Safety on a Cruise Ship: Read This Before You Depart

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

These days, staying safe on a cruise ship can seem like an overwhelming and daunting task. With so many reports of accident, injury and tragedy at sea, you may feel as though maintaining the health and wellbeing of you and your family while on your cruise is an uphill battle. Fortunately, it does not have to be that way. In fact, there are many ways for you to look out for your own safety at sea. As maritime lawyers, we have a firm understanding of the industry and the current state of cruise safety. From cruise requirements, too what you can do to stay out of harm’s way, here is what you need to know:

General Cruise Safety Practices

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at sea requires all passenger ships to conduct a muster drill within the first 24 hours of the voyage. The purpose of the drill is to familiarize passengers with the sound of the emergency alarm, as well as the location that they will need to report, in the event of an emergency.

Typically, your cabin location determines your stations assignments, so guests should not have difficulty arriving at their designated spot. Different cruises display the muster drill location in different ways. Some place each cruise passenger’s muster location on their key card, while others simply include it on an in-room safety sign. The first item of business you should attend to when you board the ship after locating your room is to determine where your muster station location is.

During the practice drill, and once guests have arrived at their assigned locations, the crew will provide additional safety information. This includes information on how wear your life jacket, and the best escape routes in the case of an emergency. Crewmembers will be distinguishable by their brightly colored clothing or attire that clearly states their role as a crewmember, so that guests can more easily determine who to ask for help.

As a rule, cruise lines also regularly conduct safety drills on the ship, for the benefit of the crew so that if emergency does arise, they are prepared to respond to it at a moment’s notice. This may include practicing lifeboat drills and ensuring that supplies are prepared to respond to an unexpected turn of events.

While this is useful–and mandatory–for guests already on a ship, cruise lines also provide general safety information on their website. While this information may differ from cruise line to cruise line, Carnival’s website gives an example of the various items you can expect to see (and may specifically seek out in a cruise line) before you book your tickets. General safety initiatives include:

  • Conducting safety and emergency training that meets or exceeds regulatory requirements
  • Clearly defining crew member roles, responsibilities and duties for emergency procedures
  • Hiring an experienced team, including captains with long histories and company loyalty
  • Operating in compliance with strict international laws
  • Maintaining a fleet with the most advanced navigation technology and a comprehensive bridge watch team
  • Undergoing inspection mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard every 3-6 months

Your cruise line may also provide a safety and security directory, with important numbers in case of emergency. Although every cruise line wants potential guests to believe that safety on a cruise ship is not a problem, these phone numbers and addresses could make all the difference if you find yourself in need of assistance at sea. Given the number of cases our firm has handled, we are well aware of the fact that it is far better to be prepared than to be taken by surprise.

The timely reporting of any incident is key to building a strong legal case and achieving the resolution that you deserve. Therefore, if your cruise line does not provide you with this information up front, you may want to seek it out for yourself, so that you are prepared should you need it.

Maintaining Your Safety On A Cruise Ship 

When it comes to safe and enjoyable cruising, there are a number of steps that both the individual and the cruise line can take to increase the chances for everyone to have a nice time, free from hassle and harm. Here are a few steps that you and your traveling companions can take to enhance your safety for the duration of your cruise:

Pay Attention During the Muster Drill–Although it may seem like a major annoyance to go through this practice drill before you are allowed begin your vacation, it is truly in your best interest to pay close attention and learn as much as possible. Although an emergency is unlikely, you never know what may happen. Moreover, if things do take a turn for the worst, you will be far better off if you paid attention during the drill and retained the information you need to know.   

Bring Appropriate Footwear--Adults and kids alike should pay special attention to this tip. This may seem obvious, but it is worth repeating. While cruise ships are generally stable, you must remember that they are subject to the inconsistency of the ocean. Add to this the fact that cruises tend to have a variety of slippery and uneven surfaces–especially near the pool–and it is wise to ensure that your shoes will grip appropriately. In the same vein, we advise against going barefoot as this will provide even less traction, and could result in physical injury. 

Avoid Flashy Jewelry–While not the most commonly reported crime at sea–that distinction belongs to rape and sexual assault—it is still possible for individuals to steal at sea. Even if you do keep your valuables in a safe, the unfortunate truth is that crewmembers often have a reset code they can use to override the safe. As a result, it is far better to leave any precious jewels at home.

Adopt the Buddy System–For many, the beauty of a cruise is the carefree feeling it provides. Since everything is on board and everyone is on vacation excerpt for those that are there to take care of your vacation needs, you may feel as though you can roam and explore as you please. While this is often true, it is a safer choice to spend your time with a traveling companion, or at the very least, to schedule regular check-ins with your fellow travelers, to ensure that everyone is staying safe while enjoying himself or herself. Especially if you have children in your group, establishing a routine of checking in with each other is very important. Moving around the ship in groups can decreases the risk of falling victim to a crime, which in turn increases the chance of having a more enjoyable time at sea.

Know Your Drink Limit–Unfortunately, individuals are far more likely to fall victim to–or be the perpetrator of–a crime after having consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. In many cases, cruise lines may also do the guest a disservice, by continuing to serve them after it is clear that they have had too many or are obviously impaired. In order to avoid this, it is best to know your limit and stick to it. When combined with the buddy system, this will set you up for a more successful cruise experience.

Your Cruise Has a Responsibility to Your Safety 

While there are a number of useful steps you, as an individual, can take to increase your own safety, your cruise line is also required to maintain certain levels of security for all who are on board the vessel. Here is what to know before going on a cruise:

Security Guides are Required–Cruise ships are required by law to make their security guide available to passengers. In the guide, the cruise line might explain how to contact medical and security personnel. It may also outline the process for handling criminal activity.

Criminal Cruise Activity Must Be Reported–Speaking of criminal activity, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act requires all criminal activity be reported to the FBI. That said, individuals should not trust the cruise line to report the crime. Instead, if you have suffered a criminal act while at sea, you should feel free to contact the FBI yourself to ensure complete accuracy in the reporting of it. 

Vessels Must Be Up to Code–Any ship that docks in a U.S. port, including Puerto Rico, or another U.S. Territory must meet the laws of the country in which it is registered, as well as the laws of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and other governing bodies and certain U.S. laws as well. These regulations set standards for cruise ships in terms of fire safety, life-saving equipment, ship integrity and navigation, crew competency, and environmental impact. Unfortunately, many of the regulations in place are not nearly as rigorous as they could be. However, cruise ships do have standards they must meet and are typically they are accountable if they fall short of meeting these standards. 

Your Safety is Our Priority

At Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., we believe that everyone should have a safe time at sea. However, staying safe on a cruise ship is not always the first priority of the cruise line, crewmembers or fellow guests. As a result, if you suffer an injury while on your cruise, you can rest assured that we are here to help. With over 100 years of combined experience in maritime law, our team is more than prepared to make sure you get the legal representation you need to have the opportunity at getting the compensation you may are owed for your damages.

So, if you have questions about your case and are seeking advice you can trust, do not hesitate to reach out. Contact us today and get started on the path to getting your life back on track.