Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard - Here's What Happens (2023)

If you are considering a cruise you may be wondering what would happen if you fell off the ship. Luckily it is almost impossible to fall off a cruise ship but there are still people on occasion who manage to fall accidentally usually while doing something dangerous like standing on a railing or climbing from balcony to balcony.

I was on a cruise in 2009 where a man jumped from his balcony so I have experienced the steps mentioned in this article first hand.

Do Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard?

If a guest on a cruise ship falls overboard the cruise ship will stop and return to the location of the accident to look for the passenger. The ship will spend several hours looking for the missing passenger and other ships may also join in the search.

It can take a cruise ship up to a mile to stop.

The success rate for finding people who have fallen overboard alive stands at around 25% and a number of factors affect this including location, time of day, and weather.

Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard - Here's What Happens (1)

How Many People Fall Overboard on Cruise Ships?

On average around 25 people fall off cruise ships per year. In 2019, 26 people fell overboard, out of the 29 million guests that took a cruise that year. This makes your chance of falling overboard on a cruise around 1 in 1.4 million.

The table below shows man overboard incidents recorded per year compared to the total cruise passengers per year. – Source.

YearMan Overboard Cruise Ship IncidentsCruise Passengers Per Year

How do people fall off cruise ships?

The majority of people who fall off cruise ships either do so intentionally or by committing a reckless act. Railings are built to chest height on every part of the ship and there have been no incidents of passengers falling off cruise ships due to the negligence of the cruise lines.

The most common ways that passengers fall off cruise ships are the following:

  • Intentionally committing suicide
  • Passengers under the influence of drink and/or drugs
  • Guests climbing from one balcony to another or on top of railings
  • Murder – Another guest pushing a person overboard


There are a few examples where unexplained accidents have happened such as a lady who fell off the Pacific Dawn in 2018. She had reportedly gone onto her balcony to be sick due to the bad weather than the ship was experiencing when she fell overboard.

For more information on the above, annual death statistics and examples check out this post:

The table below shows the man overboard incidents from 2019.

In total 26 people went overboard from cruise ships in 2019. 6 people were found alive meaning the success rate was roughly 25% which is standard. 5 man overboard incidents were caused by guests intentionally jumping overboard and 4 incidents involved crew members.

DateShipIncidentPerson Survived?
December 31MSC OrchestraJumped
December 29Norwegian JewelUnknownNo
November 13Norwegian SunJumped OverboardYes
November 1FinnmarkenUnknownNo
October 24Carnival DreamUnknownNo
October 12Costa MagicaUnknownNo
September 29DivinaUnknownYes
September 26Rhapsody Of
The Seas
Crew OverboardNo
September 5Vision Of
The Seas
Crew OverboardNo
August 14Symphony Of
The Seas
August 22Genting DreamUnknownNo
August 12Sun PrincessUnknownNo
August 8Majestic PrincessJumped OverboardNo
July 7 Freedom of
The Seas
July 5MSC MeravigliaUnknownNo
July 4Carnival VictoryCrew OverboardNo
June 18MSC SeaviewOverboard in PortYes
June 8NCL EpicUnknownNo
May 20Carnival FascinationJumped OverboardYes
May 8AmsterdamUnknownNo
March 30Carnival SpiritUnknownNo
March 18Mariner Of
The Seas
January 24Majesty Of
The Seas
Crew OverboardNo
January 21Golden PrincessUnknownNo
January 16Symphony Of
The Seas
Jumped OverboardYes
January 11Harmony Of
The Seas
Climbing Between BalconiesNo

What happens when somebody falls overboard on a cruise?

Cruise lines have a set of procedures that they must follow in the case of a man overboard incident.

Do cruise ships have man overboard sensors?

The majority of cruise ships don’t have specific man-overboard sensors but they are becoming more common. 30 cruise ships owned by Carnival and Disney have been fitted with V-MOB sensors used to automatically alert the bridge of a man overboard incident.

There are CCTV cameras on cruise ships but these are usually used as evidence after the event and are not being consistently monitored.

The below process happening relies on either a crew member or fellow passenger seeing the person going overboard and raising the alarm.

If a guest goes overboard without anybody seeing them it may be hours or days before the missing passenger is reported. By this stage, the cruise line won’t be able to identify where they were at the time of the incident.

Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard - Here's What Happens (2)

The Exact Location Will be Tracked

The first thing that would happen would be that the crew would track the exact location of the fall. It can take a cruise ship multiple miles to come to a stop or a position where it can turn around so being able to know where the passenger went overboard is incredibly important.

