Consequences of Falling Off a Cruise Ship: Emergency Search and Rescue Efforts Initiated

Falling off a cruise ship: Cruise ships have chest-high railings encircling the passenger decks, making it extremely impossible to fall from one, yet accidents do happen. Two weeks ago, American teenager Sigmund Ropich dove off the side of Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, as it was sailing off the coast of Cuba after leaving Port Canaveral, Florida.

Similar to previous incidents involving hoverboards, the ship initiated a formal search and rescue operation. This entails circling the passenger’s place of entry into the ocean and having the ship’s crew search the area for several hours. The closest maritime authorities are notified, as are other nearby ships, to offer assistance.

Ropich, who had been on vacation with pals, is still missing, and after three days, the search was called off. The lack of man overboard (MOB) detection devices, which immediately sound the alert on the bridge if someone falls into the water using thermal cameras and micro radars, has drawn criticism from some observers. There are just a few cruise ships equipped with this equipment.

Cruise Junkie, a website, reports that between 2000 and 2021, 373 passengers and staff members fell overboard from cruise ships and ferries; 2019 had the highest number of overboard incidents, with 29. This year, Ropich was the fifteenth person to go overboard.

Every year, between 20 and 25 people go overboard. However, the likelihood of jumping overboard on a cruise ship is less than 1 in 1.3 million, even with nearly 30 million passengers sailing each year.

What Happens When Someone Falls Off a Cruise Ship?

Cruise lines adhere to emergency protocols in the extremely unlikely scenario that an individual overboard.

When a cruise ship guest falls off, the ship will record the fall’s position and return to look for the person. Passengers and adjacent vessels may be involved in the search, which might take several hours.

In terms of safety protocols, the crew adheres to the International Maritime Association’s recommendations.

Other nearby ships may assist in the ensuing search and rescue effort, and the US Coast Guard and local authorities may dispatch planes or helicopters to aid in the search.

Whether a fellow passenger saw the fall or the crew was notified by the ship’s man-overboard system determines the precise protocols. Time is critical if a passenger or crew member falls overboard.

The likelihood of saving the person is significantly reduced if a fall is not noticed and reported right after.

The duration of a search has no time restriction. As long as there is a chance that the individual is still alive, search operations often continue.

When a passenger jumps overboard, cruise ships may do the following:

It Tracks the Location

Lido deck on a cruise ship, what is a lido deck, what can you do on a lido deck
(Credit: Cruise Blog)

Marking the fall’s location is the crew’s top priority. It takes cruise ships a long distance to halt or reduce their speed to a level where they can be turned around safely.

To indicate the fall’s position visibly, crew members will hurl a life ring into the ocean.

Determining the passenger’s fall-over point is essential to establishing the search’s beginning point.

However, when the ship returns, a passenger can end up traveling a great distance from where they started due to ocean currents and waves.

On a cruise ship, a megaphone announcement will be used to alert the crew in case of emergency.
Over the loudspeakers, the ship will notify the crew about the situation.

Cruise ship employees are trained to respond swiftly to crises. Regular man-overboard drills are part of their training so they are constantly ready for the worst.

To avoid any misunderstandings or fears, the captain alerts passengers in advance when the crew is doing a man-overboard drill.

When someone falls overboard, cruise ships employ the code “Oscar Oscar Oscar” to alert the crew. In the event of an incident, the skipper will declare the code and disseminate it throughout the ship.

No incidents of tourists falling overboard on a cruise come to mind. But aside from the code that is broadcast throughout the ship, passengers on cruise ships are rarely given much information.

Cruise Lines Will Notify the Correct Authorities

(Credit: iStock)

As soon as feasible, the cruise company will get in touch with the relevant authorities. Local law enforcement and the US Coast Guard will frequently aid in the hunt.

Naturally, the response is contingent upon the ship’s location and proximity to land.

If a US citizen is reported missing, the cruise line will alert the FBI. If the man overboard incident is suspected of being the result of foul play and there are no witnesses or video recordings of the act, the FBI may decide to look into what led up to it.

The cruise ship will notify local authorities to investigate if necessary when events happen on international seas or at the port.

Assume the cruise line possesses video or eyewitness testimony that disproves foul play. If so, unless a family member requests otherwise, the FBI may decide not to look into the events that led up to the tragedy.

There is always at least one employee on board a cruise line who has received training in gathering and analyzing evidence. Until the FBI or local authorities can take over, this professionally trained staff member will handle the matter.

The victim’s whereabouts and previous activities will be questioned by the cruise line by family members and witnesses.

