Cruise Ship Horn – The History and Significance

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Cruise ship horns have a particularly distinct sound that is very, very loud. However, you shouldn’t mistake a cruise ship’s horn for the same purpose as your car’s horn, for example. 

They are an essential part of water navigation and are crucial for the safety of the ship and other ships at sea. They have a unique significance, and different blasts mean different things. 

Keep reading to learn the history and significance of a cruise ship horn, and discover the meaning of the different blasts you may hear throughout your cruise.

Cruise Ship Horn History and Purpose

As maritime vessels, cruise ships subscribe to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and other standard regulations.

Standardized international regulations were established to codify important vessel operation procedures. Part of this standardization includes having adequate horns on large vessels, and cruise ships are no exception.

Cruise Ship Horns
Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

These regulations are essential to ensure good communication between all vessels for the safety of all those onboard. The main point of a cruise ship horn is to avoid a collision at all costs. 

Cruise Ship Horn – Why Do They Blast Their Horns?

There are various reasons why cruise ships blast their horns, ranging from a simple salutation to other passing ships to a warning of potential danger or an emergency.

For the most part, however, most horn blasts are to communicate with other passing ships what direction the ship plans on going. This is done using various horn signals that all vessels understand.

Why Are Ship Horns So Loud?

You’re on your cruise deck relaxing and trying to get a tan when suddenly you hear the loud blaring of the horn. While this may startle you and even be annoying, there’s an important reason that cruise ship horns are so loud. 

Cruise ship horns are so loud because of how big the open sea is. They act as a warning to other boats and vessels at sea. They need to be heard in cases of low visibility and in cases of emergency.

Docked Cruise Ships
Photo Credit: Halit Sadik / Shutterstock

In general, you can hear cruise ship horns from up to two miles away. Cruise ships are pretty slow to stop and turn due to their enormous size, so this much space is needed as a warning to get out of another ship’s way. 

Ship Horn Blasts – What Do They Mean

You may have noticed that cruise ships have several different blasts. But what do they mean? Here’s a quick look into what the horn blasts mean.

  • One short horn blast: This communicates to another ship that you intend to pass it on your port side. 
  • Two short horn blasts: This communicates to another ship that you intend to pass on your starboard side.
  • Three short horn blasts: This means that you are operating in reverse, such as backing away from the dock.
  • One prolonged horn blast: This is the first blast you’ll often hear onboard your cruise, as the blast signals that a vessel is leaving the dock.
  • Five short horn blasts: This typically signals danger and is the type of blast you are least likely to hear on your ship

Aside from these reasons, your ship might also sound its horn in times of low visibility just to make its presence known.


Although cruise ship horns tend to startle and scare people onboard the ship, there’s rarely anything to worry about. In general, the ship’s captain blasts the horn signal only to communicate.

Read Also: Cruise Ship Tendering – Top Pro Tips

You’re more likely to hear your captain blast the ship’s horn signal for fun than you are to be in an emergency. Either way, you now know what different blasts mean so that you can be prepared for your next cruise.

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