When the Costa Concordia ocean liner hit rocks and began sinking off Italy in January, killing 32, many travelers began questioning cruise ship safety, especially the competence of ship captains and crew.
But deaths and injuries on cruise ships are extremely rare. More than 16 million people safely cruised the world's waterways last year, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the North American industry's main marketing group. Still, CLIA has joined global cruise organizations in embracing changes to cruise ship safety. The new rules require a passenger safety drill before a cruise ship sets sail.
Many lines already follow this policy, but official rules established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) require a safety drill only within 24 hours of embarkation. With the Concordia, it was revealed that approximately 700 of the 3,200 passengers had boarded in Rome only hours before the disaster and hadn't attended a safety briefing. An example of how serious the cruise lines now are about cruise ship safety: On a recent Holland America sailing in the Caribbean, a passenger who refused to attend a safety briefing was kicked off the ship.
Of course, when you embark on a cruise, as on any vacation, you bear a certain responsibility for your own safety. Toward that end, here are some cruise ship safety tips.
Study your surroundings
When you board a ship, you're typically handed a map (if not, pick one up at the purser's office). Study the layout. Give yourself a tour of the ship. Also check the cruise ship safety chart on the back of your cabin door for the route to your assigned muster station, your designated area to congregate in the event of an emergency. If there is a safety video playing on the TV, take time to watch it.
Heed the safety drill
You will be required to attend a safety drill. Yes, it might come at a time when you'd rather be sitting by the pool, and to seasoned cruisers, it will be a boring exercise. But do as instructed. Grab your orange life jacket from your cabin, head to the assigned muster station (as indicated by the big letter on your life jacket) and listen to the crew instructions. This is not the time to take photos or chat. It is the time to really learn what to do in the event of an emergency.
Locate the life jacket
Most ships will require you to try on your life jacket at the drill — you can typically find it in a closet in your cabin. But even if not instructed to do so, try it and make sure it fits. If you have kids, make sure your cabin is equipped with an appropriate infant or child life jacket. Notable features include a whistle you can blow to draw attention.