Some might consider cruise ships havens, where passengers can destress freely and there's always something on tap. Still, although extremely rare, bad things can happen on them.
On April 12, crewmembers began a frantic search after choppy conditions tossed a woman from a P&O cruise liner. The ship, called Pacific Dawn, halted as fast as possible and turned around to search for her. Although the crew alerted other ships in the area, the search continues, as the woman has not been found.
Since 2000, reports say roughly 300 people on cruise ships have fallen overboard. There were 17 cases in 2017 and so far in 2018, there have been five.
These stats are low, considering the number of passengers on cruise ships has increased—today, more than 20 million people take cruises each year. All things considered, a fear of going overboard shouldn’t be an excuse to not take a cruise.
Falling overboard is one of the rarest events that can happen on cruise ships, and there are specific safety standards in place to reduce the risk. High railings on public decks prevent passengers from getting blown or swept off accidentally, and security cameras record what’s going on in public places. There’s no official detection system for people who fall overboard quite yet, but the Coast Guard reportedly has technology in the works.
Overboard incidents are most commonly reckless or deliberate accidents induced by drunkenness. But cruise ship bartenders are trained to see when someone has had too much to drink and, like on land, they will stop serving them. Cruise ships also have on-board physicians and security officers to monitor people who might be at risk.
Too much alcohol consumption can also exacerbate conditions like bipolar disorder and depression. A small percentage of overboard situations are the result of suicides or foul play. Even when patrons have fallen overboard, crewmembers can circle the ship around to save them if they’ve been notified in a timely manner.
Aside from patrons falling overboard, other deaths take place aboard cruise ships, but they often don’t get as much attention. But of those deaths, most are of elderly passengers. The odds of dying on a cruise ship are roughly 1 in 6.25 million. It's much more dangerous to drive in a car, where the odds of dying in a crash are about 1 in 645.
On a cruise ship, one of the biggest risks isn’t falling off—it’s the spread of diseases. Contact with ship railing, bathroom doors, and open food buffets can quickly spread contagious viruses like norovirus, which plagued hundreds aboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise in 2014.
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To prevent the spread of disease, some liners will sanitize railings, handles, and other objects with virus-killing alcohol. The best protection against gastrointestinal disease is to wash your hands and avoid contact with potentially infected people.
In terms of falling overboard, river cruises are safer than their open water counterparts. River ships are smaller than traditional ocean liners, so the chances of a deadly fall are slimmer. (Smaller cruises also make it less likely to contract viruses.) River cruises also go on much tamer waters, and they sail closer to the shore.
Out of all the vacation options out there, cruise ships are still among the safest.