Judging by the numbers, cruises are among the safest vacations on the globe; more than 16.3 million passengers travel annually on major lines, yet serious incidents caused by ships and their crews are so rare that they invariably make headlines. But the Costa Concordia shipwreck earlier this year, in which more than 30 people died—plus a series of mishaps on other lines, including engine-room fires—have put safety in the spotlight. The Costa accident is being blamed on unauthorized actions by that ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who is under house arrest as authorities investigate. The engine-room fires and other accidents appear to be isolated incidents. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, cruising continues to be “extremely safe.’’
That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement: the cruise industry has recently instituted several new procedures. Ships belonging to the 26 companies of the Cruise Lines International Association must now hold muster drills and safety briefings before leaving port. The U.S. Coast Guard and its European counterparts have also mandated that member ships must carry more life jackets than the previously required one per passenger. And in direct response to issues that contributed to the Costa accident, new industry safety directives limit bridge access to critical personnel during potentially dangerous times and require that all routes of passage be set in advance and shared with appropriate crew members. In addition, a panel of independent experts has been convened to suggest further safety enhancements, and the International Maritime Organization is developing procedures for reporting serious onboard incidents. But even with these improvements, passengers still must take responsibility for their own welfare. See our Checklist (below) for ways you can take control of your safety and health while cruising.
Five Cruise Ship Safety Tips
1. Attend all safety briefings.
2. Study evacuation routes posted on the back of your cabin door.
3. If you have special needs or allergies, bring your own medications and supplies. And keep an “emergency kit’’ ready to go; it should include prescriptions, your cell phone, room key, glasses, and a photocopy of your passport.
4. To avoid shipboard illnesses such as the norovirus, wash your hands thoroughly and often, and use the hand sanitizers placed around the ship.
5. If you do get sick, most mega cruise ships have infirmaries with at least one doctor and nurse. If you’re planning a trip on a smaller ship, ask specifically about the medical facilities before you sign up.
Any time you’re spending more money than you’d be comfortable losing, consider an insurance package that includes trip interruption, lost baggage, emergency medical evacuation, and cancellation in case of illness or emergency. In most cases, it’s best to go with a third party rather than the company providing your trip. Compare policies to be sure your most pressing concerns—family illness; layoffs at work; hurricanes—are covered. Good sources include insuremytrip.com, quotewright.com, and squaremouth.com; all offer policies from financially sound companies.
Want more cruising advice? E-mail Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org.