Are Cruises Safe? What You Really Need to Know

Ever wondered how safe are cruise ships? Our guide explains everything you need to know! From regulations to safety statistics, we cover it all.

Whether you are new to cruises or have set sail many times, you might be wondering, are cruises safe? After all, nobody wants to risk injury or worse while enjoying their vacation. This is why we have provided this in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at cruise ship safety. 

As you will discover, all cruise lines have a moral and legal obligation to ensure the safety of all passengers they are responsible for. While there is no such thing as a completely risk-free form of travel, modern cruise ships are much safer than you may assume. 

To help you understand why, we will explore some of the statistics regarding passenger safety and provide an in-depth examination of the mandatory safety regulations that all cruise lines have to abide by. We will even look at some of the additional safety measures the most reputable cruise lines follow to keep their passengers and crew safe at all times! 

So, if you are ready to discover the truth about safety standards within the cruise industry, let’s dive right in!

Are Cruises Safe? – The Statistics 

Given that cruise ships travel some of the roughest bodies of water on the planet, you may assume that they would be inherently dangerous. The truth is that modern cruise ships are statistically one of the safest forms of travel. 

By the end of 2023 alone, there will have been an estimated total of over 31.5 million cruise ship passengers worldwide! With this many people choosing to book a cruise vacation, you would expect travel-related injuries and fatalities to be relatively high, but that is not the case. Recent statistics clarify that the odds of dying on a cruise ship are just 1 in 6.25 million. For comparison, the National Safety Council (NSC) claims that your odds of dying in a car crash are roughly 1 in 103. 

Put simply, the vast majority of cruise vacations are accident-free. Even amongst those injured while on board a cruise ship, many incidents are coincidental, meaning that the passenger suffered a health-related issue or had an accident that was not explicitly related to the cruise ship itself.

Even the International Maritime Organization (IMO) reports that the number of accidents per million passengers on cruise ships is significantly lower than on other passenger vessels. 

What Types of Incidents Can Occur on a Cruise Ship? 

When it comes to passenger safety, there are four main categories that most cruise lines and safety regulators look at: overboard incidents, onboard fires, illness outbreaks, and large-scale ship disasters. 

Passenger Overboard Incidents

All cruise lines do everything they can to limit the risks associated with having passengers or crew members fall overboard. While man-overboard incidents are always a risk whenever any vessel leaves the harbor, they can be particularly risky for cruise ships given their massive scale, high number of passengers, and the types of waters they traverse.

Carnival Valor Overboard
Photo Credit: @johnnytrupp (Twitter)

To reduce the chances of these incidents, most cruise ships are designed so that falling off the ship accidentally would be almost impossible. All open-air areas of the ships are protected with high railings and more sophisticated safety measures, like motion sensors and cameras that would detect any such incident. 

Cruise ships are also incredibly stable compared to other vessels, which helps reduce the risk that a passenger could be tossed overboard due to the ship’s movement. 

Cruise ship designers and safety regulators are also incredibly mindful of fire risks. Not only are modern cruise ships designed so that any fire can be compartmentalized immediately, but they also have a variety of fire safety measures in place to deal with these types of incidents should they occur.

Carnival Freedom Cruise Ship Fire
Carnival Freedom Fire

For every 2,800 passengers, an average cruise ship will be equipped with the following safety measures: five firefighting teams, 4,000 smoke detectors, 500 fire extinguishers, 16 miles worth of fire sprinkler system piping, and six miles of fire hose.

On top of all of these safety measures, furnishings and décor are made from non-flammable materials wherever possible, so even in the unlikely event that a fire does occur, it cannot spread easily. 

Illness Outbreaks

Cruise lines also place a great deal of emphasis on preventing outbreaks of illnesses, both contagious and food-related. All cruise ships have extremely rigorous health protocols and sanitation measures to minimize the risk of sick passengers and crew members. Strict hygiene standards concerning food preparation and storage also reduce the risk of food-related illness.

CDC Sign
Photo Credit: bear_productions / Shutterstock.com

All cruise ships are also equipped with effective medical resources, like licensed physicians and registered nurses, available at all hours. Full-sized cruise ships even have sophisticated medical facilities with lifesaving equipment, like X-ray machines, cardiac monitors, defibrillators, and more. All crew members are also given first aid training and public health and fire prevention training. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry became stricter about safety standards and sanitation procedures. Today, cruises are safer than ever when it comes to health standards

Major Cruise Ship Disasters

Cruise ship disasters, like a full or partial sinking, are extremely rare. These events almost always get global media attention, which only stresses how uncommon they actually are.

Serious incidents, like the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, can usually be boiled down to human error. The ships have incredibly sophisticated safety and navigation systems that help automate many actions.

Costa Concordia
Cruise Ship Tipped Over (Photo Credit: MZeta / Shutterstock)

In the extremely rare situation where an emergency has occurred, the entire crew is professionally drilled in how to react, and ships are equipped with lifeboats. Even passengers must complete mandatory muster drills and evacuation training sessions. 

Mandatory Safety Regulations Cruise Ships Must Follow

To ensure the safety of passengers and crew, all cruise ships are subject to various safety regulations. These minimum safety requirements are incredibly stringent and heavily enforced, so all cruise ships adhere to impressive safety standards. 

International Safety Standards

For starters, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a global authority that regulates safety standards throughout the entire industry.

All cruise lines must follow the standards outlined by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which covers everything from ship construction and stability to the quantity and types of safety equipment that must be on board the ship. SOLAS is continuously updated to ensure that all ships feature the latest safety technology and follow the most up-to-date safety measures.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)
International Maritime Organization (IMO) (Photo Credit: cktravels)

Failure to live up to SOLAS mandates, including meeting lifeboat and lifevest requirements, can result in extremely heavy fines for the cruise line. Cruise ships are subject to evaluations from SOLAS representatives, so they are not examined internally. This means the evaluators are impartial and will not hesitate to penalize a cruise ship for any infraction. 

