By:   Jason R. Margulies

Even the best swimmers can fall victim to drowning. These accidents can happen in mere minutes. And even if the victim is pulled to safety, their lives will forever be impacted by this event.

Drowning and near-drowning accidents are responsible for numerous cruise ship and boating fatalities. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is responsible for around 10 deaths each day. Yet, while drowning accidents are highly preventable, not everyone understands the many risk factors that can contribute to these types of incidents or how to avoid becoming a victim.

Drownings can happen anywhere and at any time. They can occur in a community pool, residential pool, ocean, or hot tub. Most of the time, cruise ship drownings occur because swimmers weren’t properly monitored by a supervising adult or a lifeguard. The cruise ship drowning accident lawyers at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. have been so successful at holding cruise ships accountable for failing to post lifeguards at swimming pools, many of the major cruise lines have altered their safety protocols to require their ships’ pools to be properly monitored.  We consider this one of our great achievements as a law firm.  We were honored to successfully represent numerous families who lost loved ones, or nearly lost loved ones due to drowning.  In addition to bringing successful lawsuits against the cruise lines, we embarked on a campaign in the media to make it clear to the cruising public that there were not lifeguards on the majority of cruise ships.  These lawsuits and public awareness efforts effectively forced all of the major cruise lines to place lifeguards on their cruise ships. 

Drowning Deaths and Near-Drowning Tragedies on Cruise Ships

Throughout the past few years, several people died or were nearly killed in cruise ship drowning accidents. Sadly, many victims were children. 

For example, a toddler was hospitalized in 2016 after a near-drowning on the Carnival Splendor, while the ship was in Port Miami. Sadly, these cruise ship drowning accidents are nothing new. The absence of lifeguards onboard cruise ships is undeniably one of the most important maritime safety issues facing the millions of cruise ship passengers who sail every year. Since October 2013, more than a dozen children have drowned or nearly drowned aboard the major Miami based cruise lines. But things are beginning to change. In a 2017 interview with the Miami Herald, LM&W partner Michael Winkleman said, “Public sentiment shifted because of the sheer number of children that began drowning on cruises.” In addition, the high-dollar cost of successful lawsuits brought by our firm, forced the industry to change. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean added lifeguards at their swimming pools in 2017 and Disney followed soon after. While this can’t bring back the lives of any of the children that have died at unguarded cruise ship swimming pools, we are elated that many ships now have lifeguards at their pools.

Why Are The Cruise Lines Finally Adding Lifeguards?

Cruise lines can be held liable  for any drowning accident on a ship. Cruise lines have a responsibility to provide reasonable care to all passengers aboard,  which includes ensuring shipboard pools are monitored by properly trained lifeguards.  One of the many ways drowning accidents can be prevented is by hiring trained lifeguards on all ships. 

Yet remarkably there are still cruise ships that do not have lifeguards.  Instead of doing all that is within their ability to prevent drowning accidents, cruise operators post signs by their pools that merely warn passengers to “swim at their own risk.” The problem is that anyone can fall victim to a drowning accident, whether it’s a child or an adult. And without lifeguards present to prevent a  dangerous situation and assist, the chances of  survival are often minimal.

You Can Never Be Too Informed

Below is a list of the most recent cruise ship drowning accidents and near-drownings:

  • A 10-year-old boy drowned in swimming pool accident aboard Dream Cruise’s Genting Dream in November of 2019
  • An 8-year-old boy died in a cruise ship drowning accident aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas vessel in December, 2015
  • A 10-year-old girl drowned in a cruise ship pool aboard the Norwegian Gem in May, 2015.
  • A 4-year-old boy nearly drowned in a “kid-friendly” swimming pool aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas cruise ship in January 2015
  • A 4-year-old boy died and his 6-year-old brother was hospitalized after drowning and near-drowning accidents in a pool aboard the Norwegian Breakaway in February, 2014
  • Michael Ward (aka Birdie Africa), a 1985 MOVE bombing survivor, died at age 41 after drowning in a hot tub aboard the Carnival Dream in September, 2013
  • A 4-year-old boy was airlifted from the Disney Fantasy after nearly drowning in one of the ship’s pools in April, 2013

Yes, Drowning Deaths Happen On Cruise Ships

Anyone who is swimming in a pool, ocean, lake, or relaxing in a hot tub can become the victim of a drowning accident. Most of the time, drownings occur in just mere seconds — even if the victim is an experienced swimmer. However, these kinds of tragedies can be prevented. The easiest way to stop a drowning from happening is to closely supervise those in the water. No one should be left unattended in a pool or body of water, not even adults.

The following are some statistics that you might be surprised to learn about:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that an estimated 388,000 drowning deaths occur every year
  • It only takes a few minutes for someone to drown
  • The human brain begins to fail after four minutes of being submerged underwater
  • Survivors can still suffer a number of injuries, including lung and esophageal scarring, as well as permanent brain damage
  • Children between the ages of one and four are most likely to experience drowning accidents

How to Avoid a Cruise Ship Drowning Accident

While drowning is always a possible risk factor for anyone who is out in open waters, there are measures you can take to improve your safety. Here are a few tips from an experienced boating accident lawyer that can help you avoid a drowning accident:

  1. Take Swimming Lessons – Swimming lessons can drastically reduce your chances of becoming a drowning accident victim. Even if you think you can swim like a fish, it’s always good to brush up on proper techniques and learn how best to react when an emergency strikes. That way, if you are involved in a boating or personal watercraft accident, you’ll be better able to handle unfavorable conditions, conserve energy, and hopefully swim toward a safe location.
  2. Wear a Life Jacket – All the boating accident lawyers at our firm have stressed this time and time again. Wearing life jackets can mean the difference between life and death, especially in the event of a boating accident. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, roughly 72% of boating accident deaths in 2010 were the result of drowning, and 84% of these victims were not wearing life jackets. If you are injured or become unconscious, a life jacket is the only thing that will keep you afloat.
  3. Refrain from Alcohol Consumption – Another risk factor that leads to drowning is alcohol use. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and motor reflexes, which can impede someone who is involved in an accident at sea to react with the necessary quickness and stamina required to survive. Save the alcohol for land-based activities (and definitely not those involving driving).
  4. Learn CPR – If you are a regular recreational boater, swimmer, or water sport enthusiast, you may want to consider learning CPR. If someone in your party does sustain a drowning accident, by performing CPR, you can save their lives.

By following these easy steps and abiding by proper boating safety laws, you can reduce your chances of becoming a drowning accident victim.

Obtain Justice With the Help of Our Drowning Accident Lawyers

If you or someone you love was involved in a drowning or near-drowning accident because the area where you were swimming was not properly monitored by a trained lifeguard or other professional, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. The drowning accident attorneys at our firm can review your case and help you understand your rights as a victim. Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. has been assisting victims of maritime accidents since 1971 and our lawyers work diligently to recover compensation for your pain and suffering. Our work with the families of drowning victims has forced significant changes in the cruise industry, helping to save lives.

For more information on drowning and near-drowning accidents, or to schedule a free consultation with a maritime attorney, contact Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. today.