Falling off a cruise ship is extremely rare, but it happens once in a looong while.
Back in August 2018, for instance, British air hostess Kay Longstaff barely survived 10 hours in the Adriatic after plunging from Norwegian Star.
Falling overboard from a ship is considered a life-threatening situation, and the term “man overboard” is often used when someone needs rescue.
Something most people don’t like to think about, however, is what if you are the one who has fallen overboard?
What do you do to ensure your survival? In this article, we are going to explore tips on what to do if you fall off a cruise ship.
How Do Passengers Fall Off Cruise Ships?
On average, about 270 people have fallen off cruise ships since 2000 – a seemingly insignificant number considering that up to 29 million people go on cruises every year, but still something to consider.
So statistically, your chances of falling overboard on your cruise are roughly 1 in 1.4 million. But why do people fall off cruise ships anyway?
Cruise ships are typically reinforced with high railings to prevent people from accidently falling over,
so it is usually extremely rare for a man overboard situation to occur unless the person intentionally climbed onto a railing or somewhere else they should not have been.
In fact, research has shown that most people who “fall” off ships actually do it on purpose.
Suicide at sea is not a common occurrence, but it does happen. Most cases take place at night usually due to one of the following:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Domestic disturbance
- Mental condition
Passengers either jump from a high deck on the ship or from their cabin balcony.
What to Do If You Fall Off a Cruise Ship
Wondering what your chances of survival are if you find yourself plunging off your cruise ship?
The honest answer is the odds are stacked against you. Everything will depend mostly on how far you fall and the condition of the sea.
The first few minutes are crucial. If it is a long fall, you risk breaking a limb from the impact and losing all of your air, which increases your chances of drowning.
If the water is cold, you will invariably go into what is referred to as “Cold Shock Response” as the sudden drop in skin temperature forces you to take an involuntary gasp, subsequently swallowing seawater.
The temperature of the sea is especially important to consider when evaluating your chances of survival.
Generally, it takes about one hour for hypothermia to set in at waters of approximately 5 degrees Celsius; two hours at 10 degrees; and 6 hours at 15 degrees Celsius.
This basically means that you have a better chance of being pulled out alive if you plunge into the tropical Caribbean instead of the chilly North Sea.
Statistics suggest that a staggering 60% of all deaths in cold waters happen in the first few moments of entering the water,
which means bad news as the ship won’t be able to pull you out on time even if you are spotted going overboard.
Another 20 percent occur as a result of hypothermia, which can take effect after half an hour, while the last 20 percent die during the rescue (apparently because of the victims suddenly relaxing).
Of course, knowing what will happen to you in the water is crucial to your survival, but you should also keep in mind that the Cold Shock Response is quite normal and usually evens out after a few minutes.
Try to stay calm and float, rather than thrashing about as this will only use up your heat and energy.
As the cold spreads through your body, you will become number and may eventually lose the ability to use your hands or simply hold on to flotation devices.
It is important to prepare yourself before this happens by:
- Swimming to a better location
- Tying a flotation device to your body
If you don’t have anything to hold on to, try to conserve heat by curling into a fetal position, with one leg insulating the other.
You should also keep your clothes on to help you float better. From this end, it is worth noting that you have a better chance of being spotted by rescuers when floating in calm waters than in choppier waters.
In a scenario where you don’t need to swim for too long and the sea is relatively calm, women have the edge.
This is because women tend to have more subcutaneous body fat than men, which increases their ability to float.
Therefore, you are less likely to succumb to fatigue from treading waters or swimming for hours if you are a woman.
As a general rule of thumb, for either gender, remember to keep your spirits up if you manage to survive those first few petrifying moments – and DO NOT dare to relax even when you are being rescued!
What Do Ships Do If You Fall Overboard?
The crew on all ships practice routinely on what to do in case someone falls overboard.
The first stage is basically to raise the alarm. Cruise ships usually have strategically installed cameras to monitor high risk areas where people are more likely to jump or fall overboard,
so someone will probably see you falling and raise the alarm immediately.
This could be either the other passengers or the crew members, who will promptly shout “Man overboard!” to draw attention to the scene.
Someone will then throw any flotation device available (preferably a life ring) into the water to help you keep afloat, and attempts will be made to notify the bridge as soon as possible.
The good news is that while network coverage is generally poor at sea, you can usually call the emergency number from any phone.
Once the bridge receives the message, a well-rehearsed routine will commence immediately.
The “Man Overboard” button on the navigation system will be pressed (to fix the location of the incident),
a life ring with visible orange smoke will be dispatched from a bridge wing, and a whistle on the ship will be sounded with 3 prolonged blasts (about 4 to 6 seconds long each).
The blasts serve to alert both everyone on the ship and other vessels in the vicinity, of the situation.
They should also be loud enough for you to hear, if only to give you some morale boost that the ship is coming back for you.
After completing the immediate responses, all focus shifts to returning the ship to the location of the fall and initiating the rescue mission.
FAQs on Cruise Ship Accidents
1. Can you survive if you fall off a cruise ship?
Your chances of surviving depend on several factors. These include whether you were injured during or after the fall,
and how quickly you can be rescued by the Coast Guard or the cruise ship. In many cases, a person falling off a ship is usually dead by the time they reach the water.
2. What are the odds of dying on a cruise ship?
The odds of dying on a cruise ship are about 1 in 6.25 million. You are more likely to die while driving, where the chances of dying in a car crash are approximately 1 in 645.
3. Is it illegal to jump off a cruise ship?
Intentionally jumping overboard from any passenger vessel is illegal, as it is considered interfering with the vessel’s safe operation.
Although it may never happen to you according to statistics, it’s still important to know what to do if you fall off a cruise ship.
Accidents do happen, and a cruise that is especially characterized with heavy drinking can lead to any of a number of outcomes.