Could I Fall Overboard During My Cruise?

Life boat, preserver and Safety Beacon
••• Robert Ingelhart/Getty Images

How easy is it to fall overboard during your cruise?

It's not very likely, in spite of the heavy media coverage of "man overboard" incidents. In fact, the biggest risk to your safety during a cruise is not falling over the ship's side, it's illness, particularly from the norovirus.

Cruise ship railings are typically about four feet high. Even for a tall person, that's over waist height. Falling overboard is extremely unlikely unless you are engaging in risky behavior, such as excessive drinking or climbing from balcony to balcony.

Cruise Ship Safety Regulations

Cruise ships that embark passengers at US ports are inspected by the United States Coast Guard during their first port call and quarterly thereafter. These inspections cover structural and fire safety, life boats and life preservers, crew training and shipboard drills.

In addition, passenger ships calling at US ports must comply with International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the SOLAS Convention shortly after the Titanic disaster in 1914. The SOLAS Convention spells out passenger ship safety requirements, including the required numbers and types of life boats, smoke detectors and fire suppression systems on new and existing passenger ships. In addition, the SOLAS Convention spells out the specific search and rescue procedures cruise ship captains must follow.

The IMO also issues standards for crew training.

These standards, called the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), include specialized training for passenger vessel crew members on crowd management, safety and crisis management.

Staying Safe on Your Cruise

The best way to avoid falling overboard on your cruise vacation is to behave responsibly.

Here are our top cruise safety tips:

  • Avoid drinking to excess.
  • Don't engage in horseplay near the ship's railings – or anywhere else, for that matter.
  • If you absolutely must take a selfie, stand on the deck, not on a railing or table. On the pier, stand far from the pier's edge so that you don't accidentally fall into the water between the pier and the ship.
  • Notify the ship's doctor if your traveling companion expresses suicidal thoughts. Try your best to convince your companion to seek help.
  • If you're sailing in rough weather, don't go near the guard rails. The ship could roll and cause you to fall overboard.
  • Don't boost fellow passengers, especially children, onto railings or tables for a better view.
  • Pay attention during the lifeboat drill and follow all safety instructions issued by the crew.

Above all, use common sense. If you wouldn't climb onto a railing or other structure on land, don't do it while at sea.