Ship Ahoy—Accountants Needed!

paschallGuest Blogger: Winford L. Paschall, CPA
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Job Description: Accountant needed for profitable and exciting job traveling all over the world, following the sun and good weather. Escape the winter months by spending them in the Caribbean. Meet lots of interesting people. Save a substantial amount of money, since meals and accommodations are paid for by the company. You must be friendly, outgoing, professional, and committed to excellence in customer service.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it is true. The job description is for an on-board accountant on a cruise ship. I will give you a peek into the duties of the cruise ship accounting department; provide you with some information about job opportunities, requirements and compensation; and, finally, tell you how to go about finding and applying for a job similar to the one described above.

Cruise Ship Accounting

Have you ever wondered what is involved in accounting for the operations of a cruise ship? Well, I hadn’t either until I recently took a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. You should have seen the look on the Cruise Director’s face when I asked to speak to the ship’s Chief Accountant. He said that was the most unusual request he had ever received. He was used to requests for tours of the bridge and engine room or to speak to the captain, but never to speak to the ship’s accountant.

My cruise ship had two accounting departments; one that handled passenger accounting and another that handled the general accounting duties for the ship and its employees.

I only got a very broad overview of the ship’s general accounting department, which, for the most part, was not the more interesting of the two departments. One challenge the general accounting department faces is a work force from various states and foreign countries. This particular cruise ship had approximately 950 employees. Payroll is twice a month, and employees’ room and board is provided free of charge by the ship. Employees usually work five months on, two months off, and then another five-month rotation. Sounds like a great job for a single person.

Cruise ship jobs are so addictive that many crew members find it difficult to live on land after completing a contract aboard a cruise ship. One employee said, “It feels kind of strange to eat in a restaurant and have to pay the bill when you’ve been doing it for free for months while working on the ship.”

I was given access to Sergey, the Assistant Financial Accountant in charge of passenger accounting for the ship. Sergey was a delightful young man from Russia who gave me the cook’s tour of the duties and responsibilities of the passenger accounting department.

Eight employees, including Sergey, handle the accounting for some 3,000 passengers. Sergey and his employees speak a total of eight foreign languages to accommodate the international mix of passengers. The passenger accounting employees handle all passenger-related accounting transactions from boarding to final disembarkation. Before boarding the ship, you are required to establish an onboard account and provide either a credit card or a cash deposit to cover any charges you might have while on board the ship. You are then issued a cardkey which gives you access to your state room/cabin and also serve as a credit card for all purchases you make while on the ship. Cash is not accepted on board the ship. Sounds like a very good internal control don’t you think?

Sergey’s group handles passenger registration, including issuing your cardkey. His group is also responsible for checking every cardkey charge of every passenger to be sure that the charge amount is correct and that the passenger has not been over- or under-charged. Then, at midnight each night, all of the day’s credit card transactions are uploaded via satellite. Any charges that are rejected have to be resolved by Sergey’s group. If charges are rejected by the credit card company, you must provide either a new credit card or a cash deposit before you may make any further purchases on board. For deficient cash deposit accounts, an additional cash deposit or valid credit card is required.

The ship is also required to collect state sales tax when in U.S. waters. For example, a Hawaiian state sales tax and an Oahu Island sales tax have to be collected when in Hawaiian waters within three miles of the island of Oahu. However, the ship is not required to collect state or local sales tax in international waters. The moment the ship sails into international waters, the bridge notifies the accounting department and sales tax collection is stopped. The passenger accounting department immediately turns off the calculation of sales taxes by all of the ship’s cash registers. When the ship crosses back into U.S. waters, the sales tax function is again activated and sales tax is once again collected.

At the end of the cruise, the accounting department is responsible for settling up with each passenger. For passengers who have set up a credit card to cover their on-board expenses, the accountants simply need to verify that all of the charges are correct.  For passengers who put up a cash deposit, the accountants need to either collect any balance due or refund the unused balance of the deposit. Also, if a passenger made a deposit in U.S. dollars but is returning to a foreign country, the accountants try to refund the balance in the currency of the country to which the passenger is returning after the cruise.

All balances must be refunded, no matter how small the amount. Sergey said he once had to track down a passenger who was owed a total of one cent. Oh yes, they won’t allow you to leave the ship at disembarkation until you have settled your account.

Job Opportunities

The cruise ship industry offers a wide range of employment opportunities around the world. There are over 30 cruise lines to choose from, so you have a number of possible employers to consider. In addition, compared to other industries, cruise lines have a much higher employee turnover rate. Most people do not consider cruise ship jobs as life-long careers. Some crew members get promoted, change ships or cruise lines, go on vacation, return to school, or settle down back on land. For those and many other reasons, cruise lines are always looking for new personnel, so they generally hire staff year-round. Contract durations vary between three and nine months, and in most cases, you have the option to extend your contract.

Requirements and Compensation

Cruise lines look for highly motivated, energetic, outgoing, friendly, and professional employees with a positive attitude toward customer service excellence.

The requirements to become an accountant with a cruise line are the same as for becoming an accountant for a large accounting firm or government department. You must have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Cruise line accountants usually earn an average of $50,000 to $60,000+ per year. Starting salaries usually range between $45,000 and $51,000 and don’t forget, room and board are free.

Applying for the Job

When you are ready to apply for that accounting position on a cruise ship, check out the cruise line’s website for a career center or job posting page; then, search for accounting jobs. Once you have identified a position of interest, send a cover letter and your résumé to the cruise line’s Human Resources Department. The Human Resources Department is usually located at the cruise line headquarters. It is important to include the position you are interested in so your information can be directed to the appropriate department manager. Also, be sure to follow the application procedures to the letter. Applicants who do not follow directions are typically passed over in favor of those who do.

If you would prefer to use an employment agency, log on to Cruise Ship Jobs Online. This cruise ship employment agency can help you find the right accounting job with the right cruise line.

Conclusion

You can’t go wrong choosing accounting as a career, and if you decide to use your accounting skills as a cruise ship accountant, it can be a great adventure, as well. Bon voyage.

About txcpa2b

The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants (TSCPA) is a nonprofit, voluntary, professional organization representing Texas CPAs. TSCPA has 20 local chapters statewide and has 29,000 members. The Society is committed to serving the public interest with programs that advance the highest standards of ethics and practice within the CPA profession. TXCPA2B is a blog written by Texas students in pursuit of the CPA certificate. The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily held by TSCPA or our members.
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One Response to Ship Ahoy—Accountants Needed!

  1. Austen Augustine says:

    That is an interesting profession.

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