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A cruise vacation is an opportunity to see the world’s most stunning waterways in style and comfort. While navigating the open seas by cruise ship is an adventure unlike any other, there are unfortunate instances where passengers jump or fall off these massive ships into the treacherous waters below. 

Even though accidentally falling off of the decks of a cruise ship is almost impossible, people still find a way to put themselves in danger. Whether falling off was an intentional decision or simply an alcohol-induced blunder, the results can be terrifying for everyone involved. 

Today, we will take a deep dive into what happens if you jump off a cruise ship. Not only will we explore real-life incidents and their outcomes, but we will uncover overboard statistics and survival rates, onboard safety protocols, and the legal ramifications of these incidents. 

Regardless of the circumstances, when someone decides to jump off of a cruise ship, the consequences can be dire. From the individual’s perspective, hitting the churning and seemingly endless expanse of water would be extremely disorienting. If the water is cold enough, the impact and temperature could also trigger shock

Unfortunately, survival is far from guaranteed. The person would be forced to deal with the elements and the terrifying thought that they are now in a fight for their life. Survival is unlikely if the incident went completely unnoticed and the ship was out at sea rather than in port. The waves, current, and water temperature would quickly challenge even the strongest swimmers.

Photo Credit: Sergey Saulyak

If the person’s decision to jump off the cruise ship’s deck was spotted by passengers, crew members, or even the ship’s security camera system, onboard response teams would immediately take action.

Rescue boats could be deployed to search for the overboard passengers, but the window of opportunity to save them is very short. The outcome of these incidents varies depending on environmental conditions, the location of the cruise ship, and how quickly and efficiently response teams are dispatched.

In the following sections, we’ll take a more detailed look at survival statistics and complex factors that can determine how emergency procedures are conducted. 

First, it’s important to clarify that these incidents are extremely rare. Very few passengers decide to jump off a cruise ship, and even fewer fall off accidentally, thanks to the safety measures put in place. 

The number can vary year-to-year, but in 2023, only 10 people were reported to have fallen overboard, intentionally or accidentally.

In 2020, a study examining cruise ship deaths between the years 2000 and 2019 discovered that overboard incidents, either as a result of falling, jumping, or being pushed off, had resulted in the deaths of 620 individuals. While this statistic is alarming, the same study found that 40% of those who fell or jumped overboard were rescued.

Man off cruise ship (Photo Credit: ShotPrime Studio)

While death rates before 2000 were higher, many cruise lines have since installed man-overboard detection systems, which involve sensors and cameras that can alert the crew when a person or large object has fallen off the vessel. In addition to improvements in detection, overboard rescue training and equipment have improved substantially

Despite how uncommon these incidents are, all major cruise lines have rigorous safety measures to prevent and respond to overboard incidents.

As mentioned, surveillance cameras along all passenger decks, as well as V-MOB overboard motion detection sensors and infrared cameras that function at night, are designed to alert the crew immediately if someone falls overboard.

Cruise Ship Bridge (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks)

All crew members are drilled in emergency response procedures. From sounding alarms to security team rescue drills, each member of the ship’s crew will have a role to play when these incidents occur.

Maritime law plays a significant role when it comes to overboard incidents. This applies to the individual as well as the cruise lines themselves. 

Cruise lines must adhere to strict safety standards that ensure passengers cannot accidentally fall overboard. Adequate deck railings, lifeboat dispatching capabilities, detection sensors, and response times must meet set standards.

US Coast Guard Plane (Photo Credit: CarlaVanWagoner / Shutterstock)

Ships must immediately report these incidents to relevant authorities, like the United States Coast Guard. The cruise lines must also conduct thorough investigations into any incident and report their findings to law enforcement.

Those individuals who are rescued after intentionally jumping overboard are subject to serious lawsuits and fines, as their actions could have put rescue teams in danger.

The individuals are also given a lifetime ban from ever traveling with the cruise line again. Once the ship has returned to its final destination, they are often handed over to authorities for their actions.

MSC Bellissima Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Princess_Anmitsu)

Take, for example, a Turkish national was arrested after jumping off the MSC Cruise Ship Bellissima on Wednesday, February 1, 2024. Even though he could swim ashore, coast guard officials in Okinawa, Japan, still arrested and charged him. MSC Cruises also banned the individual from ever traveling with them again. 

Regardless of circumstances, survival rates are relatively low for those who jump off a cruise ship. Studies vary, but the general belief is that the survival rate for jumping off sits between 25% and 40%, but numerous factors influence this rate. 

Environmental factors play a significant role in determining the likeliness of survival. Cold water temperatures are extremely dangerous, as hypothermia can result in losing consciousness and the ability to swim within minutes.

Photo Credit: Toni Arsovski / Shutterstock

Rough seas and distance from shore also play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the incident. As you would expect, daytime incidents tend to have a higher survival rate than those that occur at night. 

The speed of rescue efforts and whether or not the overboard incident was reported quickly are also major influencing factors. 

