In 1997, I went on my first cruise and loved it. In September 2014, I went on my 13th cruise. Cruising is a fantastic way to vacation but there are some safety and preparedness issues that are unique to this kind of travel.
Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, and many know the story of the Costa Concordia or the Carnival Triumph. These cases, while they got a lot of attention, are rare. But obviously, they do happen and you need to be prepared in case an emergency happens during your vacation.
Know your cruise ship and the emergency procedures.
Some people find it difficult to find their way around a large cruise ship. It is sometimes easy to get turned around and not know fore from aft. Each ship has a pocket sized deck plan you can carry with you. Get one and study it so you will know your way in an emergency.
Attendance at a “muster drill” is mandatory onboard a cruise ship. At the designated time (almost always before leading the embarkation port), the ship will sound the alarm and passengers must go to their assigned muster station. Pay attention and memorize where to go and the instructions of the crew. This information is also printed on a sign on the back of your cabin door. In an emergency, don’t wait! Get your life jacket from your cabin – if it is safe to do so – and go straight to your muster station.
Remember that these ships are floating cities!
- The United States has more than 15,000 towns with populations smaller than the capacity of the larger cruise ships.
- The largest ship of them all, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, can hold 6,296 passengers and crew at full capacity. Most of the larger ships are in the 2,500-4,000 range.
- You need to behave on the ship the same way you would walking around a city on land. That includes your children. If you wouldn’t let them wander around an unfamiliar city on their own, they shouldn’t be left with the run of the ship.
- Overall being on the ship is very safe, but crimes and accidents do happen. Many of the injuries and deaths that occur onboard are related to alcohol consumption. The same can be said for some of the crimes committed. Too much alcohol leads a person to make poor decisions (going back to the cabin of a crew member or other passenger, allowing others into your cabin, etc). I know you’re on vacation, but be smart about your alcohol intake.
- Bottom line, you don’t know your fellow passengers. I have met some wonderful people on cruises but I have always maintained a level of safety while onboard, just as I would on a land vacation.
What should a prepper pack?
It is unrealistic, and in most cases impossible, to carry your whole BOB* with you. Boarding the ship requires a security check similar to TSA at the airport. The rule of thumb is that if you can’t carry it on an airplane, you won’t be able to carry it on the cruise ship, so many of your EDC* items will likely have to be left at home. Be sure to check with your cruise line for a list of prohibited items. With these restrictions in mind, here’s a recommended list of preparedness items to carry on the ship with you.
- Small flashlight and a whistle. If you take nothing else from this list, bring these two things. You will receive a card that works as your identification, cabin key and charge card while on board. Consider bringing a lanyard to have an easy way to carry that card with you when you don’t have pockets and don’t want to carry a bag. Attach the flashlight and whistle to the lanyard as well to have them with you at all times. Ship interiors are very dark if the lights go out. (There are lighted strips similar to on an airplane along the halls and stairs.) A whistle will allow you to be found more easily by rescue workers, if needed, and will also get attention if you should find yourself in a dangerous situation with another passenger or a crew member.
- Protein or meal replacement bars. You may likely eat more food on a cruise ship than at any other time in your life! Cruise ships have a very precise calculation of how much food they need and they get close to running out toward the end of the cruise. If there is an emergency that requires the ship to be delayed from returning to port, plans are made to stretch the food out. Having extra calories in your cabin just in case is a smart idea.
- Emergency radio. Depending on where the ship is, you might not pick up any radio, but you could. Also, my radio has a flashlight and electronics charger. I can recharge my devices using solar power or a hand crank. I may not be able to make calls but I can use the camera, play games, read my eBooks, etc.
- Small lantern, battery operated candles, or light sticks. Without power, interior cabins without windows are darker than the inside of a cow. If the ship loses power, having these items will allow you to be in your cabin safely.
- Hand Sanitizer. Because of past cases of norovirus onboard, most cruise ships have multiple hand sanitizer dispensers available near the dining rooms and buffet lines. There are other times you may want to disinfect. Having your own on you or in your cabin keeps you from having to find a dispenser.
- N95 masks. If norovirus does break out on your hip, a mask may help keep you healthy when in the common areas or when helping to treat a sick travel companion.
- Medications. Each ship has a medical clinic and one or more doctors onboard. In an emergency or in a large norovirus outbreak, the clinic may be quickly overwhelmed. Having the ability to self-treat in your cabin will be beneficial. Also, while you can get cold medications, motion sickness, and other OTC drugs onboard, they are expensive. Carry a minimum of one extra week of any prescription medication you must take daily.
Stay safe in port.
- Don’t carry your passport off the ship. Use the in-cabin safe to store your passport and other valuables and carry the copy of your passport with you. It, along with a drivers’ license, will be sufficient for use as citizen identification if there is a problem. Not carrying your original prevents it from being stolen if you are mugged or pick-pocketed.
- Just as on board the ship, control your alcohol intake. Make good decisions and do not take ride offers from strangers, go to a different location with a stranger, or flash around a lot of cash.
- You will be provided information on how to contact the ship from shore in case of emergency. Be sure to carry it with you.
- Take a photo of your family and friends as you get off the ship. If anyone gets lost, you will have a current photo and description of the clothes they are wearing.
- Each person in your group should have a sheet of paper in their wallet with their personal information on it. Include name, address, emergency contact at home, the names of those traveling with you, ship name, and important medical information. If you are injured, a quick look through your wallet will provide plenty of information for emergency responders.
Cruising is a wonderful vacation option, and I fully intend to travel by ship many more times in my future. But like any other activity, you need to be smart, be prepared, and make good choices. Bon voyage!
*BOB = Bug Out Bag; EDC = Every Day Carry
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