Tips to be prepared in case of a cruise ship emergency

Celebrity's Summit docked in Juneau, Alaska, by NSL Photography

Last week in my article, Life safety cruise ship regulation reform is essential, I wrote about maritime regulation reform, I believe is necessary for governments and the United Nations to enact, to help prevent loss of life from cruise ship accidents, after reviewing the Costa Concordia tragedy.

While regulation changes will help, as will the cruise lines improving their equipment, training and procedures, each cruise ship passenger’s safety will continue to depend, in large measure, on their judgment, preparedness, and actions. As ship’s passengers there is much we can do to help ensure our safety and that of family and friends cruising with us.

Here are my safety tips for your next cruise:

• Many crew members’ “home language” isn’t yours, as cruise lines recruit internationally. I make it a practice to travel on cruise ships whose primary ship’s language is mine or a language with which I’m fluent, so in the event of an emergency, I will clearly understand instructions and directions.

• Before choosing a cruise line, I check on their safety record, both on the Internet, and with my “brick-and-mortar” travel agent. I won’t cruise on a line, unless my travel agent recommends it.

• As a US citizen, I always register with the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) before I travel. By registering my trips with STEP, the State Department can contact me in the event of a emergency to give me instructions, and assistance, if necessary.

• Never take anything with you on a trip you can’t afford to loose or be damaged, unless it’s absolutely essential.

• Once aboard, determine your muster station location. It’s probably listed on the back of your stateroom door. Within the first 24 hours of boarding your cruise, a muster drill will be called. It’s a practice session to prepare passengers and crew to handle emergencies. At the alarm sound, passengers proceed to their muster stations. The crew takes a passenger census, ensuring participation, explains what will happen in case of a real emergency, and how to properly wear your lifevest.

At the muster drill, make sure you pay attention to all that’s said and be sure you understand how to wear and secure your lifevest. In an emergency, this could save your life.

• Ensure you know the location of your lifevest, or where you’re expected to get them in an emergency. If stored in your stateroom, and impossible to retrieve, make sure you know where you can get a replacement in an emergency. Many ships have lifevests available at muster stations.

• Familiarize yourself with your ship’s layout. In the event of an emergency, you could be enjoying the cruise almost anywhere on the ship, well away from your your muster station. You need to know how to quickly walk to your muster station from anywhere on the ship.

• If you’re traveling with family and/or friends make sure you have a group evacuation plan, so you will be able to account for each person in the event of an emergency.

• If you’re traveling with a child, who at times may be cared for by others during your cruise, such as at a “youth club” or baby sitter service, know how you’ll be united with your child, in case of emergency.

• If you’re traveling with a teenager, who from time to time might be on their own during the cruise, plan with them what to do in an emergency, and impress on them how important it is that they comply with that plan.

Never use an elevator in case of emergency, as they may fail while you’re in them, trapping you. Ensure your children also understand not to use them.

• If you’re disabled, or if anyone in your family is disabled, check with the appropriate ship’s officer about emergency procedures for the disabled, shortly after boarding the ship for the first time.

• Have a great time while cruising, but watch your alcoholic intake. In the event of an emergency, if you’re alcohol impaired, you could make poor decisions which could put your life in jeopardy.

• Many take prescription medications daily. It’s important you have them with you in the event of an emergency. Have an “emergency kit” pre-prepared, ready in your stateroom.

Even if you don’t take medication regularly, it’s still a good idea to have an “emergency kit” available at all times. My “emergency kit,” stored in a “dry bag,” includes: a waterproof flashlight, medication, passport or copy of it, medical information, wallet with credit cards and driver’s license, cellphone (unless I’m carrying it), cash, spare eyeglasses and contact lenses. I keep a sweater or sweatshirt handy too.

For those with serious medical conditions, wear a “Medic Alert” necklace or bracelet at all times. The Medic Alert Foundation will make your medical information available, worldwide, to physicians and paramedics whenever needed.

• Scan important travel documents, including your passport, credit cards, insurance information, etc. into files and store them in a free Internet “cloud service” such as Google Docs, for retrieval worldwide, if necessary.

Please remember that cruise emergencies are rare, so while it’s important to be prepared, don’t let worry about them, ruin your cruise vacation.