Historic Pay for Mariners

So, I’m fascinated by the subject of mariner’s pay, and what they got paid in the recent past.
Everyone makes comparisons about how much mariners make now, compared to what they used to make.

Trouble is there is little data on historical pay for mariners. It’s had to look up. I was looking at a book recently and found the story below. This was from 1983. And I noticed the man mentioned, Hicks, made $40,000 a year as a seaman. An AB, I guess. Using the BLS CPI calculator that is equivalent to $128,454 nowadays.

The trouble is the writer didn’t know the questions to ask for us to make sense of that. Like, how many days work does that represent? If Hicks worked 270 days a year that would come out to in today’s dollar about $478 per day. Good AB pay, but not spectacular. If he worked 180 days a year it would come to $714, but given the description him, I think he stayed at sea far longer than that.

Anybody else have historical data on mariner pay?

1 Like

I don’t have much as far as data, but two men I know who sailed for Mobil in the early 70s (45 days on, 45 off) made $1,000 a month (Wiper) and $975 per month (AB.)

A book about the SS John W. Brown mentioned their 3rd Mate on the maiden voyage was making all-in $500 per month on (I believe) a 6 month voyage from the East Coast to the Persian Gulf and back via both Cape Horn and CoGH.

In my younger years in the industry deckhands who pre-dated the dreadful failure that was the 1988 strike said they were making over $40,000 a year working on the tugs.

That’s all I know about wages of the past.

1 Like

What year(s)?

1973 adjusted to 2024 by BLS CPI:

$975 =$7,188/30=$240/day (AB)
$1,000=$7373=$245/day (wiper)

Average house price in USA in 1973 $35,500. Adjusted to 2024 dollars =$258,037.91
Actual average US house price today: $420,800

Fascinating stuff.

1 Like

Late 1942.

$500 in 1942=$10,002 in 2024 (rough equivalency according to BLS CPI calculator)

$10,002 for 30 days = $333 per day in 2024 terms. But then that was coming out of the Depression, when wages and costs were unusually low relative to pre-Depression and later War/Post-War economies.

And Capt. Hugh Stephens at SUNY Maritime years ago mentioned to us once when discussing the war that Masters on the Liberties were making $1,000 a month, so figure that for their wages in the 1942-45 time frame. (Post war and absent any hazard pay that might have come down quite a bit, though.)

Almost forgot too, reading about the Carroll A. Deering (a vessel mysteriously abandoned off the US coast, crew never heard from again — circa 1921) that the first Master of that vessel when she was built hired his son as First Mate. He was on the crew list as having signed aboard with a monthly wage of $120.

Mark Twain mentioned that in the 1850s when he pursued (and eventually earned) pilotage for the Mississippi River that the wages for river pilots at the time was $150 to $250 per month.


$1000 per month in 1942= $20,004.39 in 2024, /30= $666.67 per day. Roughly half of what some 2024 deep-sea captains would make.

Average house price in 1942 was $3,000. That’s $60,013.18 in 2024 dollars, using the rough measure of the BLS CPI.

Actual average US house price today is $420,800.

As a proportion of daily wage a captain in 1942, $33.33 =1.1% of the cost of an average house.

If we assume $1200/day as the average wage of some captains (a big assumption I know) using the median cost of a house today the captains daily wage =0.3% of the cost of an average house.

To have the equivalent buying power re: housing in 2024, a ship’s captain would need to make $4,675/day.

Any tug people who started in the 1980s remember their first daily wage, and what year that was?

1 Like

My ex wife is a nurse. When I was a second mate doing (theoretically) 60/30 on the Lakes in the late 90s, she was working 3 12hr days in the ER and essentially matching my pay. When she moved to psych nursing (M-F 8h days on call one wknd/month) she was earning less but had a far better work/life balance.

Hard to justify starting in this business if you can get into medicine (nursing/surgical tech/respiratory therapy) with a 2yr degree or work skilled trades for far less out of pocket cost upfront and have a good life at home. 30yrs in and I LIKE this job, so I am not going anywhere now, but it seems mariners have accepted the wages today like the frog in the pot in the stove.

1 Like

Do you remember your daily rate, or annual back then?

I remember an old Lykes skipper told me that he lost about 40% of his earning potential when the differential subsidy was rescinded. it also gutted those companies (some for good reason) and pretty much sounded the death knell for the American Merchant Marine, but that is another story.


1200 is closer to c/m wages deepsea. But still depressing when compared to the cost of an average house today compared to the older ratio.


I was making about $78K…not including layup bonus for roughly 190 days. I thought I had it made! It could vary a bit based on the boat and runs…more O/T on stone boats with short trips and multiple docks per day. On long ore or coal runs or the thousand footers, it was load and go…4 or 5 day round trips. Two docks and a lock. Nice schedule but boring…

Looking back, what a joke.

1 Like

$78,000 /190=$410.53 in 1998 dollars

$410.53 in 1998=$798/day in 2024 (BLS CPI).

Average house price in 1998 $181,500. Ratio of daily wage to house price in 1998 was 0.23%.

Average US house price 2024 is $420,800. Ratio of $798 to that is 0.19%.

But what is the actual daily rate now for a 2nd mate on the Great Lakes? Anybody know?

Morrow Castle 1934:
AB: $50/month
Quartermaster: $55/month
Fireman $52/month

1990 Alaska

Tug Captain $300 a day

Factory Trawler Captain $500 a day guarantee, or crew share, whichever was more.

Tug Captain
$300/day in 1990 = $740 in 2024.
Average house price in 1990=$123,900. Ratio of daily rate to house price in 1990 was 0.24%.
Average US house price 2024 is $420,800. Ratio of $740 to that is 0.18%

Factory Trawler Captain
$500/day in 1990=$1,233 in 2024 (but likely make more than that, though, because of his share).
1990 pay/house ratio= 0.40%
2024 pay/house ratio=0.29%

$50/month in 1934 = $1,190 month in 2024. (/30, in 2024 would be $40 per day).
$50/30 days in 1934= $1.66/day!!!

Average American AB-seaman monthly salary in 1930 (beginning of depression)= $61 (this from a book printed in 1930).

Average house price in 1934=$5,000

Ratio of daily rate to house price in 1934 = 0.03%.

That why they call it a depression… :frowning_face:

I have less buying power today at $900 than I had at $300 in 1990.

Government figures are national averages that might be applicable to average non-mariner workers somewhere, but they are not even remotely applicable to most mariners, especially those of us that live in expensive coastal areas.

How about that $120/month Chief Mate on the commercial schooner Carroll A. Deering? Pre-depression there.