What to Expect During a Cruise Ship Muster Drill

Have you ever wondered what happens during a cruise ship muster drill? We have all of the answers. Here is everything you can expect as a passenger.

Have you ever wondered what happens during a cruise ship muster drill? We have all of the answers. Here is everything you can expect as a passenger.

Whether you have been on numerous cruises or are preparing for your first cruise vacation, you probably have questions about muster drills.

While many first-time cruise ship passengers assume that these drills are reserved for the ship’s crew and other staff members, passengers must also participate to some degree.

If you are unsure what to expect during a cruise ship muster drill, don’t worry, we are here to explain everything you need to know.

We will cover many of the safety procedures conducted during a muster drill and explain why they are considered an essential component of the maritime safety briefing. Let’s dive right in!

What Is a Cruise Ship Muster Drill?

Essentially, “cruise ship muster drills,” or “lifeboat drills,” as they are also known, are a series of drills and instructional presentations designed to familiarize passengers with emergency protocols.

These drills are considered to be mandatory requirements that are set and enforced by international organizations. During muster drills, passengers gather at designated meeting areas known as muster stations.

Here, they will receive safety information from trained crew members. Most muster drills designed for passengers also involve practicing the donning of life jackets and other essential components of emergency preparedness at sea.

Cruise Ship Muster Drill
Photo Credit: MikhailBerkut / Shutterstock

The purpose of any cruise ship muster drill is to ensure that all passengers are educated about emergency procedures, evacuation routes, and where to find the nearest life-saving equipment.

While these drills can vary in how they are carried out and what is covered, the overall goal is always to ensure that all passengers are safe and prepared for the unlikely event of a serious emergency.

What Is an E-muster Drill?

An e-muster drill, or electronic muster drill, is a type of virtual muster drill that is beginning to phase out traditional, in-person muster drills.

Where muster drills used to be carried out in person, so they would require all passengers to gather in specific locations within the ship for safety instructions and demonstrations, mobile technology and smartphones have enabled muster drills to be carried out electronically.

What Is Involved in an E-muster Drill?

If the cruise ship you are traveling on offers e-muster drills rather than in-person muster drills, you should receive basic instructions prior to boarding the ship.

This could be a simple email requesting you to download the cruise line’s e-muster drill app. It is often suggested that you download the app before boarding, making it much easier to complete the drill once you are on board.

Royal Caribbean E-Muster App
Royal Caribbean E-Muster App (Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean)

Once onboard the ship, you will be informed of a specific timeframe in which you must complete your e-muster drill.

Typically, the e-muster drill will involve watching various safety videos that cover everything from evacuation protocols, meeting points, and how to locate and wear a life jacket properly in the stateroom.

You will not be able to simply press play and ignore the e-muster drill, as many will have prompts you will need to click in order to acknowledge that you have understood the instructions. Some even have basic quizzes at the end of the drill; however, this is not always the case.

Once the allotted timeframe for completion has expired, crew members will verify that all passengers have completed their e-muster drill training.

Royal Caribbean E-Muster App
Royal Caribbean E-Muster App (Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean)

This can be done by manually having a crew member inspect your smartphone, tablet, or other smart device to show that you completed the drill within the app.

Some cruise lines use more user-friendly forms of e-muster drill completion verification, such as giving users a QR code once they have completed the drill that can be scanned by crew members or simply presented to a scanning terminal.

Are Muster Drills Mandatory?

While certain cruise ship passengers are excluded, such as children under a certain age, muster drills are considered a mandatory requirement, so they must be conducted on every commercial cruise ship.

This is because they are a legal requirement set out by international maritime regulations, most specifically, the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), which sets out all safety standards for ships operating on open water.

Passengers Attending Drill
Passengers Attending Drill (Photo Credit: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock)

According to the SOLAS Convention, all passengers that are the legally required age must participate in a muster drill within 24 hours of boarding a cruise ship. This rule can be enforced by the local coast guard and other port authorities, so it must be carried out according to the regulations.

Do I Have to Participate in a Muster Drill Even If I Have Been on a Cruise Before?

Yes! Even if you have been on numerous cruises in the past, you would still be required to participate in a muster drill within 24 hours of embarkation day on a new cruise ship. This is because all cruise ships differ in their layout, size, and even how they handle emergencies. 

So, you need to understand the relevant safety procedure for each cruise voyage you participate in. Remember, muster drills are conducted for your own safety, as well as the safety of all of your fellow passengers. While they may seem repetitive to the seasoned cruise vacationer, they are a valuable use of your time!

When Are Cruise Ship Muster Drills Carried Out?

The specific timing of a muster drill can vary from one cruise line to the next, but they must be carried out within 24 hours after the ship has departed for the first time. Most cruise ship crews will schedule a muster drill shortly before or after the ship departs from port. 

Not only does this get this vital training session out of the way so guests can return to enjoying their trip, but it also ensures that passengers will be familiar with safety protocols if an emergency occurs shortly after departure.

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

With that said, the crew on larger cruise ships may wait a little longer to start their muster drill than those on smaller ships, as it gives the passengers additional time to find their cabins and get settled, but they still must be carried out within 24 hours. 

What Can You Expect During a Cruise Ship Muster Drill?

While it is true that the specific procedures of a muster drill can somewhat differ from one cruise ship to the next, some essential elements and objectives are the same on all ships – informing passengers of emergencies by familiarizing them with the ship’s safety protocols.

