Why Do Cruise Ships Have Helipads?

Why do cruise ships have helipads? There’s nothing more soothing than spending a few days on a cruise to replenish your energies before getting back to your hectic schedule.

While the crisp air and glistening ocean are generally enough to enthrall everyone, you could be wondering something entirely else: Why do cruise ships have helipads?

On a cruise liner, the helipad is utilized for emergency evacuations, which are often saved for medical situations. Though they don’t often land on the helipad, helicopters can hover over it to transfer passengers to the safety of the aircraft because of the free space above it.

Why Do Cruise Ships Have Helipads?

The primary function of a helipad aboard a cruise liner is to allow clear access for rescue helicopters in the event of an emergency.

When someone needs to be immediately evacuated from a ship and taken to a medical center, helipads are most frequently employed in medical crises.

Contrary to popular belief, cruise ships rarely have helicopters land on their helipads. Rather, a secure area for the helicopter to hover while the person is lifted into the helicopter via a basket is provided by the open space above the helipad.

The fastest method of evacuating a passenger is to hoist them into the air because it takes a lot longer for a helicopter to safely land on a moving vessel. Furthermore, swells and waves may make it dangerous for helicopters to try a helipad landing.

However, a helicopter cannot handle situations where every passenger must be evacuated, like a fire or sinking. It will take an eternity to evacuate hundreds or thousands of people from a cruise liner by helicopter.

The main means of evacuation for a large number of people in an emergency is the lifeboat on a cruise liner.

Helicopters as Effective Rescue Structures

(Credit: Drift Travel Magazine)

But why, exactly, are helipads necessary on the majority of cruise ships? Why is there no area of the ship where a helicopter can hover?

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It all comes down to where and how a helipad is built.

The helipad is normally found near the front of the ship, in a private area. It may not be quite big enough to accommodate a large helicopter, but it still leaves enough room for the rescue.

Furthermore, the lights on helipads are not as bright as those throughout the ship. The helicopter captain can see where they need to descend their craft because of the dim lighting, which prevents glare from impairing their eyesight.

Why Don’t Most Helicopters Land on the Helipads of Cruise Ships?

Helipad on cruise
(Credit: High seas Cruising)

The fact that most rescue helicopters don’t land on cruise ship helipads might surprise some people. Instead, with the assistance of a qualified medical team, they will hover over the helipads and use a winch to pull the passengers who require rescue.

However, why does that occur?

It appears that landing a helicopter aboard a cruise liner carries some risk. Here’s why:

 Too Big and Too Heavy for Helicopters

To begin with, the majority of cruise ships are not built to support a helicopter’s weight. A helicopter must weigh less than 10,000 pounds to land on a ship’s helipad safely.

But you’ll discover that the majority of rescue helicopters weigh between 8,000 and 23,000 pounds. When one considers the weight of the crew, fuel, and rescue gear, those figures increase significantly.

In addition, to land on a level surface, a rescue helicopter typically needs around 75 feet of space in all directions.

Naturally, a helipad aboard a cruise ship that size is hard to come by. To carry more people, the ship owners would prefer to utilize as much space as possible!

Numerous Difficulties on the Cruise Ship

The fact that helipads are frequently encircled by furniture, antennae, wires, lighting, etc., is another reason why helicopters never land on them. The ship’s crew must remove all of these items to make room for a helicopter to land on a helipad.

Staying in the air, far from anything obstructing a helicopter’s path, is far easier.

Remember that the rotor wash will be stronger the closer a helicopter is to a helipad. People on board the ship may find this dangerous, as the high wind could force any objects in the area into the air, increasing the chance of mishaps.

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It’s Tough to Line Up a Helicopter and a Pitching Ship

Last but not least, keep in mind that landing directly above a cruise liner will be quite challenging for even the most experienced helicopter pilots.

It is dangerous to line a helicopter with a rolling or pitching ship, especially in these circumstances. If the rescue effort is carried out at night, it will be far more difficult.

Even for a highly skilled pilot, landing on a new ship can be challenging in and of itself.

Can Passengers on Cruise Ships Access Helipads?

From the helipad, a view of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship

The majority of cruise ships let guests use their helipads for a stroll and an unparalleled view of the sky and water. You can use that on your upcoming cruise!

On a cruise ship, a helipad is a must-see location because it’s located away from areas that are typically busy with people and activity. Thus, you can appreciate how serene and calm it is, particularly at night.

Even better, there isn’t a lot of light on helipads. It’s the best place to observe the stars if your cruise ship has a passenger-only helipad.

Because I’m from a sizable city, I was astounded at how many stars there were in the sky. I saw a shooting star and many stars while sitting beneath the helipad aboard Freedom of the Seas.

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