Local Regulations

Cruise ships must also abide by their nation of origin’s local regulations and safety requirements. For example, all cruise ships operating in the United States must meet the U.S. Coast Guard’s strict safety regulations. Regular inspections ensure that all passenger vessels meet these stringent safety requirements. 

Even foreign-owned and registered cruise ships operating in the United States would still have to abide by the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), which has strict mandates regarding safety standards and lifesaving equipment that must be carried.

Carnival Cruise Line in Alaska
Photo Credit: Jim Lambert / Shutterstock

The same is true for cruise ships departing from other nations. Sometimes, a single cruise ship could be subject to local safety regulations. For example, Carnival Corporation & plc is a joint British and American company, meaning all of this significant cruise line’s ships must meet the strict safety standards of both the United States and the United Kingdom. 

How Else Do Cruise Ships Keep Passengers Safe? 

While mandatory safety regulations ensure that all cruise ships meet specific standards for passenger safety, most cruise lines go above and beyond these mandates. This is because it is in their best interest to minimize safety risks.

A major accident that results in injuries or fatalities can be extremely damaging to a cruise line’s reputation, and the ensuing legal actions could be financially ruinous. This is why you will find that most cruise lines voluntarily enact the following safety measures for all of their ships: 

Advanced Safety Training for All Crew Members

All reputable cruise lines prioritize crew training and emergency readiness. All crew members undergo extensive safety training, including fire safety lessons, first aid certification training, and evacuation drilling.

Cruise Ship in Port During Drill
Cruise Ship in Port During Drill (Photo Credit: natatravel / Shutterstock)

Even crew members with service-related jobs take the same training exercises to ensure that they can effectively respond in the rare event of an emergency.

During a cruise and when the ship is in port, guests may come across a crew drill, including crew members donning their life jackets and heading to their crew muster station.

Well-Equipped and Fully Staffed Medical Facilities

As mentioned, cruise ships also feature fully staffed and equipped medical facilities. They can handle everything from minor slip-and-fall injuries to serious health issues. This ensures immediate and professional healthcare for all passengers, even if the ship is far from the nearest port.

In the rare event that a passenger needs specialized medical attention, cruise ships feature helicopter pads that can accommodate airlift medical evacuations

Equipping Cruise Ships with Advanced Safety Technologies 

Cruise lines also invest heavily in the latest safety technology for their ships. Sophisticated radar and weather detection systems help ships avoid rough waters and storms, while sonar systems and sensors help them avoid various obstacles.

Cruise Ship Stabilizer
Photo Credit: Dave R

Even if a ship is forced to navigate through adverse weather conditions, modern cruise ships are equipped with advanced stabilization systems that can minimize the impact of rough seas. Cruise ships are also outfitted with onboard motion sensors, smoke detectors, internal and external video monitoring systems, advanced communications systems, and more. These modern systems and precautions are designed with passenger safety in mind. 

On top of that, many of these systems are automated, meaning that there is a reduced risk of human error that could lead to a safety issue. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

What would happen if a medical emergency occurred at sea? 

Cruise ships are equipped to deal with various medical emergencies thanks to onboard medical facilities and a staff of certified medical professionals. If it is required, they can arrange a medical evacuation via helicopter, or if it is a medical emergency involving multiple passengers, they can quickly divert their course to the nearest port. 

Do cruise ships take specific safety precautions for children?

Yes, any cruise ship that is not adult-only will have specific policies and strategies to keep children safe while on the vessel. Cabins with childproof locks and child-safe edges are provided for those traveling with children. Parents are also encouraged to walk their children through mandatory safety and muster drills so even kids know how to stay safe while on the ship. All ships carrying children must also provide child-sized life vests and other safety equipment suitable for children. 

What happens if a cruise ship loses power while it is at sea?

Even in the rare event that a cruise ship loses power, it can draw upon redundant power systems, like backup generators and battery banks. These ensure that all essential safety systems remain online, including the ship’s interior and exterior lighting, ventilation systems, and all navigational equipment. The cruise ship’s medical facilities can also draw upon backup power systems. 

Final Words 

While there is nothing wrong with being cautious while booking any vacation, you can rest assured that cruise vacations are incredibly safe. For cruise lines, passenger safety is always one of the top priorities. 

Not only does passenger safety protect a cruise line’s reputation and bottom line, but mandatory safety regulations and sophisticated safety technologies ensure that cruise ships are an incredibly safe form of travel. All crew members are incredibly well-trained in protecting the safety of everyone on board. 

Even when incidents have occurred in the past, the lessons learned help to spur innovation and safety standards so it never happens again. Even some of the most famous maritime disasters, like the sinking of the Titanic, revolutionized safety standards and regulations for all passenger vessels. 

If you have any questions about safety standards, contact the cruise line you are traveling with. They will be happy to provide you with a detailed breakdown of their safety measures and the peace of mind you need to book a safe and enjoyable cruise vacation.

Emrys Thakkar
Emrys Thakkar
The founder of Cruise Hive which was established in 2008 as one of the earliest cruise blogs in the industry. Emrys has been reporting on the latest cruise industry news since the site first launched. Expert insights and tips featured on a number of publications including The Express, Business Insider, and more. Worked for Carnival Cruise Line for 8 years and is well and truly dedicated to cruising! Has also been on a number of cruises so can offer an insight into the industry that many will not be able to do. What's even more impressive is that Emrys has traveled the world by visiting more than 34 countries, lived in China for 8 years, and cruised the Caribbean, Baltic, Mediterranean, Asia, and Europe. Find out more about us here.

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