The recent drowning of a 38-year-old Disney Wonder cruise passenger at Castaway Cay has demonstrated the dire need for increased safety across several maritime arenas. In our last blog, our cruise ship attorneys here at LM&W discussed how the drowning accident highlighted the need for cruise lines to start employing trained lifeguards, both on board a vessel and ashore at a cruise line-owned private island. Drowning accidents can happen to anyone, regardless of age, and in the blink of an eye. Reports suggested there were no lifeguards stationed at the adult beach, where this particular accident occurred – even though Disney was the first major cruise line to hire lifeguards for its ships and it also stations lifeguards in family beach areas on Castaway Cay.
Unfortunately, this is not enough. Many cruise ship passenger accidents are related to drowning, and while freak accidents can and do happen, the vast majority of drownings can be prevented by stationing trained lifeguards at all pool and beach areas. Yet, despite the numerous drowning and near-drowning tragedies involving cruise passengers that have recently occurred – including the near-drowning of a 4-year-old boy aboard Oasis of the Seas (a Royal Caribbean ship) – there is no maritime law that currently requires cruise lines to employ lifeguards, nor does there appear to be a concern by the cruise lines themselves to position lifeguards on ships (whether mandatory or not) so as to improve passenger safety.
This leaves passengers with an unfortunate reality – they must fend for themselves.
Aside from the risk of drowning in a cruise ship pool, there are several other dangers that can face individuals on a cruise vacation. Those who are planning on spending time on the beach and in open waters are at an even greater risk of falling victim to a drowning accident. Although many drowning accidents have occurred in cruise ship pools, at the very least, pools are confined areas that can be easily accessed by emergency medical profession. When someone is swimming in open waters, there are a slew of factors that can not only lead to life-threatening accidents, but also make it extremely difficult for emergency crews to carry out a rescue mission. These include large waves, rip currents, and dangerous marine animals – to name a few.
Because there is no way to control Mother Nature or predict what conditions she has planned for the day, ocean safety awareness is critical in helping prevent an accident in open waters. Here are a few safety tips cruise passengers – and any beach-goer – should consider:
- Always wear a life jacket. Even the most experienced of swimmers can benefit from wearing a flotation device at all times. A large wave may sweep you under or you may even suffer an accident or medical emergency that can incapacitate you and render you unable to swim or stay afloat. A life jacket will keep your head above water until emergency crews can reach you.
- Don’t venture too far out. It’s impossible to tell how deep waters are in the ocean, and the further you swim, the greater the dangers and the longer it can take for a lifeguard or emergency crews to reach you.
- Refrain from water shenanigans. While it can be fun to horse around in the water, things can get serious really quickly. Avoid head-first diving, throwing someone into the water, and any other action that can cause an injury.
- Keep a close eye on children and the elderly. Ocean accidents can happen in a split second, and children and the elderly are at a greater risk. Always keep watch over your party members and accompany kids and the elderly while in the water.
- Watch out for marine life. Sting rays, jellyfish, and sharks can pose risks to swimmers, especially in the exotic tropical locations cruise lines often sail to. Some plants can also pose a hazard. Watch for safety signs that warn of dangerous marine life throughout the beach and refrain from touching any aquatic creature.
- Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol drastically lowers inhibitions, which can make it even harder to survive an emergency situation in open waters.
By following these easy tips, you can largely reduce the chance that you or someone you love will become the victim of a drowning or any other water-related accident.