While motives can vary, some of the most common reasons why people decide to jump off of a cruise ship include the following: 

Suicide attempts
Pranks and social media stunts
The influence of alcohol or prescription drugs
Mental health episodes
Accidents related to climbing or sitting on railings
Attempting to rescue someone else who has gone overboard 

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

Part of what makes prevention so difficult is that the profile of the guest who decided to jump never seems to follow a set standard. A seemingly happy and perfectly typical-looking passenger could suddenly jump without warning. This is why all major cruise lines take prevention efforts and response actions so seriously. 

Before we cover some tips that could help a person survive if they fell overboard, it’s important to clarify that these incidents are extremely rare.

Modern cruise ships are designed so that it is almost impossible to fall off. Unless a person intentionally tries to jump or hang off railings in a dangerous way, their safety while onboard the ship is virtually guaranteed.

Icon of the Seas Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Jarp2)

With that said, if a person finds themselves in the water, the following strategies would give them the highest possible odds of survival and rescue:

Stay Calm: In any survival situation, panic can impair your judgment and reduce your chances of survival. Take deep breaths and remain focused on staying afloat.
Preserve Your Energy: Rather than trying to catch up with the ship by swimming against the current, focus on keeping your head above water.
Stay Visible: Your chances of survival will be drastically higher if rescuers can see you. Try to signal for help with your arms. If you are wearing bright clothing, try to make it visible.
Follow Rescue Instructions: If you are lucky enough to be found by rescuers, listen to everything they say. 

Finally, if you are close enough to shore that you can safely swim towards it, do so in a calm and controlled way. 

On Sunday, January 6, 2019, a video of an irresponsible passenger jumping off a Royal Caribbean ship in Nassau, Bahamas, went viral. The incident occurred in port as the passenger jumped for a social media stunt.

Video Footage By: Zachary Garrett Reed

NBC News detailed how the man, Nick Naydev, was removed from the ship after being rescued. The guest’s family was also kicked off the ship, and he was given a lifetime ban from traveling with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. 

On Monday, November 13, 2023, security footage taken from a Carnival Cruise Line ship depicted a passenger intentionally jumping into the water. The passenger, Tyler Barnett, was reported missing. After an exhaustive onboard search, US Coast Guard teams thoroughly scanned a search area spanning 200 square miles but could not locate the missing person. 

Part of what made searching so difficult was the fact that the Houma, Louisiana, native jumped at approximately 1:40 a.m., so the rescue mission was conducted in the dark. On top of that, rescuers were advised that Barnett could be wearing a different shirt than he wore in onboard security footage prior to the jump, so rescuers didn’t even know what color to search for.

Carnival Glory Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: eric laudonien)

In a statement on the incident, a Carnival spokesperson expressed the cruise line’s deepest condolences, as well as prayers for family members of the missing passenger. They also explained how they would conduct a detailed review of security camera video to ensure incidents like it would not occur in the future. 

Another viral video depicts an irresponsible passenger intentionally jumping off of the bow of the Princess Cruises vessel, the Star Princess. The incident occurred in 2016. While the passenger survived following rescue, he faced severe legal consequences for his actions. 

On July 23, 2023, a search was conducted after 30-year-old Jaylen Hill was reported to have jumped off a Carnival Cruise Line vessel. During the four-day trip from Florida to the Bahamas, the man’s travel companion alerted crew members that his friend was missing. After exhaustive efforts, US Coast Guard officials called off the search.

Carnival Elation Cruise Ship (Photo Copyright Mellissa Mayntz / Cruise Hive)

The Carnival Care Team provided support to the family, but it was determined that rescue teams did everything they could to locate and rescue the missing passenger. 

On May 19, 2019, a passenger jumped off a Carnival Cruise Line vessel off the shore of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fortunately, the irresponsible 19-year-old guest was rescued by Carnival’s rescue team, but he was held legally responsible for the incident and for putting the rescue team at risk. 

Video footage of the man’s lifeboat rescue went viral, but it will be the last time he was able to travel on a Carnival cruise ship. 

While jumping off a cruise ship is extremely dangerous and often deadly, it is possible to survive. Chances of survival will depend heavily on environmental conditions, the passenger’s swimming abilities, and how quickly rescue teams can react. 

Legal consequences can depend on where the incident took place and whether or not the passenger was deemed to have jumped off intentionally or as a result of an accident or mental health episode. 

Cruise lines often investigate the incidents to determine if they should press charges. Most cruise lines will immediately ban the passenger. The passenger may also face serious consequences from various legal bodies, as intentionally jumping from a ship is considered a major offense under maritime law. Criminal charges, heavy fines, and other consequences can occur.  

While the number of passengers who jump from cruise ships varies year to year, the average number tends to sit around 25 incidents per year. While it is almost impossible to fully prevent this from happening, onboard safety measures and surveillance systems help reduce the risk of accidental overboard incidents.

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