Steal This Job

Smooth Sailing: Cruise Ship Captain

Steal This Job
Zachariah Page (above) is the captain for Odyssey Cruises, docked at Gangplank Marina in Southwest D.C. (Jeff Baum)
By Danny Freedman
Monday, November 14, 2005; 3:48 PM


JOB: Captain for Odyssey Cruises, docked at Gangplank Marina in Southwest D.C.

SALARY: $42,000 to $50,000

EDUCATION: Bachelor's in small vessel operations from the Maine Maritime Academy, in Castine, Maine

WHAT HE DOES: While passengers dance and dine as they cruise on the Potomac, Page makes sure their ride on the 2,000-ton, 63-foot wide Odyssey is a smooth one. The ritzy barge stops in either Georgetown or Old Town, and along the way Page guides it through an array of obstacles. The vessel squeezes underneath bridges, with a precious 15 feet or so on either side. He also must constantly monitor the tides -- which "get a little funky" on the Potomac, rising and falling quickly -- using markings on bridges to make sure the boat will make it under them. He also handles the hiring and training of the crew, administering the payroll and benefits, and tracking expenses for repairs and cleaning. He and the other captains divvy up responsibility for less-complicated handiwork, such as oil changes and pump repairs.

WOULD YOU WANT HIS JOB? How's your driving? Boats are "slow to react to everything," he said, especially one that's 246 feet long. To navigate safely, "you've really got to be thinking a solid 15 to 45 seconds ahead of the boat," he said. In the summer, the water's full of recreational boaters (who get a horn blast if it seems they're waiting for Odyssey to move around them), and heavy rains can pull debris -- including full-size trees -- into the water.

HOW YOU CAN GET HIS JOB: Captains of commercial vessels in navigable U.S. waters need a license from the U.S. Coast Guard. Requirements vary depending on the type of vessel and where it's going to be operated. To work on the Potomac on a vessel the size of Odyssey, captains must have 360 days of service on a boat, as well as meet medical, vision and hearing standards. Captains need to either pass a series of exams or have completed Coast Guard-approved training. Page said Odyssey captains also undergo training specific to the vessel (which usually lasts about five months) before they can prove their skills in a test-ride with the company president and general manager.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: The Coast Guard's National Maritime Center has licensing details and a list of Coast Guard-approved courses; the U.S. Maritime Administration lists training programs, including colleges and academies, and links to job sites.

This articile originally appeared in the Express on June 20, 2005.

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