travel tips cruise safety "cruise safety" "cruise risks"

The Top Cruise Ship Risks (they’re not what you think!)

I almost can’t believe it. I’ve booked a cruise! And being in the business of travel safety, I am understandably quite keen to know everything possible about how to stay safe onboard a big-a$$ ship!

I’ve done ridiculous amounts of research on cruise safety statistics and accident reports over the past week, and my findings have been both reassuring and terrifying. Kind of like life in general. 😄

If you think about it, one of the biggest problems with being on board a ship is the difficulty in escaping during an emergency. I’m not just talking about a Titanic-style sinking; I’m also talking about fires, power failures that bring down the on-board sewage facilities, and so forth.

I was shocked to learn that, until 2014, there were no official agencies responsible for collecting cruise ship mishap reports! We can blame this on the cruise industry, itself. For tax purposes, most ships are registered in countries that are both financially advantageous, as well as lax on oversight. A huge win if you’re a cruise operator; not so awesome if you’re a passenger looking for safety data.

As of 2014, however, the US Congress passed regulation requiring the Department of Transportation to compile monthly statistics on cruise ship crime for all ships that operate within US ports (note: this does not include ships that drop anchor elsewhere).

Unfortunately, this reporting does not extend to other cruise hazards (e.g., piracy, sinkings, etc.)

Luckily, there are a few grassroots groups who have taken it upon themselves to dig up the cruise industry dirt. One is a Canadian professor and cruise buff by the name of Ross Klein. His website–Cruise Junkie–is chockful of dismal but useful statistics.

Another site to check out is Cruise Minus. These folks not only compile data from industry, the media, and academia; they also invite passengers to submit their own reports of calamities at sea. It makes for a strangely intriguing read.

I relied heavily upon the abovementioned websites and their referenced links for my data gathering. Herein, I summarize my findings for anyone who might be interested in taking to the high seas.

"cruise safety and crime"

Yes, this is your pillowcase. And yes, this is your stuff inside.

Biggest risk at sea: CRIME

Yep, just like on dry land, your biggest risk is actually your fellow humans. Theft is by far the number one issue, but sexual and physical assault aren’t uncommon. Indeed, with the new DoT monthly data compilation that is now publicly available, overall crime reports have jumped 408{5b94df0808d5051ae4460ba229ec68b809d99f898aebd4fa5019c7ba642362c2}. Obviously, the crime itself hasn’t rocketed upwards; rather, it’s the knowledge thereof. But still, when one thinks of embarking on a cruise, it’s a bit disheartening.
There is also a disturbing trend of homicide and disappearance. If a US citizen is involved (and this goes for all crimes at sea), the FBI will investigate the case. However, statistics show that only ~16{5b94df0808d5051ae4460ba229ec68b809d99f898aebd4fa5019c7ba642362c2} of murders lead to an actual conviction. With no police on board, it’s simply too difficult to maintain a hygienic crime scene at sea, and unless pending Congressional legislation is passed, there is no timeliness requirement for the FBI’s involvement.

How to protect yourself:
Treat a cruise like you’d treat a visit to a big city. Stay vigilant. Keep an eye on your stuff. Be aware of your surroundings and your fellow passengers’ behavior. In your stateroom, don’t leave valuables lying around. Hide them, lock them up, or better yet: leave them at home.

If you do fall victim to a crime, read your ship’s Security Guide (required by law) and follow the procedures outlined with respect to criminal activity.

norovirus on a cruise

Riding the porcelain pony….

Second biggest risk: NOROVIRUS

Like with most things in life, the best defense is a good offense. Hand gel is better than nothing, but research has shown that the most effective way to get rid of the virus on your skin is via a good scrubbing for 30 seconds with soap and hot water. You know the drill: this is especially important before you eat!

It may seem antisocial, but try to avoid touching your fellow passengers (handshakes, hugs). You’ll also want to minimize contact with communal surfaces like counters and handrails. Common serving-utensils at buffets can be grasped with a tissue, or at least be sure to use hand sanitizer after you serve yourself a scoop of macaroni salad. Lastly, try to only use your own bathroom facilities. Norovirus is spread via fecal material, so avoiding areas where such matter may accumulate is a no-brainer.

Oh, and if you catch norovirus anyway? Quarantine yourself, notify the ship’s doctor, and wait it out. It’ll pass in a day or two. Just be sure to stay hydrated while you—ahem—convalesce. 😝

"wearing a lifevest and holding a life buoy"

At last, a reason to use our lifeguarding skills!

MINIMAL RISK (but you want to know about it): SINKING

So it turns out that sinking is incredibly rare. From 1980 to 2012, only 16 cruise ships sunk, and most of them were sailing in challenging conditions…like around Antarctica or in a typhoon. And even when they do sink, Ross Klein (he of the aforementioned CruiseJunkie website) states: “Ships don’t sink with everybody dying. The chances of loss of life are pretty minuscule.”

Still, there is a disturbing theme reported by survivors of sinkings: the ship’s crew may not be able or willing to help you. Best to have a plan of action, just in case.


  • Your ship will hold a lifeboat drill within about the first 24 hours of setting sail. Attend it. And pay attention.
  • Practice putting on a lifejacket, and remember all the locations they’re stowed on board.
  • Find routes of egress to the lifeboat areas from all places on the ship you might be (your cabin, the gym, restaurants, etc.). Walk these routes to create muscle memory in case you need to evacuate in a hurry.

* * * * *

Really, cruise ships are incredibly safe. Your biggest risk of the trip—statistically speaking—involves the car trip to get to the ship dock! Still, knowing what you’re up against once you take to the high seas is worthwhile and useful. Here’s hoping that you never need to put any of these strategies into practice…but if you DO, share them via the Contact form!

Good luck, sailor, and bon voyage!

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