Monday, January 16, 2012

Public Service Announcement #3 - The Costa Disaster, Annoying Idiots, and Cruise Safety Tips

NCL lifeboat drill for crew, Bermuda. Passenger drill took place before sail in NYC

Standing on deck, beneath those great funnels, I prepare for what I know is coming.  And yet I always startle, my throat closes with fear and sadness, and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Seven thunderous short blasts, one long. 

It's the General Emergency Alarm.  Prepare to abandon ship.



I know, I know,  my PSAs are usually humorous and this one is not. Sue me.

I won't go into details on the Costa disaster, as you're probably familiar with them. I was surprised to hear that a lifeboat drill had not taken place when new passengers boarded at a port of call. (Apparently they conducted one at the initial departure port, but not at subsequent ports.) I can guess one reason they might not have done so..

Because it would annoy all of the rest of the passengers who had previously boarded and drilled. Sounds silly, doesn't it?  

I've been on several cruises, as have some of my friends and relatives.  From an impromptu survey, every one of us had attended a mandatory drill on board ship prior to or shortly after getting underway.  (Lines were Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity.)  Since we didn't pick up additional passengers en route, there was just the initial drill.

When you're dealing with 2500 to 4500 passengers, it's no small matter to get them to their evacuation points on deck, line them up, check that they're wearing life vests, and count heads.  What makes it even more difficult is the fact that a large portion of those people are chatting, drinking, grumbling, blowing the whistles on their vests, milling about, complaining that it's hot/cold/boring, etc. Attendants have to check all cabins for people who are hiding or ignoring the drill, reluctant to leave the food or bar, sleeping, sick, in the bathroom, incapacitated in some way...

...and so I can imagine how much of a furor there would be if a ship which embarked passengers at multiple ports  conducted a drill each and every time.  Because the fact of the matter is that some passengers feel safe enough, (or silly enough) to blow off the exercise, disrupt those around them, and even become put out that they have to spend precious leisure time going through the motions.  I'm guessing that cruise lines will now tighten up procedures more than ever, and (hopefully) passengers will be more inclined to happily participate, even if it means multiple drills.

On a related note:  My husband and I were aboard a ship bound for Bermuda;  due to a tropical storm (which developed into a hurricane) we were diverted to Canada.  It was fall, we were all more or less packed for the tropics, it would be cold up there, and we had no guarantee what trips/facilities would be available at the ports of call, since they weren't expecting 2000 tourists in town. (Thank you to the people of St. John's, who scrambled to accommodate us, welcomed us with a red carpet and band [seriously, they had a red carpet!] and sold us warm clothing without marking it up and gouging us.) Although many of us took the itinerary change with good humor, there were others who complained, swore, threatened to sue the cruise line, and were generally nasty the whole trip.  Would they have preferred the Captain sail into the heart of a hurricane? Thank goodness the shrieking of the few didn't overpower the common sense of the cruise line.

The main point of this post (yes there is one) is not to point blame or re-hash the details of the Costa sinking. That's up to the media and the courts.  It's more a rabid reminder that when safety drills are conducted, you might want to pay attention. Quit updating your status and viewing videos of talking cats. Don't be an annoying idiot and wear your life vest as a hat or jock strap.  Don't moan about the fact that you haven't eaten in like an hour. 

It's not a joke. 

A few hints and reminders if you've never cruised and in case you DO miss out on a lifeboat drill:

1.  Your cabin should have life jackets with full instructions on how to wear them properly. Find them as soon as you get into your cabin. (You may pee first if you must.) Try it on BEFORE the drill, and wear it per instructions during the drill. Yes, it's often hot and acutely uncomfortable wearing them on deck, (and not a fashion statement by any stretch) but do you really want to figure it out in pitch black darkness?

2.  Your cabin should have a map on the back of your cabin door showing evacuation stations (with yours prominently marked). Know where it is and how to get there, along with at least one other alternate route/exit point.  KNOW WHERE YOUR CABIN IS IN RELATION TO THE OPEN DECKS

3.  Got kids?  Make sure you have life jackets to fit them. There should be infant/toddler jackets available.  If they are not already in your room, ASK!

4.  All necessary meds should be in an easily carried bag, pouch etc. and kept in the same place where you can easily find it and hopefully grab it.  However, DON'T spend precious time scrambling around trying to save valuables and things in an emergency. They aren't that valuable if you don't live to enjoy them later.

5.  Pack a flashlight and keep it handy!  Few people seem to do this when they travel, but you'll be darned glad you have it should the lights go out, no matter where or how you're traveling.

Nervous?  Don't be. Panic is your worst enemy. (Actually, other people in a panic are your worst enemy.) Have a game plan;  review escape routes BEFORE figuring out where the casino, bars and game rooms are located;  pay attention to security procedures;  trust your instincts.  And remember, it's far more dangerous to cross a busy street than it is to sail the seas.


  1. Hey, I'm always Mr. Safety - I will pay attention!
    And people were really upset your cruise wasn't sailing into a hurricane? Hey, no one can control the weather - deal with it, people.

    1. Strange but true. Of course, had they actually read their ticketing info, they would have found out that itinerary can change due to severe weather, catastrophe, war, etc.

  2. Shared all over the place. Hope people take your precautions to heart.

    1. Thanks Stu. A few might, most probably won't :-)

  3. Great advice Stuart even if it is fiction

    1. Thanks for stopping by Roberta. It's actually creative non-fiction; everything here is true.

      Hmmmm...I guess I should put a disclaimer up when I write non-fiction, since it confuses people.

  4. I've never been on a cruise, but my goodness! Those are some great tips! I hope there isn't another disaster like this one anytime soon.

    1. I hope not either. No matter how many precautions are taken, it's still virtually impossible to eliminate the chance of human error.

  5. A lot of good sense packed in here. However, the likelihood of my cruising anywhere but round the local shops, is negligible, I'd say! LOL

  6. Well, if there's a sale going on, one might need to take safety precautions to avoid being pushed, trod upon, etc....

  7. And if you have a busty mother-in-law with you make certain the PFD will fit over her chest. Seriously this happened to me. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  8. Thanks for the good, solid advice Lisa...I only cruised once, uneventfully thank goodness. But knowing the safety rules is always important. I still listen every time the flight attendant gives the safety speech, even though I have heard it a thousand times... :D

  9. Excellent advice, Lisa. If I ever go on a cruise, I'll know all my escape routes, wear my life vest at all times, and put a "Reserved for Nate Wilson" sign in every lifeboat, to ensure I get a seat.

    Oh, and since you told us to, I'm suing you for posting an unfunny PSA. You can expect to hear from my lawyers.