How Much Do Excavator Operators Make?

MattPublished: January 24, 2022
How Much Do Excavator Operators Make?

Key Takeaways
  • Average Salary Range: Excavator operators typically earn an average salary of around $45,000 per year, with the potential to earn more than $60,000 annually depending on experience, skills, and the specific industry.
  • Hourly Wage and Overtime: The average hourly wage for excavator operators is around $25, and they may also be eligible for overtime pay, which can significantly increase their overall income.
  • Varied Requirements and Opportunities: Becoming an excavator operator generally requires a high school diploma or equivalent and experience in operating heavy machinery, with opportunities for higher earnings in growing cities and through additional skills and certifications.

Heavy equipment operators are in high demand as the construction and mining industries continue to grow. The job requires a combination of knowledge, skills, experience, and education that can be incredibly rewarding for those who choose this career path.

With the right qualifications and dedication, excavator operators can make lucrative salaries while enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done.

But before you decide if this is the right career choice for you, it's important to consider your goals and interests as well as any existing commitments or obligations that could interfere with your ability to become an excavator operator.

What is an excavator operator?

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An excavator operator controls heavy machinery to excavate, move, and grade earth and other materials. They work in various industries, including construction, mining, and agriculture. Excavator operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and experience in operating heavy equipment.

An excavator operator typically performs several tasks, including:

  • Digging trenches or holes
  • Moving earth and other materials
  • Grading land
  • Loading and unloading trucks

The type of excavating an operator will do depends on the specific job they are employed in. For example, a construction excavator operator may be responsible for digging foundations for buildings, while a mining excavator operator may extract minerals from the earth.

Types of machines an excavator operator might use.

While some excavators are designed for general digging and grading, more specialized machines may be used depending on the job. All of these pieces of heavy equipment might have the same job title, but the average base salary of each of these could vary. Some common types of excavator machines include—


A small machine typically used for light excavation work in confined spaces. Manning one of these machines might not get you the title of heavy equipment operator because they are quite small, but they are still capable of getting the job done.

Backhoe loaders.

A heavy-duty machine with a bucket on one end and a backhoe arm on the other. This type of excavator is great for digging trenches, moving materials, and loading trucks. It is also commonly used in construction projects such as roads and bridges.

Dragline excavators.

A large machine used for digging deep holes and trenches. Dragline excavators are typically used in mines and quarries since they are able to dig deeper than other types of machines.

Trackhoe excavators.

A large, heavy-duty machine with a flat bottom and long arm. Trackhoe excavators are great for moving large quantities of soil or other materials quickly and efficiently.

Skid steers.

Another small but powerful machine, skid steers are great for maneuvering in tight spaces and can be used for a variety of excavation tasks, such as backfilling trenches or removing debris.


This machine is used to level, grade, and smooth out surfaces. Graders are often used in construction and roadbuilding projects, as well as for landscaping and leveling fields. Graders do most of the prep-work for other heavy equipment operators.

How much do they make per hour? What about salary?

Excavator operators typically make an hourly wage of around $25. However, the average excavator operator salary can vary depending on experience, skills on various construction equipment, and the specific industry an operator is employed. Excavator operators may also be eligible for overtime pay, increasing their income significantly.

The average salary for an excavator operator is around $45,000 per year. However, this figure can vary greatly depending on the individual's qualifications and experience. Some excavator operators may earn more than $60,000 per year, while others make less than $30,000. This also depends on where they're doing the work. If they're operating heavy machinery in an area with a higher cost of living, the operator will most likely make more; however, they might make less in an area with a lower cost of living.

For an excavator operator job, the average excavator operator salary will generally commensurate with the cost of living and the construction industry in the given area.

We can't stress enough that the average base salary for an excavator operator can vary based on additional skills. There are too many variables for this to determine exact salary ranges.

Requirements to become an operator.

It would be best if you had a high school diploma or equivalent to become an excavator operator. However, many employers may also require experience in operating heavy machinery.

You can obtain this through on-the-job training or vocational courses. Some excavator operators may also be required to hold a commercial driver's license (CDL), depending on the type of equipment they operate.

Sometimes these are not necessarily requirements, but instead are credentials that might increase the excavator operator average salary.

Things you should know before becoming an equipment operator.

Because excavator operators often work in hazardous conditions, they are required to wear protective equipment at all times. They are also typically expected to work long hours, sometimes including nights, weekends, and holidays.