The vessel will reverse course, and more vessels will support the exploration.
Off the coast of Bimini, Bahamas, two Princess Cruises cruise ships are in open water exchanging provisions and shifting crew.
A cruise ship can take more than a mile, according to most estimates, to halt or slow down sufficiently to do a safe turnabout.

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Cruise ships can’t stop as quickly as an automobile and move at about 22 knots.

The amount of time it takes cruise ships to stop and reverse course could indicate that the individual who went overboard has moved and is now somewhere else. This delay makes search efforts even more challenging.

The cruise ship will also request assistance from other nearby vessels in the search. Not only cruise ships, though, will assist.

All types of vessels will join the search when a passenger goes overboard to improve the chances of discovering the missing person. Convoys and cargo ships in the area will help in the search.

If the lost individual is close enough to land, smaller boats, helicopters, and planes might be able to assist.

What Happens If You Fall Overboard on a Cruise Ship?

(Credit: DAN Boater)

The cruise liner will start emergency procedures if someone goes overboard. To locate the missing passenger, crew members will toss life preservers to indicate the spot, and the ship will pause and head back to the accident scene.

Cruise ships may ask other neighboring vessels to help in the search for the missing passenger after spending many hours looking for them.

Cruise ships may need to stop or slow down for up to a mile before they can turn around safely.

A study commissioned by Cruise Lines International found that about 28% of the 212 individuals who fell overboard were.

The location, the weather, and the time of day are just a few factors that affect the likelihood of survival.

How Can Individuals Fall From Cruise Ships?

Passengers most frequently fall from cruise ships in the following ways:

  • Intentionally committing suicide
  • Passengers under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Guests committing reckless acts (balcony hopping or hanging from the railing)
  • Murder – Someone deliberately pushing a passenger overboard
  • Accidental falls

Passengers do not typically “fall” off ships. Most guests can reach the reasonably high railings on cruise ships at least chest height.

There haven’t been any documented instances of cruise ship negligence resulting in passenger falls overboard up until this point.

People that go overboard usually do so on purpose or as a result of acting recklessly.

While there are numerous situations where the circumstances are unknown, cruise ship security cameras frequently record proof that many falls are purposeful.

How Many Individuals Suicide from Cruise Ships?

Every year, between 20 to 25 people jump off cruise ships. Since a man overboard incident can occur on any ship, anywhere in the globe, the US government does not keep track of how many occur on cruise ships.

There is a very small probability of falling from a cruise ship, with over 30 million passengers sailing each year.

According to the top trade association for the cruise industry, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), there is one fall for every 1.3 million passengers.

It’s crucial to remember that the figures can be higher because the media or cruise lines might not always report them.

The annual number of passengers who fall from cruise ships is displayed in the table below, along with the total number of passengers who travel on passenger ferries and cruise ships. Cruise Junkie compiled the numbers.

Year Passengers and Crew Overboard Incidents Cruise and Ferry Passengers During the Year
2019 32 29,700,000
2018 26 28,500,000
2017 17 26,700,000
2016 16 25,200,000
2015 24 23,100,000

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How Many People Make It Out of a Cruise Ship Fall?

Regretfully, most cases result in death. Roughly 72% of man-overboard accidents end in fatalities. Approximately 28% of cases end in survival.

The following factors influence the probability of survival:

  • The height of the fall
  • Ocean temperature
  • Ocean currents
  • Injury on impact with the water
  • Injury from hitting the ship during the fall
  • The time of day
  • Maritime conditions and the height of the waves
  • Whether the passenger is intoxicated
  • Whether the passenger can swim
The impact of the water can cause trauma due to the height of the fall. Standing eighteen stories tall, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas is the largest cruise ship in the world. That height could result in fatalities or very serious injuries from a fall.
A person who jumped off a cruise ship risked dying quickly if they struck the boat while falling or were pulled under the propellers. In addition, the body may have a paralyzing cold shock reaction in frigid ocean conditions.

Other dangers include hypothermia and being pulled beneath the ship’s propellers.

The weather can affect search efforts in several ways, including wave height, sunlight, time of day, and maritime currents.

Cruise ships can slow down by up to one mile. Passengers may have really bad luck during this time. Furthermore, the individual may not be in the same location when the ship returns.

The crew may not be aware that a passenger has fallen overboard for several hours if no one is around to witness the incident.

Safety procedures require that the crew note the ship’s position as soon as they are informed of a man-overboard incident. This allows them to return to the scene and start a search.

There’s no way of knowing where the incident happened if hours go by before the crew is notified. If you don’t know where to begin your search, your chances of surviving are slim.

Remember that most cruise guests don’t worry about falling overboard because the likelihood of this happening is quite low.

You shouldn’t have to worry about falling off a cruise ship, as long as you’re not careless.

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