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Law of the Sea: A Guide to Cruise Ship Safety Protocols

How safe is cruising? It’s one question that first-time cruisers want to know. And the answer is simple: cruising has always been one of the safest holiday experiences, and never has it been safer that today. 

With a staggering 20 million passengers taking a cruise holiday per year, the cruise industry invests huge amounts in ensuring the safety and security of passengers and crew. We’re talking millions of Dollars spent to ensure you have fun and a safe cruise holiday. In fact, there are strict rules and regulations for practically every part of the cruise ship design and experience.


Let’s take a closer look at the cruise ship safety protocols:


How is safety regulated?

Every part of the cruise experience is regulated under United States and international law, along with maritime conventions, flag and port state laws. Cruise lines must adhere to the global requirements set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency, as well as US and international law. The cruise industry is also regulated by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which has a membership of 60 major cruise lines worldwide. 


What kind of the safety regulations are we talking about?

In 2010, the IMO passed major new regulations around the safety of the cruise industry. Known as SOLAS 2010 (Safety of Lives at Sea), these regulations updated the original 1974 conventions and subsequent amendments so they fit with the modern cruise experience. It’s safe to say they cover practically everything, from fire safety and evacuation drills to exactly what the lifejackets should look like.


Here are some of the main points:

  • Fire Safety: There are strict regulations around the fire detection, alarm systems and fire evacuation procedures that must be in place. And following the cigarette lit fire aboard Star Princess in 2006, there are also rules about the types of outdoor furniture and partitions that can be used on cabin balconies. Many cruise lines also now prohibit smoking on balconies, full stop.
  • Lifejackets: No need to worry about a shortage of lifejackets onboard – cruise ships today must carry more lifejackets than one per passenger. Lifejackets must be fitted with whistles, lights, means to secure to another lifejacket, and so on.
  • Onboard safety centres: Cruise ships must have a hub from which security systems can be monitored and controlled.
  • Safety Drills and Briefings: Following the Costa Concordia disaster, cruise ships must hold a muster drill and safety briefing before leaving port. And it’s mandatory for passengers to attend – something that’s unheard of in onshore holiday resorts! The muster drill is designed to prepare passengers for safe evacuation in an emergency, including how to use lifejackets and where the escape routes are.


What’s next?

The thing about cruise ship safety is that it never stops evolving. The cruise lines and industry as a whole are continuously working to improve safety so that cruising remains one of the safety ways to travel. For example, after the tragic death of Dianne Brimble aboard Pacific Sky in 2002, P&O Cruises made changes to its safety protocols specifically around alcohol and drugs.

Cruise lines provide details of their safety and security protocols on their websites – we recommend you read them before you cruise.

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