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Skippering a fishing vessel in New Zealand

The Top 5 Career Options for Skippers in New Zealand

If you’re interested in becoming a Skipper in New Zealand, you may be wondering what sorts of jobs are out there. The great news is that the maritime industry is booming, and there are plenty of options.

In this article, we’ve outlined the top 5 career options for skippers in New Zealand based on the work environment, educational requirements, earnings, and demand for hiring. Some of them even pay six-figures or more.

Let’s take a look at some enticing career options for skippers in New Zealand…

1. Skipper an Offshore Fishing Boat

Work environment

Being offshore means being far away from home for extended periods of time. This has both upsides and downsides and will suit some people better than others.

In general, you can expect to be on the boat for 6 – 8 weeks at a time, often working 12-hour days, including weekends. You’re expected to work in all weather and sea conditions, which can range from fine to extremely rough and – in some cases – dangerous.

Although it’s not your average 9 – 5 job, being an offshore skipper has many perks, including long periods of leave between trips, fantastic pay, connection and camaraderie, comfortable cabins, and delicious meals prepared by an onboard chef.

Your responsibilities on the job will include directing the crew, navigating the boat, catching and processing fish, ensuring the vessel is properly maintained and equipped, and undertaking emergency repairs1.

Since you’re not only in charge of the vessel, but also the crew and operations, you’ll need strong leadership skills, a good attitude, and a knack for teamwork.

Entry requirements

Although working offshore is the ultimate career goal for many aspiring skippers, it’s unlikely to be the first step on your maritime career path. Although job prospects are good for experienced skippers, you might have to start in another role and work your way up through the ranks.

To become an offshore fishing skipper, you’ll need to have a skipper fishing vessel unlimited (SFV-U) certificate, which requires you to pass medical checks, seatime requirements, and advanced training.

If you’re interested in becoming an offshore fishing skipper, talk to us today and we can help you get started on the right career path.

Earnings

The New Zealand government careers website2 puts the average salary for deep sea fishing skippers between $130,000 and $280,000 per year. That’s quite the range!

Where you sit on the pay spectrum will depend on various factors, including your level of experience, the size and type of vessel, the species being targeted, the size of your catch, and the company you work for.

2. Skipper an Inshore Fishing Boat

Work environment

Although inshore fishing vessels don’t leave New Zealand waters, they also spend weeks at a time out at sea. A typical roster for an inshore fishing skipper is one trip on, one trip off, which means you may have as much time off as you do on!

When you’re on the boat, you’re expected to work long, hard days, managing the vessel, crew, and fishing activities in all weather and sea conditions.

But you’ll still have some creature comforts to look forward to at the end of your hard days’ work. Most vessels have comfortable cabins with TVs, an onboard chef to whip up delicious meals, and – in some cases – even a gym!

Entry requirements

The first step to becoming an inshore fishing skipper is getting your skipper restricted limits (SRL) certificate then a Skipper Coastal Offshore  (SCO) certificate. You’ll also need to pass a medical check and hold additional qualifications in first aid and survival.

If you’re interested in becoming an inshore fishing skipper, talk to us today and we can help you get started on the right career path.

Earnings

According to the New Zealand government careers website2, inshore fishing skippers usually earn between $42,000 and $80,000 per year. This could be higher depending on the industry and experience.

You may even only spend about half of the year at work and have much more time off than a “regular job”. It’s also worth noting that all your living costs at sea are taken care of, allowing you to save on your living expenses.

3. Become the Ship’s Master of a Ferry

Work environment

In New Zealand, we have lots of small domestic ferries operating around the country on a daily basis. These ferries are a vital means of domestic travel, transporting goods, commuters, day-trippers, and tourists.

For example, ferries frequently travel between the mainland and nearby islands, like between Auckland and Waiheke Island or Bluff and Steward Island.

While some ship’s master positions are year-round to account for daily travel, the need for skippers peaks in the summer months due to higher travel demand. That’s why fixed-term summer positions are also common and can be a great way to get a feel for this career path.

The shifts are generally based on a rotating roster, so your schedule will include day shifts, night shifts, and some weekends and public holidays.

As the ship’s master, you’re responsible for the ship at sea, all passengers and crew on board, and the cargo the ship is carrying.

