How Not to Fall from a Cruise Ship

by  Teresa Bitler | Jun 7, 2016

We all heard the recent story of a passenger who fell overboard a cruise ship. It's shocking news, but what are the real risks when it comes to this kind of cruise ship accident? We took a look at the stats, and put together some advice for avoiding one.

Here's the reality: Your chances of falling from a cruise ship are statistically slim. Of the roughly 22 million people who took a cruise in 2015, there were 27 incidents of passengers falling overboard. In 2016 so far, there have only been four. Note that the cruise lines do not release information about overboard incidents. These numbers were complied by Ross A. Klein, a Canadian professor who has testified before congress on cruise safety, and runs the website CruiseJunkie.

The bad news is that if you do fall, your chances of survival aren't great. According to Klein's stats, of the 27 people who went overboard in 2015, only eight survived.

Although some kinds of overboard incidents -- suicides, or those involving foul play -- are well beyond the scope of this article, you can take some steps to stay safe on a cruise ship. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Keep your feet on the deck, and stay away from the railings.

Many overboard incidents were the result of people being careless, or even reckless. Don’t sit or climb on balcony railings for any reason, either in your stateroom or in public areas, and don't stand on deck chairs or other pieces of furniture. If you're staying in a cabin with a balcony, resist the urge to leave personal items on the balcony, especially anything that can easily blow overboard, like towels and clothing. Stay out of restricted areas, too -- they’re restricted for a reason.

2. Stay sober. 

Alcohol flows freely on many cruise ships, and as you can imagine, booze plays a role in a significant number of overboard incidents. Limiting your consumption or sticking with a friend who isn't drinking will go a long way towards keeping you safe. If you do imbibe, do so responsibly. Stay hydrated by taking advantage of the ship's public water fountains, ask for water directly at the bar, or use your beverage package to always keep a bottle on hand. And if you feel like you've had too much to drink, tell someone. Cruise ship crew members are there to help, and can walk you safely back to your stateroom if you're feeling unsteady on your feet.

3. Make sure you’re seen and heard.

Passenger Frank Jade fell unnoticed from the Oasis of the Seas in 2015 and was later spotted by the crew of Disney Magic, who rescued him. This situation is the rare, headline-making exception. If you're taking a cruise, stay in touch with your travel companions. When heading off alone, talk to your travel party about where you'll be, and when you'll meet back up. Some newer cruise ships, like Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas have good WiFi that you'll need to pay for, but it allows you to easily send text messages or emails to your companions. Carnival also offers an app with a chat option that you can use onboard for $5 per day on its newer ships. You can also go the old-fashioned route, and leave each other notes on your stateroom door.

4. Listen to the captain and crew.

Take safety warnings seriously. In rough weather, you may be instructed to avoid specific areas of the ship, or even stay in your cabin. This happened when the Anthem of the Seas sailed through a storm in 2015. In this kind of situation, the crew is working to keep you safe, not put a damper on your fun. Listening carefully to ship announcements and heeding the crew's instructions is the best way to keep yourself out of harm's way.


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