How Do I Become a Tower Crane Operator?

Dan Cavallari

A tower crane is a specific type of lifting device often used in construction of tall structures such as skyscrapers. It features a tall mast secured to a concrete slab or other stable structure; at the top of this mast, a horizontal jib extends outward, and a hook system is raised or lowered to control the lifting of objects. A balance jib is located opposite the horizontal jib to help balance the load. In order to become a tower crane operator in most areas, you must first complete a high school education and be able to read at an eighth grade level. You will also need basic math skills.

Tower crane operators must have experience and special certification.
Tower crane operators must have experience and special certification.

It will be important for you to find out what governing body regulates training for you to become a tower crane operator, as the regulating body can vary by country. In the United States, the regulating body is the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO). Certification that will allow you to become a tower crane operator will be granted through this governing body, and training will focus on educating you in order to pass the certification exams.

Training will include classroom studies that will help you identify different parts of the tower crane, proper operation of the machine, and construction of the crane in various settings. Hand signals commonly used between operators and ground crew will also be learned during this phase of the education. Training usually lasts about four weeks, at which point you will need to take certification exams in order to become a tower crane operator. If you do not pass the examination, you may need to re-take training courses or wait a specific period of time before you can attempt the exam again. If you pass the examination, you will be certified to become a tower crane operator.

Certification usually involves both a written exam and a practical exam. During the practical exam, you will need to demonstrate your skills operating a crane and maneuvering in a variety of situations. This can be a difficult phase of the examination, and it will require plenty of practice. Once you pass the examination, you will be certified for a set period of time, usually five years. After the certification expires, you will need to get re-certified in order to maintain your standing as a tower crane operator. After initial certification, you will likely spend several years as an apprentice working with a more experienced crane operator before you are considered a full time, non-apprenticed crane operator.

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Discussion Comments


@Matt: Can a guy skip the whole mobile crane thing and go straight to towers? I have a lot of shipboard crane experience but no license for crane ops of any kind.


It depends where you live, though. Where I am, I had to work on site under a crane operator, then when I learned the tower crane test I called out an assessor, paid him $500 to test me and luckily passed.

I love tower cranes and the industry.

All the best. --Matt

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