Cruise Ship Passengers Are Going Overboard, But Is It Actually An Easy Mistake To Make?

Millions of travelers set out on cruises each year. In most cases, they sail for days before returning home unscathed. But for an unlucky few, they don't make it to disembarkation day without a scary fall into the water. It might sound unlikely, but people falling overboard on cruises isn't unheard of. In fact, 19 cruisers on average fall off their ships each year, according to a CLIA Global report. There's even a secret code word designated for overboard incidents.

But is falling overboard an accident that can happen to anyone? Or is it an easily avoidable mishap? Before you rethink your next cruise vacation, our expert insists it's rare for someone to accidentally fall off the ship. In our exclusive interview, Don Bucolo, senior editor at, explained that barriers are in place to keep sailers safe. "It is doubtful that someone would accidentally fall off a cruise ship. All outdoor decks contain tall rails that would prevent someone from falling over, even if the ship is greatly listing (i.e., leaning toward one side)," he shared. Extra plexiglass walls are also installed on higher decks, Bucolo noted.

Additionally, the cruise line's muster drill — the safety exercise carried out at the beginning of each cruise — provides guests with the rules and instructions needed to stay safe. "These precautions include warnings never to climb outdoor railings and to be cautious when walking on outdoor decks in windy or inclement weather," the cruise insider revealed.

Why do some people fall overboard on cruises?

You can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that it's not likely you or a loved one will fall overboard on your next cruise adventure. Still, that leaves the question: Why do 19 or so people hit the water each year? Don Bucolo says that negligence, alcohol consumption, and "horseplay" are common factors.

The expert shared, "While rough sea conditions and bad weather can increase the likelihood of someone going overboard, individuals often accidentally go overboard as they do not adhere to cruise ship policy and procedures." In other words, remain indoors during extreme weather as instructed by the crew, unless you want to risk taking a tumble. It's also crucial to be careful after imbibing at the onboard bar. "Alcohol consumption can be a contributing factor, especially if it is late at night and cruisers are already tired," Bucolo explained. "Late at night and early in the morning, the outdoor decks do become wet and slippery, so cruisers should pay extra attention when traversing these decks, as [cruisers] are more likely to slip or lose balance."

Whether you've consumed alcohol or not, it's also a good idea to refrain from climbing on furniture and safety barriers. The editor noted that attempting to scale the railings, including on the private cruise ship verandas, is extremely dangerous. You could even be removed from the ship at the next port of call for doing so.

If someone falls, a quick rescue is key

Seeing someone go overboard on a cruise — or, worse, being the one to accidentally take a plunge into the water — can be a scary and traumatic experience. Thankfully, Don Bucolo says that overboard incidents can have a happy ending. "During the ship's muster drill, the crew will provide instructions if cruisers see someone go overboard," he shared. "Cruisers should stay put, yell 'man overboard,' and point at the individual in the water. If a life preserver is nearby, they should attempt to throw it to the individual." Following these instructions and keeping an eye on the person in the water can assist in a successful rescue.

Bucolo also revealed that cruise ships have thermal or radar cameras designed to detect unusual objects in the water, including a person who fell from the ship. Once the cameras detect a passenger, the ship navigators are promptly alerted. "These systems enable the crew to respond swiftly and change course to begin a search for the individual," said Bucolo. With the right steps and a speedy response, a man overboard situation doesn't have to result in tragedy.