Cruise Lines Continue to Ignore Need for Trained Lifeguards – Part 1

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

lifeguardIt’s an issue our cruise lawyers have discussed time and time again, yet one which has yet to be addressed. An issue that is widespread in the cruise industry, but one which perpetually gets ignored. Lifeguards – or lack thereof. Though one might imagine that all cruise ships should employ trained lifeguards, seeing as the nature of a cruise vacation centers around water, the dire truth is that only a handful of cruise ships actually do.

Believe it or not, cruise passenger drownings are more common than anyone might think. And these drowning aren’t happening due to overboard accidents; they are happening right onboard the cruise ships in pools and hot tubs.

A special aired on WKMG Local 6 (ClickOrlando) discussed the frightening truth of cruise ship drownings, especially accidents involving children. The news station interviewed the parents of one child who drowned onboard the Carnival Victory, six-year-old Qwentyn Hunter. Qwentyn was surrounded by his family when the accident occurred, which further demonstrates the need for trained lifeguards to watch over passengers in pool areas at all times.

Last year alone, four children drowned or nearly drowned in cruise pools. One of these cases was the tragic story of a four-year-old boy, who suffered a serious near-drowning accident while onboard a Disney Cruise Line ship. The accident occurred on March 30, 2013, when the young victim was discovered unresponsive inside a Disney Fantasy pool. The boy was first transported to a nearby hospital in Orlando, where the Fantasy is home ported, then was airlifted to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children for specialized treatment. Sadly, the boy remained unresponsive for several months, but miraculously survived. Others, like Qwentyn, have not been as lucky.

A few months after this accident, Disney took a stand to protect its guests against the possibility of similar incidents and became the first major cruise line to employ trained lifeguards fleet-wide. We still don’t know whether the move was in direct response to the near-drowning, but we remain appalled that to this day, no other major cruise lines have followed suit. Many cruise lines place signs near the pool areas that offer general warnings, but drowning accidents can occur at a moment’s notice, and even when pool-goers are being as safe as possible. Yet, several cruise lines contend that it’s up to the passengers themselves to stay safe, and if they do decide to use the onboard pool or hot tub facilities, they do so at their own risk.

It’s interesting to note that many cruise lines refuse to take any responsibility in keeping pool areas as safe as possible for guests. If there are trained lifeguards watching over people at public beaches and community pools, how is it that cruise ships, aka a “floating hotel”, continually fail to hire lifeguards? This is simply baffling.

Sure, there never seems to be a shortage of alcohol or entertainment venues on ships, but when it comes to safety, it appears as though the price to keep passengers safe is always too high for cruise lines. Yes, hiring trained lifeguards can be an expense, but the larger expense is the countless lives that are threatened or lost in cruise ship drowning accidents.

Truth be told, most drowning accidents involving children occur within as little as 25 yards of a parent or guardian. And onboard a cruise ship, there are dozens of bystanders either in the pool with these children, or hanging out around the pool. But somehow, these accidents still manage to occur, even in the company of adults. The signs of drowning are subtle, but a trained lifeguard knows what to look for and can quickly react when danger strikes. Lifeguards are also trained in CPR, a skill that is not required of any cruise ship crew member, aside from medical personnel. And even then, CPR training might not even be mandated.

Having crew members on deck handing out drinks and towels and cleaning up is not the same as having a trained lifeguard – not even close. So basically, if a drowning accident does occur and the victim becomes unresponsive, there won’t be anyone in the immediate vicinity that will be able to perform the necessary emergency procedures to revive them. Well, maybe another passenger might have some training, but it’s a long, long shot. And even so, it’s not another passenger’s responsibility to keep watch over all other cruisers.

There really isn’t a valid excuse as to why there aren’t lifeguards on all cruise ships. But here we are, talking about how there still aren’t that many ships with such personnel available at all times to prevent a drowning. In Part 2 of our blog, we’ll discuss the issue of why cruise lines don’t employ lifeguards in further detail.