Cruise lines operating international passenger voyages are now required to conduct muster / lifeboat drills before or shortly after the voyage begins. The Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea (commonly known as SOLAS) requires such drills so that passengers are made aware of their muster station location and instructed on the proper use of life preservers. Instruction on the procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency is also provided.
The prior regulation required cruise ships to hold a lifesaving drill within twenty-four hours from the embarkation of the voyage. SOLAS was amended in reaction to the Costa Concordia disaster where thirty-two died as a result of the captain’s negligence and poor lifesaving planning. One of the biggest lessons learned from this tragedy is that the passengers did not know where to go when the ship started to sink. This confusion perhaps caused loss of life. Having the muster drill before, or shortly after, the voyage begins will arm passengers with the requisite knowledge of what to do and were to go should an emergency arise while at sea.
In addition to shortening the time period in which to hold lifesaving drills, SOLAS was amended for the purpose of requiring cruise lines to hold internal enclosed-space entry and rescue drills. This new regulation requires crewmembers with enclosed-space entry or rescue responsibilities to participate in entry and life rescue drills at least once every two months. The objective of this amendment is to better crewmember, as well as passenger, safety in situations where crew must entered close quarters to carry out rescue missions.
The International Maritime Organization oversees international maritime laws such as SOLAS and sets international standards for cruise passenger and crewmember safety. The new amendments to SOLAS are a welcome addition to international cruise safety standards.
Though there are laws designed for passenger safety, cruise passengers should also take action to ensure their safety while cruising. Much like the fire drills that most families have at their homes, families on vacation should also have a plan in case an emergency arises at sea. A suggested plan is to find out where your muster station is upon first arriving at the ship. This information is commonly posted on the interior stateroom door. If you have trouble learning where your muster station is located, ask a stateroom attendants near your cabin or call the front desk. After learning the location of your muster station, find out the best way to navigate the cruise ship to get to the station using the ship map. This will help you quickly reach the muster station no matter where you are on the ship. Another suggested tip is to have an agreement with your family that if any family member is separated during an emergency they are to proceed directly to the muster station. Roaming the ship searching for family members during an emergency can be dangerous.
Cruise safety laws, combined with taking some time out of your vacation for emergency preparation, increase the chances for survival during an emergency.