Be safe at sea on a cruise ship

Image credit: Tomás Castelazo, June 2044

A cruise at sea has been said to be the ultimate prescription for relaxation and to revive flagging spirits. One is waited on hand and foot and entertained lavishly.  So it is easy to let down one’s guard.  The risks are low, but there are still some hazards.

The risks

The main risks on board are:

  • Theft
  • Assault
  • Rape
  • Norovirus epidemics
  • Falling off the ship
  • Running aground

Off these, only falling off the ship and running aground are unique to a ship or boat.  These all occur, though a sea cruise is a pretty safe environment and you are more likely to experience crime on land than at sea.


There is a perception that cruising is for the well-healed.  While not everyone on board is rich, the rich are likely to be aboard.  As far as valuables are concerned, if you do not have it with you, they cannot take it.  Travel with a minimum of valuables.

Use the ship’s safe for valuables worth over $10,000 as those goods are a particular target of thieves.  The cabin safe is probably okay for lesser valuables, particularly for temporary storage, but be aware that they usually have a master code, or may be cracked by bumping.

Do not leave valuables in plain sight.  And do not be flash with your jewellery.  That includes not leaving it on the night-table.

Most modern ships are floating palaces and are brightly lighted.  But there may be areas of the ship that are poorly lit and with little or no traffic.  Avoid such areas, or spend the minimum amount of time there.  Be aware of your circumstances and be alert to being followed.

Use a door alarm when you are in the cabin.  Actually, you should apply all of the usual precautions that you would when staying a a hotel.  (See our article  Be safe and secure at your Hotel)


People have been injured in fights on board.  Lazy days and ready access to copious amounts of alcohol do not bring out the best in everyone.  Walk away from aggressive situations and inform the ship’s staff.  If there is exceptionally bad service do not try to remedy it by getting aggressive.  Seek peace.

Docks are not the safest area and may be a place for robbery or assault.  Avoid wandering around into unauthorised or lonely areas.


The same advice for avoiding rape on land applies at sea.

Watch your drinks, do not be alone with a stranger, never go to crew quarters, do not entertain crew in your cabin.  Do not explore the ship by yourself.

While shipboard romances are legion, you need to exercise caution in who you pair up with, and under what circumstances.  Get to know someone well (which is hard on a ship because they are out of their usual milieu, and so are you) before you spend time with them alone.

Keep careful control of your children and apply all the precautions that you would normally apply on land.

Norovirus epidemics

Illness on a ship has the same causes and can be prevented by the same precautions as illness on land.  Follow this advice from our article on Avoiding illness while travelling – General precautions

“Good personal hygiene, particularly about one’s hands is critically important in preventing infection whilst travelling.  Wash your hands before and after using the toilet, after handling money, and before meals.  Also wash your hands before touching your face or putting your fingers in your mouth.”

Carry alcohol-based handwash and disinfect your hands after having used the toilet, after you have shaken hands with anyone, and before eating.

Treat everywhere outside your cabin as contaminated.  Disinfect all the surfaces you touch inside the cabin with disinfectant wipes.  Do this even though your cabin has been serviced.  There are two reasons for this.  1) the staff member that cleaned your room might be ill, and 2) they have just cleaned your neighbour’s cabin, and your neighbour may be infected.

It is wise to carry diarrhoea medicine with you in your first-aid kit.  Stay hydrated if you do become infected (and there is useful advice at the above link, particularly with regard to oral rehydration therapy [ORT]).

Falling off the ship

Ships are fast, the deck is high off the water and the sea is inky black at night.  If you fall off, you are unlikely to be spotted.  Even if you are spotted there is a good chance that you will not be recovered.

The answer is “don’t fall off the ship”.  While this may seem obvious, many people are the architects of their own demise by trying to climb from one balcony to another, balancing on the handrail, emulating the famous scene from Titanic. or other such antics that are unsafe.  The sea is an unforgiving mistress.

Running aground

Even some very famous ships have run aground, largely through inattentive watch being kept, or navigational errors.  As a passenger you obviously can’t do anything to prevent it.  You need to be able to respond safely.

Pay attention when the compulsory safety instruction drill is held.  Know your escape route – you may need to find your way to safety in a dark passage listing at an angle.  Even if you have an outside cabin with a balcony, the passage you have use to escape may be narrow and dark.

Know where to access and how to use safety equipment.

If the ship is listing after running aground, proceed to the side of the vessel that is closest to the water.  That is the side that they will launch the lifeboats from.  Unless the listing angle is very small, lifeboats cannot be launched from the side sitting highest out of the water because the boats would be launched on to the side of the ship.

If you are unfortunate enough to run aground do not panic.  Stay on the vessel until there is a safe way off it.  People who go it alone and dive into the sea are much more likely to be injured or killed.  Even a damaged ship is a safer place than an unprotected person being thrown about by waves among rocks.

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