Excavator operators may be required to travel regularly, leading them away from any family or friends that live nearby. Excavator operators may also be required to work in remote locations, such as mines. Of course, for those that travel more, the average excavator operator salary will increase as well.

It's important to always do your research on these types of excavator operator jobs before making big life decisions, such as career choices.

FAQs for heavy equipment operators.

So you want to be a heavy equipment operator but still have questions. We get it. So we've put together this comprehensive list of questions and answers to help you out.

What type of training will I need?

Depending on the job, you may need to complete formal vocational or apprenticeship programs and obtain a valid commercial driver's license (CDL). On-the-job experience is also required for most positions.

How much do heavy equipment operators make?

The average salary for a heavy equipment operator is around $45,000 per year.

However, salaries can vary depending on experience and the industry in which they are employed. Some may earn more than $60,000 per year, while others make less than $30,000.

What type of safety equipment is required?

Heavy equipment operators are typically required to wear protective clothing and helmets.

They must also be trained in the proper use of safety equipment, such as hard hats and hearing protection. Additionally, most employers require drug testing policies for their employees.

Are there any special considerations I should be aware of?

Yes. Heavy equipment operators must be aware of their surroundings and pay attention to any potential hazards.

They must also practice safe operating techniques, such as avoiding blind spots and maintaining a safe speed when maneuvering around objects.

On top of that, all equipment should be regularly inspected for defects or malfunctions. We've learned that the more you operate the machines, the better your sense is when it comes to what's around you. It gets easier with time.

How can I get more experience?

The best way to gain experience is to start at the bottom and work your way up through on-the-job training. You may even want to consider taking a vocational course in heavy equipment operation if available.

What is the highest-paid heavy equipment operator?

The highest-paid heavy equipment operator can vary based on experience and the industry in which they are employed.

For the most part, crane operators make the most and average around $60,000 per year. Yard managers are a close second averaging just below the $60,000 per year mark. That's not to say you can't make more than that, but that's the average.

Where do excavator operators make the most money?

The highest paying cities are growing cities such as Austin, Houston, Cincinnati, and Jacksonville are often the best places for excavator operators to make the most money. As these cities expand, so does the need for heavy equipment operators, and their salaries tend to follow growth trends. On average, excavator operators in these areas can expect to earn around $50,000 per year. With a higher experience level, they may even be able to demand higher salaries.

What kind of license do I need for an excavator operator job?

Even at entry level full time jobs, most heavy equipment operators require a valid commercial driver's license (CDL) to operate the vehicle on public roads and highways. They may also need special endorsements depending on the type of vehicle they are operating, such as a tractor-trailer or hazardous material truck. This, of course, varies from state to state.

Are excavators in high demand?

Absolutely! With the construction and mining industries booming, excavators are in high demand. As a result, skilled operators can often find lucrative and rewarding jobs with good benefits. We have no doubt that if you can operate heavy equipment, you can find an excavator operator job.

What are the best heavy equipment operator skills?

When we hire heavy equipment operators, we look for those that have a good knowledge of operating machinery, a strong mechanical aptitude, an understanding and experience with safety protocols, excellent multitasking abilities, and the ability to read and interpret plans/blueprints. In essence, an operator that can understand what needs to be done and operate on their own without constant oversight will go a long way with any construction company.

Is this the right career path for me?

Do you have the required experience and education to become an excavator operator? Do you have any existing commitments or obligations that could interfere with your ability to become an excavator operator, such as a family or a current job?

If this career path appeals to you, it's essential to know how much excavator operators make per hour, how much they make per week, and how much they make yearly. Could you sustain your lifestyle with the income of an excavator operator? Excavator operator salaries vary from location to to location, but the general salary range is between $30,000 and $60,000.

Are there other opportunities within this field that may appeal to you more, such as becoming an instructor or trainer? There's plenty of vertical movement within this career field, so becoming a trainer would allow you to learn how to become a supervisor or a lead worker.

Consider your short-term and long-term goals for this career path before making any rash decisions.



Excavation Expert

Matt is a highly experienced heavy equipment operator with over two decades of experience in the construction industry. His expertise covers a wide range of machinery and project types, and he is known for his focus on safety, efficiency, and problem-solving. Matt's commitment to delivering high-quality work within deadlines and budgets has made him highly respected at Centex Excavation and the excavation industry.

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