Entry requirements

Depending on the size of the vessel and the number of passengers, you’ll likely need at least the Skipper Restricted Limits (SRL) certificate with endorsements for vessels over 24 meters, vessels <500GT, high speed vessels, and higher passenger numbers.

If you’re interested in becoming the ship’s master of a passenger ferry, talk to us today and we can help you get started on the path towards your SRL.

Earnings

Ship’s masters working full time on domestic ferries in New Zealand generally earn around $70,000 per year, but this can vary depending on your experience, the size of the vessel, how many passengers it carries, and the time spent at sea.

4. Captain a Workboat

Work environment

There are different types of workboats, and they all have an exciting, dynamic work environment.

As a workboat captain, you could work on a harbour ferry, pilot boat, tugboat, or coastguard vessel – just to name a few.

One aspect most workboats have in common is that they’re active around the clock, so you might find yourself working night shifts or being on call.

As the captain, you’re responsible for overseeing the crew and all operations, so it’s up to you to make important decisions and communicate with your crew.

Entry requirements

For most domestic workboats, you’ll need at least your Skipper Restricted Limits license and pass the relevant medical and eyesight checks. This allows you to operate commercial vessels up to 24 metres with endorsement in restricted limits.

If you’re interested in skippering a workboat, talk to us today and we can help you get started on the right career path.

Earnings

The typical salary for workboat captains varies based on the type of workboat and the level of skill and responsibility the position demands.

For example, as the skipper of a pilot boat, it’s your job to safely transport the pilot to large vessels coming in and out of port.

As a tug master on the other hand, you’re not directly responsible for planning and finding the safest route, but you will play a big part in helping dock the vessel safely. According to Maritime NZ3, tug masters usually earn between $60,000 and $90,000 per year.

5. Skipper a Tourism Boat

Work environment

Skipper career options in tourism include work on commercial fishing charters, whale watching boats, water taxis, private charters and many more. Here, you get to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer and interact with fun-loving adventure seekers all day long.

If you opt for a skipper career in the tourist industry, no two days will be the same. Your schedule will be diverse, and trips are frequently customised to the group, conditions, or occasion. You’ll get to meet people from different cultures, countries, and walks of life, and get paid to go on trips many people consider “once in a lifetime” opportunities.

You can also get involved in eco-friendly activities like skippering for the Department of Conservation.

Skipper career options in tourism include work on commercial fishing charters, whale watching boats, water taxis, private charters and many more. Here, you get to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer and interact with fun-loving adventure seekers all day long.

If you opt for a skipper career in the tourist industry, no two days will be the same. Your schedule will be diverse, and trips are usually customised to the group, conditions, or occasion. You’ll get to meet people from different cultures, countries, and walks of life, and get paid to go on trips many people consider “once in a lifetime” opportunities.

You can also get involved in eco-friendly activities like skippering for the Department of Conservation.

Entry requirements

For most tourism boats, you’ll need your Skipper Restricted Limits license and passenger endorsement, depending on the size and type of vessel.

If you’re interested in skippering a workboat, talk to us today and we can help you get started on the right career path.

Earnings

What you earn skippering a tourism boat depends on your experience, the industry you work in, and whether you work year-round or seasonally. A reasonable expectation – according to Maritime NZ3 – is that you can make up to about $70,000 per year.

However, many skipper jobs in the tourism industry will come with additional perks like fun and diverse workdays, family-friendly work hours, and – in some cases – thrill and excitement.

Projected Job Growth

Although many industries were negatively impacted by COVID-19, the maritime industry has proven resilient. Except for the tourism industry, most of the jobs you can do as a skipper are considered essential, which makes them safe and future-proof career options.

According to MBIE’s occupation outlook report, the number of skippers required in New Zealand is climbing steadily, with 150 to 200 new skippers needed each year. That number is projected to rise further between 2023 and 2028, where 1% additional growth is expected, adding another 150 jobs per year4.

Get Started Today

If you’re serious about becoming a skipper and pursuing a career in the maritime industry, then we can help you get started.

We offer the Skippers Restricted Limits training course (officially titled Certificate in Domestic Maritime Operations), which equips you with the skills and knowledge you need to launch your maritime career.

Check out the course requirements, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like more information.

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