The overriding goal is to protect the safety and well-being of all passengers, crew members, and anyone else traveling on the ship.

To help you understand what you can expect from a muster drill, here are some of the most common procedures that are covered.

Familiarization with Relevant Muster Points

Unsurprisingly, the first thing that most muster drills will cover is where passengers should be meeting.

Typically, each passenger’s assigned muster point will be indicated on their key card and in their cabin. Each ship deck will also have signs directing passengers where to go in an emergency.

Carnival Cruise Muster Station
Photo Credit: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock

During your muster drill, you will meet at your assigned muster point. The crew member running the drill will explain why this is important. They will also explain what you should do if you are in another part of the ship in an emergency.

Emergency Signal Demonstration

Once familiar with muster points, you will be given a demonstration of the emergency signal going off if you need to assemble at your muster point.

On most ships, the emergency signal involves a combination of loud alarms, audible warnings and announcements over the ship’s main speaker system, and a series of flashing lights and illuminated emergency signs.

Cruise Ship Horns
Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

The muster drill instructor will explain what these signals mean. Once this has been explained, a demonstration will be conducted. On most ships, this demonstration also doubles as the official start of the muster drill.

Practice Roll Call and Basic Safety Instructions for the Ship

After the emergency signal has been tested and demonstrated, a crew member assigned to a particular muster station will take attendance to ensure that all relevant passengers and crew members are present. This involves calling out names and cabin numbers.

Passengers at Assembly Station
Passengers at Assembly Station (Photo Credit: karenfoleyphotography / Shutterstock)

Once it has been established that everyone that should be at the muster point is in attendance, additional safety instructions can be explained to the group. These instructions and training demonstrations often include:

  • How to locate, wear, and secure a life jacket
  • Instructions on how to find the nearest emergency exit
  • An overview of where the cruise ship’s lifeboats and life rafts are located, as well as a basic breakdown of how and when they are boarded
  • What passengers should do if they encounter a fire, and where they can find fire safety equipment, like fire extinguishers and first aid kits
  • Where passengers can locate medical facilities in the event of an injury or medical emergency

Life Jacket Demonstration and Safety Video Presentation

Again, the exact instructional techniques used and the timeline of each step can differ from one ship to the next, but almost every muster drill will involve having a crew member demonstrate how to wear and fasten a life jacket correctly.

Just like on a plane, the crew will also explain how you can help another passenger with their own life jacket if they cannot put it on without assistance.

Assembly Station on Cruise Ship
Assembly Station on Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Eyesonmilan / Shutterstock)

Many cruise ships also use instructional safety videos to provide more information and detailed instructions on procedures that would be difficult to demonstrate, such as the safe use of emergency evacuation slides and lifeboats.

The screens used for these demonstrations are often available at muster points, so it is easy for the crew to ensure that all passengers can view the video.

Fielding Passenger Questions and Concerns

Once the demonstrations have been concluded, the crew member in charge of the muster drill will field questions from passengers. They can also offer clarification and repeat any information that any passenger was unclear about.

The main goal of the muster drill is to ensure that everyone traveling on the cruise ship is fully aware of safety procedures. If a passenger is not confident that they fully understand what to do during an emergency, the crew members will be happy to address their concerns.

Practice the Use of Life Jackets

Once passengers know how to locate, wear, and fasten a life jacket, they can practice doing so. The appropriate number of life jackets is often located within a passenger’s cabin, so crew members can ask those at the muster drill to retrieve their life jackets.

Passenger Life Jacket
Passenger Life Jacket (Photo Credit: Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock)

Depending on the nature of the muster drill, passengers will either bring their life jackets to the muster point or be asked to put them on in their cabins, then step into the hallway. From there, a crew member can visit to ensure the life jacket is worn correctly.

Read Also: EPIRB on Cruise Ship – Where Is it Located?

This is one of the most critical components of any muster drill, as knowing how to wear and secure a life jacket correctly is an essential part of maritime safety.

Conclusion of the Muster Drill

Once all of the components of the drill have been covered and every passenger has had the opportunity to practice putting on a life jacket, the drill is concluded. Passengers will be instructed to return their life jackets to their cabins.

From here, the crew will submit their attendance record to the relevant officer, ensuring that all passengers on board the ship have completed the muster drill.

Muster Drill Mobile Apps

Today, many cruise lines are developing smart mobile phone and tablet apps. These apps allow passengers to view safety drill demonstrations on their portable devices.

These apps can send passengers notifications directly to their mobile devices. They can also update the passenger with the closest muster points and other relevant safety information as they navigate the ship.

Cruise Line App

In many cases, passengers are asked to check in to the app to complete the virtual muster drill. They are asked to meet at their designated muster point for further instructions and attendance. While these muster drill apps are relatively new, they give guests a far more convenient experience, as they can review the information anytime!

What Happens if You Miss Your Muster Drill?

You cannot simply skip your muster drill, as you will be forced to attend a makeup drill. If you refuse, you can be forced to exit the ship at its next port of call.

In most cases, your cabin number and name will be summoned so that you can participate in the makeup muster drill. You will be asked why you did not attend your assigned muster drill, so avoiding embarrassment and following the appropriate training is better!

Final Words

Muster drills are essential. Even if they seem repetitive or somewhat boring, it is important to remember that they are designed with your safety in mind. Attend the muster drill and pay attention to the information covered; it could be essential for your safety and well-being!

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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