that happens in the Hotel Department.' Put several thousand human beings in the same place, and the possibilities are endless. Anything from a seagull with a sense of humor to noisy neighbors can be part of the mix.

The Crew Purser

The Crew side of the administrative equation is handled by this Department. Crew sign-ons, medical records, passports, visas, immigration, payroll, and other crew issues are handled by this Department. This is the HR resource for Crew.

The Cruise Department

The Cruise Department is the governing management authority for entertainment, and providing all the high living the luxury cruise lines advertise.

This is Customer Care in the truest sense of both the words, in a very demanding market. People who have paid for 5 Star services are fussy, with good reason, and standards are extremely high.

The cruise industry is highly competitive, and the Cruise Department is the one providing the presentation. It's a complex process, because it covers everything the cruise line advertises to its clients. Musicians, comedians, cabaret, clowns and kids' entertainment, there's almost no end to possible functions.

(All of this, by the way, has to mesh with ship's schedules, operations, legal liabilities, ship safety, and the rest of the ship's business. It's quite a balancing act.)

Important note for people working in Cruise Department Entertainment:

Whatever you do, all the ship's rules add a level of obligations to your work. You are required to stick to the rules, and you are an employee of the ship, and you are under contract. It's like any contract, read it and understand it.

Don't lose a good job for something stupid.

Specialty Services

Many of the ship's jobs are self explanatory, like shop work, massage, casino, etc. They're exactly the same jobs, transferred to a ship.

Some jobs, however, have evolved to the shipboard environment.

Concierges look after private customers, organizing private functions, operating as booking agents for the trip, dealing with the other travel arrangements of their clients. This is a particularly useful job, because it allows passengers to manage their shore visits effectively.

(Bearing in mind that some cruise ships spend more time in port than actually at sea, you can see why this work is so important. A tour of the Caribbean has so many shore visits that organization is important.)

Ship's Photographers

If you're looking for a lot of work, this would be the job. Tourism and photography are inseparable, and this is where they prove it.

This is commercialphotography, and it's quite likely that the photographer will meet everybody on board, and soon.

The product has to be of very high quality.

Most people would know what a paid photographer can do to a picture, and paying customers somehow tend to be argumentative customers.

The photographer is on call for everybody and everything. From embarkation to ship fancy dress parties to personal photos and tours, it's all yours. Work is scheduled, but that doesn't make less work, just better organized work.

The ship's photographer has to handle everything from taking the picture/video to producing the final product.

A good amateur photographer will become a professional soon enough in this environment. Ships are fussy about who does their photography, too, so you will need to show some professional credentials.


Some people run what are called 'concessions', which are shipboard businesses. These can be anything from art auctions to basic commercial and entrepreneurial business. There's no fixed definition of what can be covered by concessions.

Concessions are arranged under contracts with the shipping line, and concession employees, if not strictly speaking crew or hotel staff, are bound by those contracts. They're also bound by their employment contracts. Anyone working for a concession needs to get a grip, fast, on their obligations. It's critically important to your work.

Any concession contract sets out the Dos and Don'ts for concessions. Otherwise, ship's rules govern. The concessionaire is the delegated authority for ship concessions.

As you can see from this outline, all these jobs work according to a clear management and functional structure.

You do need to know how to work with the administrative machinery of the ship, because it's also running your career for you, and managing your affairs.

Take the time, familiarize yourself with 'Who does what'. You really do need to know.

Ask any questions you need to ask, because it's a lot better than not knowing.

When looking at any shipboard job, check out everything, thoroughly.

Work conditions, contracts, career prospects, rules, time at sea,facilities, amenities, whatever.

It all becomes your life, when you sign on.

Search for a Cruise Ship Job :
Search the main cruise ship employment sites directly here.