Cruise Ship Safety


Cruise ship safety is regulated by international maritime laws. Those laws govern everything about safety equipment on cruise ships as well as the training and certification of its crewmembers. Here’s what you need to know.


International Regulations on Cruise Ship Safety

International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a United Nations organization responsible for improving safety onboard all vessels, including cruise ships. This governing body has developed rules and regulations for all officers and crews to adhere to such as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). The main objective is to specify the minimum standards of safety for a ship.

The STCW was first implemented in 1978 (STCW78), amended in 1995 (STCW95) and amended again in 2010 STCW2010 [PDF]  The focus is on ensuring that all ships have officers and crewmembers with the necessary licences, certification and training. The latest STCW amendments have started being implemented on cruise ships since January 2012.  This additional set of regulations has made changes to such issues as rest hours for seafarers, professional training and certification, medical fitness standards and alcohol abuse.

Port State Control and Flag State Control make sure that the vessels are complying with all of the rules and regulations. Port authorities such the United States Coast Guard (USCG), Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), or Maritime and Coast Agency in the UK (MCA) make sure that ships are compliant in their respective waters. Additionally, depending on the flag that the ship flies determines the country that ensures their own compliance through inspections, too.


Safety Equipment on Cruise Ships

A cruise ship is not a land-based resort where you can just call the fire department and evacuate the hotel. An emergency at sea is an extraordinary circumstance that requires additional safety equipment to be available onboard. According to SOLAS, cruise ships must meet the minimum requirements of safety when it comes to navigation, communication, lifeboats, fire detection devices, and fire extinguishing apparatus.

According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), on an average cruise ship there are approximately, five fire-fighting teams with advanced fire-fighting training, 4,000 smoke detectors, 500 fire extinguishers, 16 miles of sprinkler piping, 5,000 sprinkler heads and 6 miles of fire hose.

Fire zones separated by fire screen doors prevent fire and smoke from penetrating between each zone and cruise ships are outfitted with high fog controls to suppress and extinguish fires. In the case of an abandon ship, there are more than enough lifeboats, liferafts and lifejackets on a cruise ship to accommodate all the passengers and crew.


Safety Training for Cruise Ship Crew

All crew members on cruise ships attend safety training every time they join a ship. This refresher training includes what to do in case you see a fire, how to use a fire extinguisher, how to put on your lifejacket, where the muster stations are, dangers of watertight doors, and lifeboat/liferaft familiarization. Crew members are also instructed on emergency signals as follows:

Crew Alert Signal:  Continuous ringing of the ship’s alarm bells/horn.)
General Emergency Signal (GES):  Seven short blasts followed one long blast on ship’s alarm bells.
Man Overboard Signal:  Three long blasts on the ship’s horn/alarm bells.
Abandon Ship:  Verbal command from the Captain.


Each crew member will have an assigned emergency duty. The head of each department is typically responsible for educating their own crew members on what they are supposed to do during an emergency.

Select crew members, typically officers of different departments, have emergency duties that require additional training. For example, the Certificate of Proficiency in Survival Craft (CPSC) is a course that teaches crew members how to be the first or second in charge of a lifeboat. This person learns how to lower and operate a lifeboat in case of an emergency.

Fire teams onboard are typically made up of officers and petty officers that have had advanced fire fighting training. The on-scene commander in charge of the fire is usually the Safety Officer. Although, if the fire is in an Engine Room space then the on-scene commander is typically the Staff Engineer.

Simulated emergencies such as a fire onboard are practiced on a regular basis to exercise the officers and crew in their emergency duties. In addition, there are in-port manning drills that exercise those that may be covering alternate emergency duties. Additional training with lifeboat and liferaft parties is conducted regularly as well.


Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act 2010

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act is legislation to establish requirements to ensure the security and safety of passengers and crew on cruise vessels. Although much of the cruise industry already followed strict regulations, policies and procedures when it came to safety and security, the United States passed a law that would codify the regulations.

In fact, the USCG testified before Congress in 2007 that it doesn’t believe that Americans are at any significant crime risk while onboard cruise ships. Cruise ship design is already internationally mandated by SOLAS to maximize cruise ship safety, plus port state and flag state inspections are done to verify compliance in safety equipment and training. In addition, all crew undergo rigid pre-employment screening.


Staying Safe on a Cruise Ship

Although there are websites and naysayers that love to shine a negative spotlight on the cruise industry, a cruise ship is an extremely safe environment. Of course, wherever and however you travel in the world, you must always exercise caution. One way is to always follow the policies and procedures of the ship you work on.

On a cruise ship you must also be prepared in the event of an emergency.  (Related Article:  Crew Role in Cruise Ship Emergency)  At the very least, crewmembers must understand how to put on their lifejacket, the sound of emergency signals, their emergency duty, and where to muster. Learning everything you can about cruise ship safety and security will help you stay safe while you work and live on board a cruise ship.


Cruise Ship Safety Resources

Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review [PDF]  In response to the Costa Concordia incident.

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