Cruise safety is a big deal – not just for the hundreds of thousands of prospective cruisers who wonder whether cruises are safe, but for the entire cruise industry.
Fortunately, everyone can rest easy; as Sarah Kennedy, public-relations director at Cruise Lines International Association, notes, “Even with an increase in cruise capacity, cruise lines have maintained an exceptional safety record – making cruising one of the safest ways to travel.”
Why Are Cruises So Safe?
It’s really a combination of ship design, crew training, and a commitment to safety on the part of the major cruise lines.
“First of all, people should really keep in mind that safety is the top priority for every cruise line,” says Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, the world’s largest consumer cruise website. “They wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t.”
In addition, as Kennedy notes, “Cruise ships are among the most scrutinized vessels at sea.”
This scrutiny starts with ship design and testing. It’s further reinforced by global safety regulations that outline emergency procedures and protocols, and ongoing inspections to make sure procedures are being followed.
Cruise lines translate those regulations into policies, so if your ship has an issue in the Caribbean, the crew knows almost immediately what port they need to head towards.
There are also systems on board to detect potential safety issues almost before they start. Systems can even detect when a passenger or crew member falls overboard.
In addition, according to Kennedy, “CLIA and its cruise-line members are constantly working to improve safety by reviewing operational procedures with top maritime and transportation experts.”
The result of technology and a continuous dedication to safety means that when cruising is compared against other transportation means, cruising is much safer.
“Given the number of cruise ships that are at sea all the time, and the number of cruisers who are traveling every year, the incidence of events affecting guest safety are incredibly rare,” says McDaniel.
How Safe Are Cruises – By The Numbers
In 2017, the last time comparisons were undertaken, the U.S. cruise industry had a 0.02 passenger fatality rate per billion passenger miles traveled. That compares to:
- 73 for domestic commercial airlines
- 4 for domestic passenger cars
- 8 for domestic rail passenger travel
And this has taken place while the cruise industry has been experiencing unprecedented growth.
According to research firm G.P. Wild, worldwide cruise-ship capacity grew by more than 41.5% from 2009 to 2016, while incidents with passengers on board decreased 15%.
Compared to 2009, the number of "significant" fires dropped from four to two, and the number of "significant" strandings and groundings went from five to one.
(G.P. Wild defines a significant incident as one in which the ship is delayed more than 24 hours, or passengers or crew have fatalities or serious injuries.)
“It’s not sexy news when a cruise goes off and everybody has a great time and enjoys time with their family and great entertainment and amazing food,” McDaniel says. “But that’s what happens the vast majority of the time.”
Cruise Ships Take Safety Seriously
One of the reasons why cruises are so safe is the amount of safety gear aboard. An average cruise ship with 2,700 passengers and 800 crew carries:
- Five firefighting teams
- 4,000 smoke detectors
- 500 fire extinguishers
- 16 miles of sprinkler piping
- 5,000 sprinkler heads and 6 miles of fire hose
- Enough survival craft, including lifeboats and life rafts, to accommodate at least 125% of the number of persons on board
In addition, according to Kennedy, “Cruise crews complete rigorous training in every aspect of passenger safety, including securing heavy objects onboard, lifejacket and lifeboat storage, bridge procedures and access, CPR, and more.”
“The crews are able to jump in and react because it’s almost muscle memory for them,” McDaniel says. “They’ve been trained and retrained, so when an emergency happens, they are very prepared.”
Even in severe circumstances, such as those surrounding the Viking Sky when it encountered unexpectedly heavy seas off the Norwegian coast in March 2019, the crew came in for praise.
“We had our Cruise Critic members on board for that sailing, and they were very highly complimentary of the crew,” McDaniel says.
What About Weather?
Cruise lines and cruise ships continually monitor the weather using multiple sources, so they can quickly alter a ship’s itinerary if they have to.
According to Kennedy, every ship has a contracted weather service provider delivering 24/7 updates. In addition, many ships have direct access to on-call meteorologists.
In the case of impending severe weather, a cruise line’s onshore weather team can alter a ship’s route based on its itinerary and the ship’s maneuvering characteristics.
“Cruise lines seek to avoid bad weather when possible for the comfort of all onboard,” Kennedy says. “The expertise of our mariners is reflected in how they operate ships throughout the range of conditions experienced at sea.”
3 Essential Tips For Cruise-Ship Safety
When it comes to specifics for ensuring your safety on a cruise, McDaniel has three tips:
1. Take the muster drill seriously
Safety drills familiarize passengers with locations of safety installations, actions to take in an emergency and use of lifejackets.
The muster drill – where the crew demonstrates safety procedures, talks about what happens in case of an emergency at sea, and outlines protocols – is a particularly important drill that takes place at the beginning of every cruise.
“No matter how many times you’ve been on a cruise you’re going to have to participate in a muster drill,” McDaniel says. “Veteran cruisers especially say, ‘Ugh! I’ve been through this tons of times!’ but take it seriously. Pay attention. Know what your emergency escape routes are.”
As McDaniel points out, you need to know what’s expected of passengers in case of an emergency, because you want to have that information at your fingertips in case something does happen.
2. Take the same safety precautions you’d take with any other form of travel
When you fly, do you throw your carryon any old place? Do you not know where the doors are on a train or the exits are at a hotel?
Just because you’re on a cruise, that’s no reason to throw caution to the wind.
“It’s easy to become more relaxed when you’re on vacation, but it’s really not a time to let your guard down,” McDaniel says. “Be aware of your surroundings and follow the safety protocols recommended by the cruise line.”
3. Buy travel insurance
“At Cruise Critic we always encourage people to buy travel insurance. It gives you extra peace of mind, and it’s well worth the price .”
As McDaniel notes, travel insurance can come in handy in many ways, whether you have to cancel or interrupt your cruise, have a medical emergency on board, or get ill in port.
“It’s that extra blanket of protection,” she says, “and it’s really worth that extra cost.”
A cruise is already one of the safest trips you can take. And with the combination of new, high-tech ships and travel insurance, it can be one of the most carefree trips as well.
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