There’s nothing that’ll ruin a vacation faster than an injury, illness, or similar disaster — and while cruise ships look like pure fun and games, they come with their fair share of potential hazards. All that water, a rocking boat, endless drinks and partying… Well, you’ve probably heard the occasional tragic stories.

That said, many cruise ship-set tragedies are avoidable, with a few safety precautions. Don’t let a few rookie mistakes ruin your time on the water. Here are some of our top tips for how to stay safe and enjoy your cruise vacation to the fullest.

Staying safe during your cruise starts before you even make it to the cruise ship. Before you embark on your cruise vacation, take a little time to do some homework. Do a bit of research into your cruise ship, as well as the various destinations that you’ll be visiting.

For example, do you know on which deck the cruise ship you’re sailing on stores its lifeboats and life rafts? Have you even just looked at a deck plan, and identified where your stateroom is, so that you know the various escape routes you can potentially take in the instance of an emergency? Do you know where the ship’s first aid station is? What about fire exits?

Laptop on Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: SvetikovaV)

When it comes to researching your destinations that lie along your cruise ship itinerary, check sites like the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories page, where you can look up your destination and see if there are any particular threats that you might need to watch out for.

Sometimes these threats aren’t necessarily crime or terrorism-related, like you might expect, either. For example, popular cruise destination Antarctica has a Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution warning due to “environmental hazards posed by extreme and unpredictable weather” and “limited emergency services.”

Luckily, you will get a little bit of emergency training before your ship sets sail. All passenger ships are required to do what’s called a muster drill before embarking (though, now, a lot of ships do a more convenient, faster process called the e-muster process).

During this muster drill, passengers are briefed on basic safety information; during the e-muster, you get access to online safety content that’s available to watch.

Cruise Ship Passenger Drill (Photo Credit: yanchi1984)

On Carnival Cruise Line, for example, the current muster drill process requires that, during embarkation, you visit an assigned muster drill station (the location of which you can find on your boarding pass), check in with a team member there, and then watch a life jacket demonstration.

Every single passenger must check-in for this process before the ship is allowed to leave, but thanks to the upgraded processes, it only takes a few minutes.

Don’t take this demonstration lightly, though. Just as is the case when a flight attendant goes over the safety information before a flight, you never know when this demonstration could mean the difference between life and death.

Cruise ships are not free-for-all floating resorts where you can do whatever your heart desires. While there’s plenty of fun to be had and you’ll have lots of freedom to explore the bulk of the ship, there are still places you can’t go and thing you shouldn’t do.

For example, crew-only areas are seriously crew-only areas. You shouldn’t go there, even if a member of the crew invites you (note that this member of the crew could be fired for this!). These areas include not only crew living spaces, but also mechanical areas, navigation bridges and other behind-the-scenes spots.

Carnival Crew-Only Area (Photo Credit: Ihor Koptilin)

These areas will be marked with signage and you should be able to avoid them, if you pay attention. If you don’t, you may not only put yourself in danger, but you could be subject to legal action.

Other rules that are important to follow? Smoking policies, for one. All cruise ships allow smoking to a degree, but there are areas where you can and cannot smoke.

On Costa Cruises, for example, you can smoke on your private balconies, but not inside your cabin. Carnival Cruise Line allows you to smoke in the casino, but Norwegian Cruise Line does not.

If you’re a smoker, you’ll want to pay attention to these rules — again, not just because you could face fines or legal repercussions if you don’t, but because there are safety implications (if you accidentally catch something on fire, while smoking, you don’t want it to be while you’re on a cruise ship).

Photo Credit: Filistra / Shutterstock

Read Also: Can You Smoke on a Cruise Ship – What to Know

Other rules to keep in mind include the ship’s safety-related rules that are usually posted around the pool areas or near the ship’s waterslides and similar features.

The ship may also have rules regarding disembarkation and embarkation at ports; paying attention to these will ensure you can leave and come back to the ship with ease.

When you travel anywhere in the world, cruise ship or not, it’s just a smart idea to not bring too many valuables. Even when you’re on a luxury cruise ship, flashing your jewels at the pool can make you a target for potential thieves.

So, leave the fancy stuff at home and, if you do bring any valuables, like jewelry, tech, etc., leave it in your stateroom safe, any time you’re not with the items.

P&O Britannia Passengers (Photo Credit: Quirky Badger / Shutterstock)

You especially want to be aware of this tip when you’re visiting a port. In crowded tourist destinations like cruise ports, it can be extremely easy for pick-pockets and similar thieves to swipe your wallet or purse, while you’re completely unsuspecting.

In general, you also won’t need a ton of cash during a cruise, so don’t bring a lot with you. Keep some minimal cash for shore excursions (and even then, you might not need it) and put it in your safe otherwise.

Similarly, just like you would when visiting any tourist destination, when you’re on the cruise ship, avoid dark spots and shady corners. If something looks suspicious, don’t go check it out; instead, inform a crew member.