That said tides and other factors could mean that that the passenger is far from their original location when the ship returns.

If the guest is still nearby life floats and buoys may be thrown overboard.

An Emergency Announcement Will be Made

The ship will usually use an emergency announcement to let the crew members know what has happened. All crew will be trained in what they should do what they hear such an announcement.

The crew on cruise ship regularly complete man overboard drills often using dummies to mimic a person’s body. The cruise line will usually tell the guests in advance when they are doing drills like this as seeing a pretend body fall down in front of your balcony can be alarming!

On a cruise ‘Oscar Oscar’ means man overboard. This code will be broadcast throughout the ship and the announcement is usually made by the captain.

The broadcast will be made throughout the entire ship including the cabins.

I was on board the Norwegian Sky when a man jumped off the ship, the Oscar Oscar announcement was made in our cabin. It was the middle of the night so woke us up, not that we minded of course!

On this particular cruise, the captain asked for guests to look overboard to see if they could see the missing person.

Guests will rarely be given a lot of information about the incident other than the fact that a person has gone overboard.

Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard - Here's What Happens (3)

Authorities Informed

As soon as possible the cruise line will contact the closest authorities and the coastguard who will usually try to help with the rescue.

The coastguard’s response does of course depend on where the ship is sailing and how close they are to land at the time of the incident.

The Cruise Ship Will Stop and Turn Around

There are no official figures for how long it takes a cruise ship to stop and it can depend on a number of factors. Most estimations suggest at least a mile with many saying further.

Cruise ships usually travel at around 20-30 miles per hour so it can take some time for the ship to slow down and turn around but they will do so as soon as it’s safe.

Other Ships Will Join in The Search

One of the things that I remember most about the incident on the Norwegian Sky was that we circled round and round with other cruise ships.

I don’t remember exactly which ships were there but I remember seeing my first Disney cruise ship up close. It was very surreal to see the other ships and know why we were all circling together.

It’s not just cruise ships that will join in the search, if there are any other ships such as ferries or cargo ships these will also join in the search.

Small search boats may also help if close to port and planes or helicopters may even be sent to help with the rescue.

The Itinerary May be Changed

If a person falls off of a cruise there is a very high likelihood that the cruise itinerary will be changed. Usually, the next port will be canceled either because the cruise ship is continuing the search or because the search has caused a delay.

We missed the port of Nassau, Bahamas on our cruise, and sadly the man in question was never found.

Are guests entitled to compensation if a passenger falls overboard?

Guests whose cruise is disrupted by a man overboard incident aren’t usually entitled to any form of compensation. Cruise lines do have councilors on board to speak to guests about the incident if required.

It’s very common for a cruise itinerary to change and it happens for a number of reasons.

To find out more about why your itinerary might be changed, and to find out how travel insurance could give you a cash sum in the event of an itinerary change, check out this post: Do You Get Compensation For Missed Cruise Ports?

To Conclude:

It is incredibly rare for passengers on a cruise to fall overboard on a cruise. The majority who do fall overboard were acting recklessly and/or affected by drink and drugs.

If a guest does fall overboard the cruise ship will stop and turn around to search for the guest and other ships will also join in the rescue effort. Your chances of falling overboard on a cruise are roughly 1 in 1.4 million.

If you’re interested in cruise facts you might also like to know what happens when you flush the toilet of a cruise ship, it’s a very clever process!

Cruise Ship Toilets: What Happens When You Flush? Step by Step Guide

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Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard - Here's What Happens? ›

Do Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard? If a guest on a cruise ship falls overboard the cruise ship will stop and return to the location of the accident to look for the passenger. The ship will spend several hours looking for the missing passenger and other ships may also join in the search.

Has anyone ever survived falling overboard on a cruise ship? ›

The night before Thanksgiving, James fell off a cruise ship hours after it left port in New Orleans. He stayed alive while treading water for 20 hours before he was rescued. It's an incredible story of a will to live under horrific conditions, and James Michael Grimes is alive to tell it.

What happens if you slip and fall on a cruise ship? ›

If you slip and fall on a cruise ship, you could have a strong case for breach of duty of care. If you can prove this, you will be entitled to compensation for your injuries. However, this can be a difficult case, as your lawyer needs to prove that they breached their duty of care.

How many people have gone missing on cruise ships? ›

Approximately 400 people have gone missing from cruise ships in the past 20 years. While this is no cause for general alarm, given that approximately 30 million people take cruise ship vacations each year, it is still a dangerous and concerning statistic.

