Cruise-line companies might be in dire financial straits but their captains are enjoying life on the ocean wave.
The average salary for a cruise-liner captain jumped 22.8 per cent last year to US$153,379, (Dh563,435) with wage rates for master mariners aboard less glamorous bulk carriers and container ships receiving a 16 per cent boost to $110,981.
Cruise-liner captains receive substantially more than the average airline pilot's annual salary in the UAE, which is currently $122,647.
Chief officers aboard cargo ships did even better than their captains in terms of pay rises, logging a 27.5 per cent increase to $82,737 a year.
"Even though the shipping industry is being buffeted by poor vessel earnings, rising costs and ever more stringent regulations, salaries continue to rise," said Mark Charman, the chief executive of the Faststream Recruitment Group, a specialist maritime recruiter based in the United Kingdom that provided the salary survey data.
"The sector suffers from a skill shortage and the pool of highly qualified people continues to shrink. This is both the legacy of a lack of training in the 1980s during the previous downturn and the often perceived low status of jobs in the shipping industry. Companies recognise that good people are not necessarily readily available and need to be retained and properly incentivised."
The survey, carried out last year, was based on the responses of 4,000 shipping professionals working in all the main shipping centres as well as seafaring officers worldwide. It showed the most pressing skills shortage was among second engineers with five years experience.
"It is those candidates in particular who are receiving the top salaries," the survey's authors said.
In other maritime sectors, the survey shows captains working in the offshore industry are also earning a healthy $128,247 on average, although their increase was a more modest 7 per cent last year.
However, the salaries of captains on tankers nudged up only 2.6 per cent to $115,613. Even so, they continued to earn more than their dry cargo peers.
The survey concluded the upward trend looked set to continue this year. However, it showed not all seafarers had experienced significant above-inflation pay rises.
While 50 per cent of salaries at sea have increased by at least 5 per cent, some 30 per cent of seafarers said wages had fallen, with the brunt of those pay cuts among those in less-senior positions.
Meanwhile, some 10 per cent of onshore workers have seen their earnings fall, while 56 per cent have enjoyed rises upwards of 5 per cent.
Salaries for ocean-goers, however, do not compare to the specialist rates earned by some inshore marine pilots. On the Panama Canal, senior pilots can make up to $450,000 per year, including overtime, or working "voluntary shifts" above the normal schedule of five weeks on/three weeks off.
San Francisco Bay and the lower Mississippi River are other examples of heavily trafficked waterways where small pilot groups enjoy a statutory monopoly on all work. Last year, members of the San Francisco Bar Pilots reportedly received an average net income of $451,336.