How to Stay Safe on a Cruise Ship

Modern cruise ships are like floating hotels, many more than ten stories tall, carrying more than 4,000 travelers. The recent disaster in Italy with the Costa Concordia reminds cruisers like me of the importance of safety while on a cruise ship.

As I write this, I’m preparing to fly to Florida to take a Carnival cruise, the parent company of the stricken Costa Cruises ship. I’ve been asked whether I’m scared or tempted to cancel my trip, I always say no. First, I think Carnival and the whole cruise industry will take a close look at safety after this incident. Traveling just days after the accident, I expect the safety drills on my cruise to be given very seriously by the crew, and taken very seriously by the passengers.

Secondly, from what I’ve read about the Italian cruise ship incident, the captain intentionally diverted from the planned, pre-programmed course and, for some reason, manually steered the ship far too close to land. It wasn’t a random accident, nor was it caused by unmarked rocks and instead, it appears to have been caused by his human error in taking the ship off course.

Here are some basic safety tips from an experienced cruiser:

Pay attention during the safety drills
U.S. Maritime law requires a safety drill within 24 hours of sailing, most cruises I’ve been on do it within the first few hours. The drills tell passengers where to go in case of an emergency, which lifeboat they are assigned to and how to operate the lifeboats. Ask questions of the crew as to your specific circumstances, including things like location and physical mobility. The drill will also show you how to use and wear your life vest, remember the information and practice, ask questions and always keep the vest handy, it’s the first thing to grab in an emergency.

Memorize your location
Check out the exit routes from your cabin to the stairs and remember how to get there. There are usually several staircases, find routes to each one. I like to count the cabin doors, from both directions, so I might be 12 doors from the stairs on the right side, and 15 doors on the left side, for example. In an emergency, the lights could be out and the hallways could be flooded and / or sideways, but I have those details memorized.

Be aware of your surroundings
Safety drills deal with an emergency evacuation of your cabin. The recent tragedy in Italy took place during dinner and many guests had to go to the lifeboats from the dining room. Review ship maps to know where things are and note exits when you’re in bars, restaurants and other interior spaces.

Keep valuables organized
No possession is worth your life, but keep valuables organized and handy, all in one place when in the cabin. That way, in an emergency, your wallet and passport can be quickly grabbed.

Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog You can follow him on twitter, @thefredsherman

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