Cruising and the Safety Drill

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Cruises ships have been doing safety drills for a very long time, however in February 2012 the cruise industry mandated safety drills for all passengers prior to sailing.  This is a change for some cruise lines, especially those in Europe and doing itineraries that pick up passengers at different ports every day.  For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that all passengers board at the same port on the same day.

Typically cruise ship passengers have an “all aboard” time which is well ahead of sailing, and one reason for this seemingly early arrival is because of the safety, or “muster” drill. Once you board your cruise you can get your vacation started and partake of activities and dining.  However these services will cease at a specified time so the crew and passengers may prepare for the mandatory safety drill.

Prior to the drill an announcement is made and all passengers are requested to return to their stateroom and wait for the ship’s horn to sound the emergency signal (seven short blasts, followed by one long blast–its pretty loud and you won’t miss it!)  When the signal is sounded, passengers leave their stateroom and proceed to their muster station.  So how do you know where it is and how to get there?  Your muster station designation is printed on your cruise key card (Key To the World Card on Disney.)  You follow the instructions of the crew members, who may send you through crew-only hallways and staircases to the designated meeting places called assembly stations.  These assembly stations are scattered throughout the ships and may not be on a deck by a lifeboat.  Elevators are typically not available during the safety drill so passengers with mobility challenges need to discuss this with the crew member directing them to the assembly station.   (See the actual cruise passenger key cards below showing the various assembly stations.)

Cruise Ship Key Cards


During the drill, attendance is taken and passengers are briefed on the use of life vests and escape routes.  Staterooms are also checked by crew members to ensure everyone has gone to the drill, and shipboard services and entertainment are suspended.  These drills last up to 30 minutes and are mandatory for all passengers.  Guests must remain silent during the drill so everyone may hear the announcements.  Guests who have boarded the ship but do not attend the safety drill may be disembarked by the Captain:  cruise ships take this stuff pretty seriously.   The briefing will also not begin until all passengers are accounted for, so if you hear names being announced on the intercom chances are good that these are passengers who have not yet checked in.

On the Disney Cruise Line, the safety/muster/lifeboat drill typically begins at 3:45pm with ship services suspended between 3:30pm and 4:15pm.  Information on the safety features of the ship will be playing on your stateroom television monitor once you arrive to the stateroom, and there are also instructions in the room on getting to the assembly station.   Life jackets typically do not need to be taken to the drill as the straps are a safety hazard.

So basically no matter where you cruise and regardless of how many time you’ve sailed, even if you’re on a back-to-back cruise on the same ship, every passenger will attend the safety drill and needs to pay attention to information provided.  In the unlikely event of an emergency, the information provided in that drill may mean the difference between life and death.

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