Are Cruises Safe? What You Need to Know Before Setting Sail

Are cruises safe? We dive into the details on cruise ship safety with regards to sinking, fires, pirates, falling overboard, and more.

Are Cruises Safe? What You Need to Know Before Setting Sail

How safe are cruise ships, really?

Asking whether cruises are safe is a very broad question. The short answer is yes, they’re extremely safe. Just like anywhere you go on land, nothing is perfect and there will always be risks in terms of injury-inducing accidents, illness, and conflict between passengers. Ships have security protocols and personnel along with a medical center for such incidents.

Larger-scale disasters involving fires or weather and ocean-related incidents are also possible but the chances are extremely low. There are a host of regulations and policies in place for cruises to protect guests, crew members, and the ships themselves. Let’s dive into the details on cruise ship safety.

The True Bahamas Cruise Cost

Are cruises safe from sinking?

A catastrophic disaster like a cruise ship fully or partially sinking is so rare, when it does happen it garners media attention from around the globe. Cruise ships have extremely sophisticated navigation and safety systems that offer precise, real-time data on everything from the weather to what’s in the ocean surrounding the ship and more. Most incidents like this were due to human error and negligence which has serious consequences.

In the event of an abandon ship-type emergency, which again is extremely rare, ships have enough lifeboats and rafts for every passenger on board, and crew members have training in how to handle such events. Guests must also complete safety drills, or muster drills, before the ship sails away.

We provide an in-depth look on the science behind how cruise ships float here.

Are cruises safe from fire?

The safety measures put into place to prevent cruise ship fires is extensive, from the banning of personal irons and space heaters to fire doors, fire-resistant interior design materials, and the use of fake candles instead of real ones all around the ship. In the unlikely event that there is a fire onboard, cruise ships are designed so that it’s easy to quickly compartmentalize where the fire is via heavy metal fire doors.

Ships also have extensive sprinkler and smoke/heat alarm systems that immediately alert the proper personnel on the ship if there’s an emergency, as well as fire extinguishers and crew members who are trained firefighters.

It’s also worth noting that in the current cruising era, nearly every cruise line bans passengers from smoking freely on the ship (including in staterooms and on balconies). Instead, guests may only smoke in designated smoking areas outside and usually in the casino or cigar lounges. For the few spaces where guests can smoke, there are plenty of smoke alarms and fire extinguishers on hand, as well as monitored security cameras.

Can You Smoke on a Cruise Ship?

Do cruise ships have security?

Just like any major hotel, resort, or other tourist attraction on land, cruise ships have their own security teams. In fact, many of the crew members that make up cruise ship security are members of the military or law enforcement in their home countries when they’re not at sea.

Security personnel monitor the cruise ship’s many security cameras. They are also visible out and about on the ship to make sure things are going smoothly. They reserve the right to mitigate fights or arguments between passengers, and also take care of situations where a guest may be acting inappropriately or violently.

If they deem it necessary, they may place a guest under “house arrest” (meaning they must stay in their stateroom with a security guard posted outside their door) or hold them in the ship’s jail, known at sea as a brig.

If a more serious infraction like a crime is committed, authorities at the next port of call could be notified and the passenger could be removed from the ship.

Are Cruises Safe? What You Need to Know Before Setting Sail

Are cruises safe from pirates?

Even though you might think of pirates as having only been a real threat hundreds of years ago, they actually still pose a risk for ships and boats sailing on the waters today. In modern times pirate attacks on cruise ships are rare. It’s only happened a handful of times, and all in the Middle Eastern region. With the thousands of cruises that take place every year all over the globe, the chances of pirates attacking a ship are practically zero. So yes, cruises are absolutely safe from pirate attacks.

In the unlikely event that pirates do attempt to attack cruise ships, the ship’s security teams have training in how to handle the situation. They have equipment to defend the ship, which could include sonic weapons and high-pressure water jets.

Do cruise ships have hospitals onboard?

While cruise ships don’t have the capacity or personnel of a full-scale hospital, they do have an infirmary with a limited amount of examination rooms, hospital beds, and equipment. Essentially, cruise ships have the capability to treat many common illnesses and injuries, and can sometimes stabilize people with more serious medical concerns.

However, they are not emergency rooms and cannot treat the most serious emergencies. In these situations, guests are usually transferred to shore once the ship docks. Or in immediate life-threatening situations, they may be airlifted off the ship to the nearest hospital on land via helicopter. This is why travel insurance is so important.

