How Much Does a Crane Operator Make a Year

By Laurel Tincher · March 05, 2024 · 7 minute read

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How Much Does a Crane Operator Make a Year

A crane operator is responsible for the safe and precise transportation of large loads at building sites. Crane operators play a crucial part in the dynamic world of heavy machinery and construction, and the need for people in this role is growing along with the demand for infrastructure projects.

For those interested in this profession, the income potential is a key consideration. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a crane and tower operator in May 2022 (the latest data available) was $65,220 per year, or $31.36 per hour. Depending on experience, industry, and location, some crane operators can make considerably more.

Read on to learn more about how much a crane operator can make, typical salary ranges, where to find the top-paying jobs, and the training and experience required to get a job as a crane operator.

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What Are Crane Operators?

Crane operators handle all aspects of operating a crane — a machine that is used to lift and move heavy loads, machines, materials, and goods for a variety of purposes. A trade job that is often in high demand, crane operators are vital to many industries, including manufacturing, transportation, and construction.

Individuals in this role are responsible for more than just operating controls. To guarantee the safe and effective transportation of objects, crane operators also need to have a thorough awareness of load capabilities, safety procedures, and other site-specific factors.

Crane operators may use a variety of different cranes, including tower cranes, mobile cranes, and boom trucks, to perform their jobs. Though crane operators work solo, it’s not necessarily a good job for people with social anxiety, as they must be able to effectively communicate with other members of the construction team on the ground.

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How Much Do Starting Crane Operators Make a Year?

The starting salary for crane operators varies depending on industry, region, prior training, and certifications, but pay for an entry-level position averages around $35,000 per year, according to Zippia.

The earning potential of crane operators tends to improve as they gain more certificates and experience. The first few years lay the groundwork for skill development, and operators who put in the time and effort can move up the pay scale. Working overtime and overnight shifts can also boost crane operators’ salaries.

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What is the Average Salary for a Crane Operator?

According to the BLS’s most recent data, the average salary for a crane and tower operator in 2022 was $65,220. The lowest-paid 10% earned less than $37,680 that year, while the highest-paid 10% percent earned more than $93,410.

How much a crane operator makes, however, will depend on the operator’s level of expertise, industry specialization, and geographic location.

Crane operators working for construction and mining companies typically earn more than those who work in warehousing, storage, and manufacturing.

The highest-paying cities for crane operators are Vancouver, WA; New York, NY; and San Diego, CA.

How Much Money Does a Crane Operator Make by State?

As mentioned above, how much money a crane operator makes can vary by location. What follows is a breakdown of how much a crane operator makes per year, on average, by state.

State Average Annual Salary
Alabama $52,270
Alaska $78,630
Arizona $65,820
Arkansas $44,900
California $62,730
Colorado $67,550
Connecticut $82,430
Delaware $62,960
Florida $63,310
Georgia $52,830
Hawaii $105,170
Idaho $72,860
Illinois $58,680
Indiana $56,640
Iowa $62,220
Kansas $59,050
Kentucky $53,500
Louisiana $61,710
Maine $55,440
Maryland $63,580
Massachusetts $72,600
Michigan $63,350
Minnesota $74,210
Mississippi $57,190
Missouri $73,020
Montana $67,090
Nebraska $59,440
Nevada $103,350
New Hampshire $67,270
New Jersey $97,930
New Mexico $71,660
New York $136,330
North Carolina $57,080
North Dakota $78,890
Ohio $66,020
Oklahoma $56,580
Oregon $89,190
Pennsylvania $58,920
Rhode Island N/A
South Carolina $55,360
South Dakota $72,060
Tennessee $54,490
Texas $61,500
Utah $60,230
Vermont $64,540
Virginia $64,470
Washington $82,640
West Virginia $51,210
Wisconsin $59,390
Wyoming $75,520

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Crane Operator Job Considerations for Pay & Benefits

To become a crane operator, you first need a high school diploma or an equivalent. While not required, many crane operators attend trade school to learn practical construction skills and how to operate heavy machinery, including cranes. This is typically a one- or two-year course.

After graduating from a high school or trade school, many crane operators enroll in a general crane operator training program. These programs, which last between three weeks and three months, help prepare aspiring crane operators for the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) examination.

It’s necessary for crane operators to hold the certification relevant to the types of cranes they operate. Some states and cities also require crane operators to hold a local license.

Once you have a job as a crane operator, you can not only earn competitive pay but also benefits. Many companies supplement the base pay with perks like paid time off, health insurance, and retirement programs.

When thinking about a career as a crane operator, it’s important to take into account the whole range of compensation and benefits that come with the job.

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Pros and Cons of a Crane Operator Salary

As with any profession, working as a crane operator comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the pros and cons of this role will help you determine if you’re well-suited for this career path.

Pros of Becoming a Crane Operator

•   Competitive salary: While you may not earn a $100,000 a year salary as a crane operator, this is generally a well-paid position.

•   Opportunities for overtime: Since construction projects often take longer than originally anticipated, crane operators frequently have the opportunity to make extra money by working overtime.

•   Industry need: The need for construction projects is ongoing, which helps to maintain a solid job market for crane operators and a constant flow of employment prospects.

•   Opportunities for advancement: As crane operators gain knowledge and specialized skills, they may be able to negotiate higher wages.

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Cons of Becoming a Crane Operator

•   Physically demanding: Operating a crane can be physically taxing since it involves standing or sitting for extended periods of time.

•   Safety concerns: Working with heavy machinery at significant heights is a necessary part of the profession, which has inherent safety concerns. Strict adherence to safety procedures is essential to avoiding accidents.

•   Variable working conditions: Crane operators are often exposed to a range of weather conditions and terrain. Work conditions can be challenging.

•   Training and certification requirements: You can’t just get a job as a crane operator right out of high school. Training and certification is necessary, which means you may need to invest some time and money into the career before you can start making a good salary.

The Takeaway

Crane operator jobs are one of the most coveted positions in the construction business thanks to the competitive pay. On average, crane operators earn $65,220, but certain jobs in competitive areas can pay considerably. Crane operators often have the opportunity to work overtime and typically get benefits on top of their base pay.

Whatever type of job you pursue, you’ll want to make sure your earnings can cover your everyday living expenses. To ensure your monthly outflows don’t exceed your monthly inflows, you may want to set up a budget and check out financial tools that can help track your income and spending.

With SoFi, you can keep tabs on how your money comes and goes.


Can you make $100k a year as a crane operator?

The average annual salary for a crane operator is $65,220. However, a highly skilled and experienced crane operator may be able to make a six-figure salary, especially those employed in high-demand industries or areas.

Do people like being a crane operator?

Many people find a job as a crane operator rewarding due to its competitive pay, diverse work environments, and opportunities for skill development and advancement. For some, however, the physical demands and safety risks lower overall job satisfaction.

Is it hard to get hired as a crane operator?

Working as a crane operator can provide ample job opportunities for people who are qualified to work with these machines safely. To get a good job as a crane operator, you typically need to take trade school courses, complete general operator training, and gain apprenticeship experience.

Photo credit: iStock/ewg3D

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