Do cruise ships stop for man overboard? ›

Do Cruise Ships Stop if You Fall Overboard? If a guest on a cruise ship falls overboard the cruise ship will stop and return to the location of the accident to look for the passenger. The ship will spend several hours looking for the missing passenger and other ships may also join in the search.

Can you survive falling overboard? ›

Wearing a PFD is the best way to make sure you buy yourself as much time as possible for recovery. Falls overboard incidents are survivable, but there are a number of actions that need to be taken by the victim and by rescuers to make survival more likely.

Can you survive falling off a cruise ship? ›

Do people always die when they go overboard? No. Survival rates depend on several factors, including whether the person was injured by impact with the water or part of the ship on the way down and how quickly the person can be rescued by the cruise ship or Coast Guard.

Do cruise ships have jails? ›

Typically the jail onboard is below deck in the marshaling area where provisions are loaded or somewhere along I-95 (the route that runs through the middle of the ship). However, cruise lines do not use the onboard jail as much as they used to. Instead, many lines will confine guests in their cabin instead.

What is the most common injury on a cruise ship? ›

Slips, trips and falls on cruise ships

The most frequently injured body part was the lower extremity. Although this study is over a decade old, the results still ring true today. In our experience, slips, trip and falls are the most common type of accident to afflict cruise ship passengers.

What happens if you dive off cruise ship? ›

A person who has jumped from a cruise ship could hit something during the fall, or the impact of the water itself could result in a quick death. There's also a risk of getting pulled under the ship into its propellors, hypothermia due to the shock of cold water and drowning due to large waves.

What is the fine for jumping off a cruise ship? ›

U.S. Coast Guard

The act of intentionally jumping into the water from a passenger vessel is considered interfering with the safe operation of the vessel, a violation of 46 United States Code, Section 2302. The penalties for this violation can be up to $35,000.

Which cruise line has the most missing people? ›

Surprisingly, Carnival Cruises had the most cases during the year, with 28 passengers who faced sexual harassment, while a few fell overboard, never to be found again. Although Carnival Cruises has the most cases reported, this does not describe the magnitude of the situation.

Who is the longest person to be missing? ›

Clark's case has the distinction of being the oldest active missing person case in the United States.
Disappearance of Marvin Clark.
Marvin Clark
BornMarvin Alvin Clark c. 1852 Marion County, Iowa, U.S.
DisappearedOctober 30, 1926 (aged 73–74) Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Height5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
1 more row

Who is the woman missing from the cruise ship 2023? ›

A missing person's report on the San Francisco Police Department website stated: “On April 3, 2023, at approximately 6:00 pm, a woman telephoned Central Police Station to report Alaina Marie Adams missing. Adams, who is from out of state, was supposed to board a cruise ship at Pier 27.

How much does a waiter make on a cruise ship? ›

The salary range for a Cruise Waiter job is from $28,846 to $38,010 per year in the United States.

Do cruise ships defend against pirates? ›

Do Cruise Lines Follow Any Law to Protect Passengers from Pirate Attacks? There is no particular law in place that cruise lines must follow to ensure the safety of their passengers from pirate attacks.

Are balconies on cruise ships safe? ›

Although most balconies on cruise ships are designed to be as safe as possible, you must always be careful about leaning over the railing. Remind children of the posing dangers, caution them on the safety rules, and never leave young children unattended.

Do cruise ships get attacked by pirates? ›

The Cruise Passenger publication says: "There were only six reports of pirates attempting to attack cruise ships over the last 10 years – in fact there has never been a successful pirate attack on a cruise ship. However, this doesn't mean cruise ships aren't prepared for the worst."

How many people go missing on cruises every year? ›

People very rarely disappear on a cruise ship. On average it's around 19 people that go missing each year. This is out of the many millions of cruise ship passengers that travel aboard one of the 314 cruise ships that sail the world's oceans each year.

Can you swim next to a cruise ship? ›

Stay near the beach and don't swim up to the large vessel. There has been video footage in the past of silly cruise ship passengers jumping from the ship when it is docked in port and then they swim over to the beach.

Are cruise ship murders common? ›

Although cruise ship murders are incredibly rare, they do happen. Murders are usually committed by a person that the victim knows and the majority of cruise ship murders involve arguments that escalate or a previous history of abuse.

How safe is cruising? ›

Let's cut right to the chase: Yes, cruise ships are generally safe as long as you use common sense and remember that vessels are not impervious to accidents, illness or people who just don't know how to behave.

How rare is a cruise ship sinking? ›

The odds of a cruise ship sinking are extremely low. Only 11 ocean cruise ships have sunk while on a cruise in the last 50 years. Assuming an average of 100 sailings per ship per year, and an average of 150 cruise ships in that time, that is odds of 1 in 68,000.