Especially at night, take a buddy with you, wherever you happen to go. The buddy system is just an easy safety precaution that can help keep you away from opportunistic individuals who are looking to get into some trouble.

Yes, yes, we know. You purchased the drinks packages so that you could drink as much as you want. It’s certainly not uncommon for cruisers to wake up and order mimosas while enjoying breakfast in bed, then spend the day at the pool and enjoy a few drinks there, then head to dinner, where there are more drinks, and then the bar or nightclub, for even more drinks… Before you know it, you’ve racked up quite the count for the day.

The key is, though, to really be aware of how much you’re drinking and your own tolerance levels. Just because your friends ordered rounds of tequila shots, that doesn’t mean you need them, if you’re already feeling a little woozy. Alcohol just on its own can, obviously, cause safety issues, but on a cruise ship, alcohol can make those existing cruise ship hazards even more dangerous.

Worth Reading: Drinking Ages on Cruise Ships – The Rules

In fact, one researcher, commenting on one individual’s experience going overboard (don’t worry; he survived), on Carnival Valor, in late 2022, told Business Insider that a major common thread among individuals going overboard during cruises is intoxication.

Additionally, he noted that alcohol is a factor in more than 50% of sexual assaults that occur on cruise ships, as well as a factor in many physical assaults.

The point: Know your limits and respect them.

It’s true anywhere. If you see something suspicious occurring on the cruise ship, say something. Not only could it help keep you safe, but you might just be doing some other cruiser a great favor, keeping them safe in the instances of some of those aforementioned falls and assaults.

Just like doing your homework before your cruise ship leaves is a good idea, so is prepping your immune system in the weeks and days leading up to your cruise. Illness outbreaks are no laughing matter and, unfortunately, they’re not uncommon on cruise ships.

With all of those people, crammed into one spot, sharing pools, spas, restaurants and bars, it just makes sense that illness would spread. You can look at the news and find frequent instances of outbreaks all the time, like the widely reported early 2024 illness outbreak on the Cunard Queen Victoria cruise ship that affected more than 150 people.

Queen Victoria Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: ATGImages)

So, get your immune system ready. Take that Vitamin C and D. Before and during the cruise, practice good hygiene. Wash your hands and pack some hand sanitizer. Avoid other cruisers that look ill. Being sick on a cruise ship is extremely un-fun.

If you’re lucky enough not to be affected by seasickness, you may think that a ship running through a few rough waves and windstorms is pretty fun, and at least you get some good fodder for your social media feeds. However, resist the temptation to go check out the pool deck during bad weather.

Wet Cruise Ship Deck (Photo Credit: Fsendek)

The cruise line likely won’t shut off outside areas unless the weather is really bad, but the pitching and unpredictable movement can still make it likely that you might fall or an object might slide and hit you.

On that note, take a moment to look around you, wherever you are on your cruise ship, and really think about the potential hazards that exist in your near vicinity. Is the deck slippery due to recent bad weather or rain?

It’s not a good time to let the kids go running down the deck, trying to get to the pool. Have you had a few drinks? Even if you trust that you’re not completely inebriated, don’t lean over the railing or over the side of your balcony, to look at the water or the stars. 

When you’re in your cabin, keep the door locked and, when you leave your cabin, make sure that the door closes and locks behind you. Don’t loudly advertise your cabin number to other cruisers and don’t answer the door without asking who’s there or looking through the peephole.

Cruise Passenger Cabin Safety (Credit: @victorias.way / fitzcrittle)

These are basic safety precautions you’d take when in your own home, so take them when you’re traveling as well. While you might want to think that the cruise ship is filled with fun-loving, well-meaning travelers just like you, remember that a cruise ship is like any small city, and every city has its mix of good and bad people.

Read Also: Cruise Passenger Goes to Extreme Lengths to Keep Cabin Secure

Additionally, close and lock your balcony door both when you’re asleep and when you’re leaving the cabin, especially if you’re in port. While it’s not easy (and certainly not safe for them), opportunistic folks can crawl into your cabin through the balcony.

Don’t read all of the above and worry that booking a cruise is a bad idea. Yes, there are hazards, but then there are always hazards when you travel. Cruising is, all in all, pretty safe.

To give you an idea of just how safe it is, let’s look at the data. According to a study from Bowling Green State University, from 2000 to 2019, there were only 623 reported deaths, both for crew and cruisers, across 78 ocean and river lines worldwide.

That may seem like a lot of people at first, but do you know how many people cruise per year? In 2024, 35.7 million people were expected to take a cruise, according to Reuters.

In short, you have a very low chance of dying on a cruise ship. However, you should still take precautions and put safety first, not just so that you avoid injury or death, but also so that you have the best cruising experience possible. Cruising can be amazingly fun, so make sure it stays that way by keeping your safety in mind.

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