Mainstream cruise ships have at least one doctor and two nurses onboard. On larger vessels, they’ll likely have at least two doctors and three or four nurses. Lifesaving equipment on board includes defibrillators and external pacemakers. Depending on the ship, other equipment may also be available in the medical center. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, has electrocardiography machines, x-ray machines, pulse oximetry, and lab equipment on many of its ships.

Cruise ships also have small pharmacies that carry common prescription medication. Further, guests can purchase many over-the-counter medications, such as Advil or Benadryl, in the onboard shops.

Latest Cruise Line Updates Due to Hurricane Ian

Are cruises safe during hurricane season?

Cruise lines stay very on top of the weather, with landside employees who monitor the weather for all of the ships in their fleet. These individuals stay in contact with officers on the bridge for any changes to a route or itinerary that may need to take place during a sailing. The best way cruise ships avoid potential problems with hurricanes is to stay far out of their paths.

If you book a cruise in a region that commonly gets hurricanes (like the Caribbean) during hurricane season, you should be flexible when it comes to your trip — especially in terms of your itinerary. A port may get dropped so that a ship can get out of an area quicker if a hurricane is approaching. Or, an entire itinerary could change so that the ship stays safe. In most instances, the cruise will still sail, and guests will still have an enjoyable vacation experience.

The bottom line is, don’t worry about whether you’ll be safe when it comes to weather situations. It’s in the cruise line’s best interest to keep its ships out of harm’s way. They know how to move ships out of a hurricane’s path and keep everyone on board safe.

Can you fall off a cruise ship?

While it is possible to go overboard on a cruise ship, it’s very unlikely. It doesn’t just happen without some kind of effort involved. Railings everywhere on the ship — including on private cabin balconies, are at least at chest height for an average-sized adult. Many parts of the ship have plexiglass or metal outdoor “walls” that are even higher.

Despite what you may think after hearing news stories of people going overboard on cruise ships, they weren’t just walking on an outer deck and tripped and fell off. Nearly all people who go overboard either went into a restricted area or were engaging in risky behavior that’s against the rules — such as trying to climb from one balcony to another, sitting on a railing, etc.

Some of this behavior has come about partially because of drunkenness. Other times, it’s just been people who were not thinking or caring about the potential consequences of their actions.

If you stay smart and follow the rules, you aren’t going to go overboard on a cruise ship.

Are Cruises Safe? What You Need to Know Before Setting Sail

Are cruises safe for solo travelers?

Cruises are a very safe way of vacationing for anyone, including those who are traveling solo. Staff are constantly doing their best to provide everyone with a fun and safe experience and — as mentioned above — there are security personnel and cameras to monitor passengers and make sure things are going smoothly.

Off the ship, practice the same safety precautions you would on a land-based trip: keep your wits about you, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t go to unfamiliar areas or with people you don’t know.

If you want to take extra precautions as a solo traveler, book your excursions through the cruise line. That way you know the tour provider has been vetted by the cruise line and you’ll be with a group of your fellow passengers at all times.

Cruise Ship Safety Tips

Now that we’ve covered a lot of bases as far as cruise ship safety is concerned, we thought we’d add a few safety tips to keep in mind. Firstly, memorize where your muster station is and pay attention to the corresponding procedures. No one wants to start their vacation off with a “boring” safety drill, but it’s in place for a reason. Not only are muster stations important for rare emergencies like abandoning ship, but they’re also sometimes used to account for passengers in other situations.

Secondly, keep an eye on your belongings. Lock up your most valuable items in your cabin safe unless you’re actively using them. And take care not to lose your keycard when you’re out and about.

It’s also important that you don’t drink beyond excess. Even though it’s fine to let loose and have fun on a cruise, be smart and don’t drink so much that you make decisions that could have dire consequences (or just ruin the next day of your vacation!).

It’s also important to stay aware of the people around you. This includes supervising your kids — don’t get on the ship and just assume that the crew and other passengers will be your babysitters for a week of fun in the sun. You’re still responsible for your children. Also, remind your family to exercise safe practices like not telling strangers your exact cabin number. Most guests are trustworthy but you don’t know which ones might not be.


Do you agree with our assessment of cruise ship safety? Do you think the cruise lines handle these situations appropriately? Drop us an anchor below to share your thoughts on whether you think cruises are safe.

Sarah has been writing about the cruise industry since 2015, and in that time has taken a dozen cruises and counting. Her favorite onboard activities include trying the casual dining options, spending time in the spa’s thermal suite, and attending the love & marriage show. You can keep up with her on Instagram at @IAmSarahJaneB.
Sarah Bretz, Contributor
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Are Cruises Safe? What You Need to Know Before Setting Sail

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