Do people jump overboard on cruises? ›

In reality, one or two people go overboard each month out of roughly 2.5 million who cruise during the same time frame.

What is the longest someone has been stranded in the ocean? ›

José Salvador Alvarenga holds the record for the longest solo survival at sea. He was adrift for 438 days, and traveled over 6,700 miles.

How far down in the water does a cruise ship sit? ›

Approximately 30 feet (9 meters) of the average large cruise ship sits underwater, but as you'll see below, there are more understandable ways to measure this.

What is the code Charlie on a cruise ship? ›

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie is the code for a security threat aboard Royal Caribbean ships and the code for upcoming helicopter winch operations aboard c-bed accommodation vessels. Code Blue usually means a medical emergency. Delta, Delta, Delta is the code for a possible bio-hazard among some cruise lines.

Are there cops on cruise ships? ›

There are no police on a cruise ship. Everyone from passenger to crew is subject to the control of the master or captain who answers only to the cruise line. The cruise line industry has orchestrated a public campaign to mislead the vacationing public here and abroad about the risk of crime and dangers at sea.

What is the safest part of a cruise ship? ›

If seasickness is a worry of yours, the best way to avoid that is getting a room in the center of the ship. As cruise ships tend to bob on waves and slightly roll from side to side, the heart of the ship is its only part that stays virtually in the same place.

What was the most fatal cruise ship accident? ›

The sinking of RMS Titanic in April 1912 remains the worst, and the most infamous, cruise ship disaster in history. The sinking of the biggest passenger ship ever built at the time resulted in the death of more than 1,500 of the 2,208 people onboard.

What disease spreads on cruise ships? ›

Norovirus—a common cause of foodborne illness—is a regular passenger on cruise ships. When infected by norovirus, you're likely to experience diarrhea and vomiting. (Here are other symptoms of norovirus infection.) It's not that the kitchen crew isn't following food safety guidelines.

What happens if there is a storm while on a cruise? ›

In a cruise ship, a captain can sail the ship out of the way of a storm. Cruises lines have a meteorologist working with the staff who is there to predict any uncertainty in the weather. Their skills make it easier for the captain to sail out on time.

What do cruise ships do if there is a hurricane? ›

Cruise companies follow the weather very carefully, changing itineraries, canceling sailings, and working hard to keep passengers and crew out of harm's way. Millions of cruisers are in the Caribbean on dozens of ships during the hurricane season, which roughly runs from the start of June until the end of November.

What to do if you fall in ocean? ›

What can you do after falling overboard?
  1. Do not panic. Float on your back to keep your face above water and conserve your energy. ...
  2. Avoid moving about to keep warm, which could expend more body heat. Pull your knees to your chest or assume a fetal position to conserve your body heat.
  3. Try to keep a positive attitude.
Nov 3, 2017

Can you be charged for crime on a cruise ship? ›

However, cruise ships are not places where the law ceases to exist. Crimes occur at sea, and when they do, there are consequences. One question many people don't know the answer to is if you can get arrested on a cruise ship. The simple answer is yes.

What is the jail on a cruise ship called? ›

If you wonder whether cruise ships have jails, the answer is yes. Jails are called brigs on a cruise ship and tend only to be used in serious circumstances when no other options are available. Cabin arrest is typically used before the brig is needed.

What happened to the woman that jumped off the cruise ship? ›

The body of a 36-year-old woman who fell from a cruise ship was recovered on Thursday morning off the coast of Florida. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the woman's body was recovered about 18 miles from the shore of Port Canaveral after she went overboard from the cruise ship MSC Meraviglia.

Do people get trafficked on cruises? ›

Human trafficking may also occur in cruising, and cruise ship crime is common. Ship workers, who are notoriously paid low wages, are even paid off by people who can withhold their pay or pay workers less than they expect to receive in order to force them to commit crimes.

Has anyone gone missing on a Carnival Cruise? ›

US Coast Guard rescues Carnival Cruise ship passenger reported missing in Gulf of Mexico | CNN.

Where do they keep abandoned cruise ships? ›

Decommissioned ships are almost always sent to one of two scrapyards. The largest is Alang, located in India's Gulf of Khambhat, which recycles more than half of the world's decommissioned cruise ships. The second largest is Aliaga in Turkey.

