For nurses who love to travel, a nursing job on a cruise ship or yacht may be the perfect job. Working with a typically small medical staff, nurses often have the opportunity to provide one-on-one medical care for the guests or team members on board the ship.

Cruise Ship Nurse

Many cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises, have facilities ranging from a walk-in clinic for non-urgent matters to a fully-equipped medical facility to care for emergent or trauma injuries that might occur on the ship. Nurses who wish to work for Princess Cruises must have at least 3 years’ experience in either emergency or acute care settings; ‘acute care' typically refers to a hospital setting as opposed to an outpatient or urgent-care facility. Nurses must also possess certification in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and have an active RN license. Qualified nurses who speak multiple languages such as Mandarin or Japanese are in high demand on cruise lines.

On the Royal Caribbean cruise line, nurses are required to have at least 3 years’ experience in an emergency or intensive care unit (ICU) setting. An active nursing license in any state is also required as well as current ACLS and Basic Life Support (BLS) certifications. Smaller cruise lines, such as Viking River Cruises, require only 2 years of nursing experience, yet hospitality and yachting experience is valued for the position. A work Visa will also be required when working as a nurse outside of the U.S.

Yacht Nurse

Yacht nursing is a lesser-known specialty that you may not be aware of but may be pleased to know exists. These nurses can travel almost anywhere, from the South Pacific to Hawaii, to the Caribbean. Because yachts are smaller and have less staff than cruise ships, in addition to providing medical care yacht nurses may also be asked to assist with other tasks such as service and maintenance. Because medical care and monitoring are not needed the whole time, assisting the other crew is another job duty. Moreover, in case of evacuation, a yacht nurse may need to assist with getting passengers to lifeboats or other vessels.

Those interested in yacht nursing should remember that they are considered staff, i.e. part of the crew. This means they may need to share small living quarters with other crew members and work beyond what is considered "nursing duties". However, the ability to travel, experience new places, and meet new people is enough to attract nurses into the field of yacht nursing.

Responsibilities of Nurses Working on Boats and Ships

Both cruise ship and yacht nurses perform basic first aid skills, administer medications, and occasionally handle emergency medical care. They must be able to assess situations and triage, and also educate passengers on any medical issues or concerns. Occasionally, medical emergencies arise and it's difficult for rescue boats or helicopters to arrive quickly, so the nurse must be able to manage a patient until help arrives.

The working life of a nurse onboard a yacht or cruise ship is very different than most healthcare settings. Shifts can be anywhere from 4-12 hours along with the expectation of taking calls for emergencies after hours. The medical personnel, although typically considered professional staff, are not "allowed" to mingle or fraternize with the guests onboard the ship. Most cruise lines offer nurses their own cabin and meals as part of the position.

Nurses who routinely work assignments on yachts and cruise lines find the work fun and adventurous. While this day-on-stay-on work may not be for all nurses, those with wanderlust and experience in emergency nursing or ICU nursing may find this an exciting career path.

Qualifications of a Nurse at Sea

We’ve addressed some cruise line-specific qualifications above, but generally speaking, you’ll need to have most of the following regardless of the nurse at sea position you’re applying to:

  • Registered Nurse (RN) Licensure: Obtaining licensure as a registered nurse is essential. This typically requires completing an accredited nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
  • Clinical Experience: Prior experience in clinical settings, such as hospitals or healthcare facilities, is highly beneficial. It helps in developing critical skills and familiarity with medical procedures.
  • Specialized Training: Additional certifications or training in areas relevant to maritime healthcare can be advantageous. Courses in emergency medicine, trauma care, and maritime medicine enhance readiness for the challenges of providing healthcare at sea.
  • Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) Certification: These certifications are often required and demonstrate proficiency in managing cardiac emergencies, which are crucial skills in any healthcare setting.
  • Emergency Response Training: Familiarity with emergency response protocols and procedures is essential for nurses at sea. This includes training in managing medical emergencies in remote or maritime environments.
  • Good Physical Health and Stamina: Working at sea can be physically demanding. Nurses should be in good health and capable of handling the rigors of maritime work, including long hours and potentially rough sea conditions.
  • Excellent Communication Skills: Effective communication is vital when working in a maritime setting where collaboration with crew members and other healthcare professionals is necessary. Nurses must be able to convey information clearly and confidently. As mentioned, if traveling outside of the US, you’ll want to brush up on your Spanish or French if traveling to the Caribbean, or any other language that may apply in the area you’re serving in.

How to Become a Nurse at Sea

If you meet the basic requirements of a nurse at sea and you’re ready to start applying, you’ll need to do the following.

Seek Specialized Training: Pursuing additional training or certifications in maritime healthcare is essential for nurses aspiring to work at sea. Courses in emergency medicine, trauma care, or maritime medicine provide valuable knowledge and skills necessary to address the unique challenges encountered in maritime environments. These certifications not only enhance your qualifications but also increase your readiness to handle medical emergencies, adapt to remote settings, and collaborate effectively with diverse teams aboard ships or vessels.

Apply for Positions: To secure a position as a nurse at sea, it’s crucial to actively seek job openings with maritime companies, cruise lines, research vessels, or government agencies. Regularly checking online job boards, company websites, and industry-specific platforms can help you identify relevant opportunities. Networking within the maritime industry, attending maritime conferences, or joining professional associations can also provide valuable connections and insights into available positions. By proactively pursuing these avenues and showcasing your qualifications, you increase your chances of landing a fulfilling role in maritime nursing.

Prepare for Interviews: Preparation is key when it comes to interviews for nursing positions at sea. Be ready to discuss your nursing experience, highlighting any relevant clinical expertise and specialized training you’ve undergone. Emphasize your ability to adapt to the unique challenges of working in a maritime environment, such as managing medical emergencies in remote locations or providing care amidst sea-related hazards. Showcase your communication skills, teamwork abilities, and commitment to maintaining high standards of patient care. By demonstrating your readiness and enthusiasm for the role during interviews, you can leave a positive impression on potential employers and increase your likelihood of success.