How Should Passengers Prepare for a Cruise Ship Injury or Illness at Sea?

cruise ship injury or illness

Every year, around 17 million people board cruise ships with the promise of adventure.  Unfortunately, many of these travelers will find out that there are risks in taking a cruise.  Cruise ship injury or illness is the most striking risk.  Cruise ship incidents happen far more often than those related to equipment, mechanics or weather.

So, how should passengers prepare for the possibility of a cruise ship injury or illness? Experts suggest travelers be realistic and take time to research before boarding.

How Common is Cruise Ship Injury or Illness?

Did you know that all cruise ships have a morgue onboard? As macabre as that sounds, imagine what would happen if the ship did not have this feature.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there were 189 deaths on board cruise ships in 2018.  While these deaths are spread across multiple ships and locations, it is still significant.

Data across several sources report the following additional cruise ship safety statistics:

  • There have been at least 448 major cruise ship accidents since 2005.
  • Norovirus is the most common cause of cruise ship illness. Each year, around 56,000 people are hospitalized due to the illness.
  • Approximately 19 people fall overboard cruise ship decks each year.
  • In 2018, there were 11 outbreaks onboard cruise ships. These outbreaks included Norovirus, Rotavirus,  E. coli and Campylobacter.
  • In 2019, there have been 57 criminal incidents, including 33 sexual assaults among passengers.
  • From 2010 to 2013, 15 cruise vessels sank.

Most of us hear the stories about horrible outbreaks of disease or accidents that affect the entire ship.  For example, in January 2019, one of the largest ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet became a floating sickbed for 561 passengers onboard who fell ill with Norovirus.  Similar illnesses are fairly common on cruise ships due to the contagious nature of the virus and the close quarters of passengers and crew.

What we hear less about are the individual accidents, injuries and illnesses that affect travelers.  Nonetheless, if you are planning to take a cruise, you should be aware that accidents, injuries and outbreaks do happen.  Being informed can help you prepare and make the best choices for you and your family.

Research the Cruise Ship’s Medical Accommodations

Before paying a deposit for a cruise, do some research beyond what the marketing materials tell you.  Does the ship have a doctor onboard? What about emergency medical accommodations? Most cruise ships will have some form of medical center or clinic, but they are not prepared to manage serious injuries or illnesses.

There are regulations for cruise ships that require they have medical personnel onboard, with someone available at all hours.  Cruise ships that dock in the United States are generally required to have overnight accommodations, equipment for processing lab tests, vital sign systems, an intensive care room and medications.  This might influence your choice of cruise ship knowing that certain cruise lines and ships may be better equipped than others.

Realize there are Limitations to Care

Even if a cruise ship has standard equipment and facilities, there are still limitations to care.  If you suffer a cruise ship injury or illness, you may discover that there are no specialists or specialized equipment onboard.  This can put a dramatic end to your journey.  Ken Carver, who is chairman of the nonprofit group International Cruise Victims warns travelers of the following limitations:

  • Doctors on cruise ships are generally not specialists. Many are not even qualified as emergency care doctors.
  • Medical centers and clinics on ships generally have certain operating hours. There may be someone available at all hours, but the clinic itself may not be.
  • Some doctors who work on cruise ships are not fluent in English. This hinders a patient’s ability to get adequate care.
  • If you require a higher level of care, you may find that the cruise line wants to drop you off at the next port destination in order to get care. Realize that your location may mean a lack of adequate care.

Just like if you go to urgent care for a serious medical issue, you may find that onboard a cruise ship, you need more specialized care.  In these cases, you may end up at a hospital in a foreign place, or traveling back to the U.S.  In either case, your plans are interrupted and you may be out of pocket a great deal of money.

How to Prepare for a Cruise Ship Injury or Illness

Of course, there is no real way to prepare for a cruise ship injury or illness to occur.  But what you can do is be prepared by knowing what to expect if an incident occurs.  Take these steps to avoid challenges if an accident, injury or illness does occur:

Be Your Own Best Investigator

If you suffer an accident that causes injury or illness, take careful steps to document the situation.  If possible, take photos of the scene where the accident happened.  For example, in a slip and fall accident you want to take pictures of the hazard (i.e.  the slippery surface, torn carpet, etc.).  If you see a doctor, document the cause of the injury and keep copies of any visit summaries or medical records.

Be Careful What You Say

If you are injured due to a cruise ship injury or illness, be very careful about what you say to cruise staff.  Sometimes cruise lines will ask questions about fault or what you could have done to prevent the situation.  If they ask, choose not to answer.

Talk to Your Insurance Provider Before Embarking on a Cruise

Some health insurance policies work while on a cruise, but some don’t.  Check with your insurance provider before boarding to make sure your insurance will cover any cruise ship injury or illness.

Consider Getting Travel Insurance

Most people forego travel insurance and see it as a scam to get more money.  In reality, travel insurance can save travelers a lot of money if an injury or illness occurs.  Large cruise lines like Carnival offer travel insurance that is relatively inexpensive ($49-$189 per person) compared to the cost of an emergency air evacuation which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

By being realistic and knowing what to expect, you can better plan for your voyage at sea.  Take the time to understand the risks and limitations onboard a cruise ship before making a decision about which cruise to take.

Get Help with a Cruise Ship Injury or Illness Claim

If you are the victim of a cruise ship injury or illness and need to know more about your legal rights, contact Maritime Injury Guide.  You have rights and we can help you protect them.  Call us at 1-866-871-8422 or fill out our free injury consultation form.