What is the longest a child has been missing? ›

Marjorie West is a 4 year old American child who went missing from McKean County, Pennsylvania on May 8, 1938.
Disappearance of Marjorie West.
Marjorie West
Portrait of 4-year-old Marjorie West
BornJune 2, 1933 Bradford, Pennsylvania
DisappearedMay 8, 1938 (4 years old) McKean County, Pennsylvania
StatusMissing for 84 years, 11 months and 20 days
3 more rows

Was Amy Lynn Bradley ever found? ›

Amy Lynn Bradley was declared legally dead on 24 March 2010, twelve years after the disappearance with no witnesses and no body found.

How many females are missing in the United States? ›

Number of NCIC missing persons files in the United States in 2021, by age and gender
Under 21163,386194,673
21 and over100,49262,552
Mar 31, 2022

How many Americans go missing on cruises? ›

Approximately 400 people have gone missing from cruise ships in the past 20 years. While this is no cause for general alarm, given that approximately 30 million people take cruise ship vacations each year, it is still a dangerous and concerning statistic.

Who was the girl missing on the Disney cruise ship? ›

Rebecca Coriam (born 11 March 1987) was a British crewmember on the cruise ship Disney Wonder who disappeared from the ship 22 March 2011. She was captured by CCTV in the crew lounge in the morning of 22 March, having a phone conversation that appeared to be causing her some emotional difficulty.

Do people go missing on Disney Cruises? ›

On March 22, 2011, while working aboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship off the coast of Mexico, 24-year-old Rebecca Coriam suddenly disappeared.

What is the fastest turn to recover a person fell overboard? ›

Anderson Turn/Single Turn: This is the fastest recovery method. It is most appropriate turn for ship in clear visibility. In case of this turn, rudder is put hard over to the side of the casualty.

How long can you survive overboard? ›

Survive at Sea FAQ

Without food and drinking water, a person stranded at sea will most likely not be able to survive for more than three days.

What is the first thing you must do if you see a person fall overboard? ›

If someone else falls overboard

Slow down immediately. Throw the person a lifejacket or marker immediately – if you lose sight of them this will help you find them. Warn approaching vessels.

What is the best way to recover a person overboard? ›

sound the alarm, turn bow in the direction of the person overboard, stop engines, throw a buoyant object to assist the person and mark the position. assign one person to constantly keep the person in the water in sight. manoeuvre the vessel carefully to pick the person up.

What is the biggest danger to life? ›

The five biggest threats to our natural world … and how we can...
  • Changes in land and sea use.
  • Direct exploitation of natural resources.
  • The climate crisis.
  • Pollution.
  • Invasive species.
Oct 14, 2021

What side do you pick up a man overboard? ›

Then pick the victim up on the leeward (down wind) side of the boat There are three benefits to doing it this way. This protects the victim from the wind and the waves. The leeward side is usually the lowest side to the water. Using this side will make it easier to get the victim back onboard.

How many people survive falling overboard? ›

If the ship does not get to the fellow passenger who has fallen overboard, the deadly sea gulps them down. At times, with lower seawater temperatures, hypothermia kicks in, while in warm waters, deadly sharks are in danger. Only 17% to 25% of the fallen passengers make it out alive and live to tell their tales.

What happens if someone jumps off a cruise ship? ›

If a passenger jumps off of a cruise ship, the ship will stop as soon as it's alerted and make a turn to begin searching for them in the water. This can take several hours and often requires the help of passengers looking from their balconies as well as nearby cruise ships and vessels.

What should 20 the person on board whoever sees a person fall overboard do immediately? ›

2. What should a person do if one sees a man overboard? The person who sees a man overboard should raise the alarm and shout 'man overboard!

How often do sailors fall overboard? ›

Overboard statistics

Since 2000, 284 people have gone overboard or fallen off cruise ships and a further 41 have fallen off large ferries. In any given month, approximately two people go overboard and between 17 percent and 25 percent are rescued.

What do you throw to a man overboard? ›

Lifebuoy Light

The lifebuoys are designed to be thrown into the water to a person to prevent drowning. When a man is overboard, the crewmembers of the ship release a lifebuoy. These lifebuoys have to be easily accessible and placed on both sides of the ship.

What is the most crucial moment for a successful recovery of a man overboard? ›

Safely Turning the Boat Around and Returning to the PIW

The Quick Stop method highlights the ultimate goal of man overboard recovery: stay as near to the swimmer as possible. But you have to do this maneuver safely so that you can successfully complete the rescue.

What is used to recover unconscious person at sea? ›

Body Hook & Clamping Float. The yellow clamping float is the main flotation device for use with our telescopic rescue poles. It will support the pole across even the roughest sea, acting as buoyancy aid. The body hook enables quick and accurate retrieval of a man overboard, whether they are conscious or unconscious.


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