Life On Board

Cruise Ship Safety

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Emergency Procedures Lifeboat Drills Fire Dangers

Photo credit: StratosGiannikos/iStockphoto

Passengers should never lose sight of one important difference between a cruise and a resort vacation—a cruise ship is not a hotel. Ships move, and the action of the ocean and surrounding weather conditions are powerful forces. While the U.S. Coast Guard inspects all cruise ships that call in U.S. ports for safety, security, and a healthy environment, it's important to know the protocol in the rare case of an onboard emergency. Cruise ships are significantly safer than land-based resorts, but they are not crime-free.

Tip: Both theft and assault happen on ships, so don't assume you're completely safe just because you're on a ship.

Emergency Procedures

Safety begins with you, the passenger. Once you've settled into your cabin, locate your life vests and review the posted emergency instructions. Make sure the vests are in good condition and learn to secure them properly. Make certain the ship's purser knows if you have a physical infirmity that may hamper a speedy exit from your cabin so that in an emergency, he or she can quickly dispatch a crew member to assist you. If you're traveling with children, be sure that child-size life jackets are placed in your cabin.

Lifeboat Drills

Before your ship sails, you'll be required to attend a mandatory lifeboat, or muster, drill. Do so and listen carefully. If you're unsure about how to use your life vest, now is the time to ask. Only in the most extreme circumstances will you need to abandon ship—but it has happened. The time you spend learning the procedure may serve you well in a crisis.

Fire Dangers

In actuality, while not common, the greatest danger facing cruise ship passengers is fire. All cruise lines must meet international standards for fire safety, which require sprinkler systems, smoke detectors, and other safety features. You can do your part by not using an iron in your cabin and taking care to properly extinguish smoking materials. Never throw a lit cigarette overboard—it could be blown back into an opening in the ship and start a fire. Many cruise lines have now banned smoking in passenger cabins—even outside on private verandas.

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