Do Cruise Ships Have Jails? The Truth About Security at Sea

Do cruise ships have jails? Here's the truth about security at sea including details on the brig, who has jusrisdiction, and more.

Do Cruise Ships Have Jails? The Truth About Security at Sea

One thing you might not think about when you board a cruise ship is whether there’s a jail on board. But when this question does come to mind, it’s a curious thing to think about. After all, brigs are a common component to lots of swashbuckling pirate adventure stories, and pirate ships can’t be the only vessels that have them. So, do cruise ships have jails on board? Read on to find out, as we share the truth about security at sea.

Do Cruise Ships Have Jails? The Truth About Security at Sea

Do cruise ships have jails onboard?

Yes, cruise ships have a jail area on board, or in nautical terms the “brig”. Cue scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean playing in my head. But epic pirate movies aside, brigs are indeed real even on modern cruise vessels.

Since most cruise ships hold thousands of passengers and essentially operate like little floating towns, there needs to be a place to hold people if they commit serious infractions — including crimes — while out at sea. The brig is below the main public decks away from guests. So, the average cruise passenger probably doesn’t even know that it exists.

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Do cruise ships have security teams?

You might also wonder who has authority to lock guests in the brig on a cruise ship. While there aren’t actual on-duty police officers working on cruise ships, they do have their own security teams. During especially busy events or in commonly crowded areas, such as during a deck party or in the casino in the evening, you might notice their presence.

Other safety measures on cruise ships include security cameras, which the security team uses to monitor what’s going on around the ship. They can then send someone to a particular area if it looks like things could be getting out of hand. Of course, crew members also have the capability to call on the security team when needed as well.

If security is necessary for a situation between passengers, most of the time it doesn’t result in apprehension. But if the situation requires it, cruise ship security personnel do reserve the right to apprehend guests if necessary in order to help keep other passengers safe and keep the peace on the vessel.

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What happens if a passenger is apprehended on a cruise ship?

If security takes a passenger into custody on a cruise ship, it’s generally because of one of these reasons: they committed a serious crime, they scammed the cruise line somehow, or they’re acting in a way that tells security they’re a danger to themselves or others.

When someone needs confinement on a cruise ship, there are two potential things that could happen. For less-serious infractions (but that are still serious enough to warrant apprehension) or as a first resort, oftentimes the passenger is ordered to stay in their own cabin. To prevent them from leaving, a member of the security team remains outside their door.

If someone needs a more bare-bones type of confinement, security will escort them down to the ship’s brig. You might be picturing a typical jail cell with bars, but that isn’t the case. Instead, it’s usually a simple, windowless cabin type of room with a mattress, bedding, and bathroom facilities. Like a jail cell, the door to the brig locks from the outside.

Who has jurisdiction for crimes that occur while at sea?

When a passenger commits a crime on board a cruise ship, many people wonder who or what country has jurisdiction when it comes to moving forward in the legal process. This depends on where the ship is currently sailing when the guest commits the crime.

If the act takes place while the ship is in port, local authorities in that port have jurisdiction. And in this case, the passenger who committed the crime is taken off the ship and to a nearby police station. Local authorities also have jurisdiction for crimes off the coast of — but still in the waters of — a country.

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If the vessel is sailing far off the coast of any country and is in international waters when the crime takes place, jurisdiction goes to the ship’s registered country. For example, many cruise ships are registered in the Bahamas or Panama. So if a vessel is registered to Panama but is sailing in international waters off the coast of California when a crime occurs, jurisdiction is still under Panamanian law… even though California (and therefore the U.S.) is much closer in proximity.

When U.S. citizens commit or are the victim of a crime at sea, the FBI usually becomes involved in the investigation as well. This is also true of many other countries when it comes to their own citizens, no matter where the cruise ship is sailing. Because of this, authorities from multiple countries often investigate crimes committed on cruise ships.

Cruise Ship Safety Tips

Though many of these safety tips don’t involve things that would result in confinement to their cabin or the brig, they’re still cruise ship safety tips that are good to remember and follow for the smoothest vacation experience.

  • Don’t try to bring prohibited items on board. While you won’t get thrown into the brig for trying to sneak alcohol onboard (though we don’t recommend you try), you can get arrested and taken to the police station in port for trying to sneak on things like drugs or weapons.
  • Don’t provoke rude or disruptive guests. As much as you’d like to put an overly rude or disruptive guest in their place, don’t. It could just cause a fight that you (and everyone else) doesn’t want to have to deal with on vacation.
  • Steer clear of escalating situations. Though major fights on cruise ships aren’t common, you still need to be aware of what’s going on around you. If you sense that things are about to get out of control, go somewhere else on the ship so you’re not in the line of (the proverbial) fire.
  • Follow the rules. This is pretty self-explanatory, but for example, don’t climb on your balcony railings, don’t wander into off-limits areas of the ship, and don’t smoke in non-designated smoking areas.
  • Report issues if you notice them. If you see a fellow passenger smoking on their balcony, notice a fight starting on a sundeck, or catch someone climbing onto a railing, tell a crew member. Not only is this to prevent something bad from happening to that guest, but it can also aid in the safety of others on the ship (and/or the ship itself).


Have you ever wondered if cruise ships have jails? Have you seen security arrest anyone on a cruise ship? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences.

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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Do Cruise Ships Have Jails? The Truth About Security at Sea

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