What To Do If Someone Falls Overboard on a Cruise Ship

What should you do if someone falls overboard on a cruise ship? Alert the proper authorities immediately. Tell a member of the crew right away. They will notify the captain according to an established protocol.

Falling Overboard Can Be Fatal

Don’t wait or assume that a “man overboard” incident will be noted by security cameras. Why? First, while cruise ships have security cameras, most of them are unmanned, so a falling incident may not be noted until it is too late. Some, like Disney Cruise Lines, have state-of-the-art detection equipment, including radar and sonar detection that would pick up a falling person. But many do not. There is no requirement, currently, that ships carry these.

Second, rescuing someone who has fallen overboard takes time. According to the protocol, the ship must return to the site where the person hit the water. But all ships take time to turn and slow down. Seconds are precious — so you must make sure every second counts. The captain, once alerted, will put an emergency response into effect, including a rescue team and lowering a lifeboat and safety gear. A life preserver will be thrown on the spot you identify.

But the captain and crew must be notified to begin the protocol.

The captain may also alert the Coast Guard and other authorities to help in the search.

Third, falling overboard is dangerous. In fact, maritime observers think it is fatal up to 90% of the time. People falling overboard can hit the water from a great distance, causing injury in addition to the danger of drowning. They may have hit the boat on the way down. Cold water can cause shock that impedes their ability to swim — and, of course, not every cruise passenger can swim.

If hypothermia sets in, or inclement weather and night impedes rescue efforts, a “person overboard” situation is very likely to end in death.

Safety Features in Place

While it’s frightening to think of falling off a cruise ship — or seeing someone fall — such cases are very rare. Industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association estimates that they occur at an approximate rate of 1 per 1.3 million. Of the more than 24 million cruise passengers per year, cases in recent years have ranged from 16 to 27 annually.

That’s partly because cruise ships place structural barriers, rails, and balcony heights in areas to stop the possibility of falling. It would be difficult to fall over unintentionally because of these features.

Still, it’s not impossible if people are under the influence of substances like alcohol, which many think accounts for a large percentage of man overboard incidents, or are trying to commit suicide — or imprudently clowning around. It’s not impossible that foul play also accounts for some incidents.

Experienced Maritime Attorneys in New York

If you or a loved one has fallen from a cruise ship, or experienced other injuries while on a cruise, contact the experienced New York and Long Island maritime attorneys at Edelman, Krasin & Jaye.

When injuries or death happen on a cruise ship or as a result of incidents there, any legal claims will likely be considered under maritime law or other applicable federal law and state law, depending on the nature and circumstances of the injury. It is very important that you consult experienced maritime lawyers.

We will listen to the facts of the case, determine the applicable law, and develop the most persuasive case possible on your behalf. Call 1-800-469-7429 for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Additional Resources:

  1. Eisenberg, Sherri. “What Happens When Someone Falls Off a Cruise Ship?” Fox News. March 9, 2015. http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2015/03/09/what-happens-when-someone-falls-off-cruise-ship.html
  2. Garay, Elissa. “What Happens When Someone Falls Off a Cruise Ship?” Conde Nast Traveler. May 11, 2017. https://www.cntraveler.com/story/what-happens-when-someone-falls-off-a-cruise-ship