When Must Lifeboat Drills Be Held?
According to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention, which was enacted after the Titanic sinking, all cruise ships must hold lifeboat drills, also called passenger musters or muster drills, within 24 hours of departure from port. In the wake of the 2012 Costa Concordia disaster the Cruise Lines International Association and European Cruise Council have agreed to implement stricter rules, requiring lifeboat drills to be held before the ship leaves port. If passengers embark after the drill has taken place, they will receive a special safety briefing, either in a group or on an individual basis as conditions dictate.
What Happens During a Lifeboat Drill?
Typically, a lifeboat drill includes a demonstration of how to properly put on and secure a life jacket, an explanation of what to do in case of an emergency, a demonstration of the emergency alarm (seven short tones and one long), an overview of evacuation and lifeboat embarkation procedures and a discussion of muster stations and how to find them. (A muster station is the place where designated groups of passengers meet in case evacuation by lifeboat becomes necessary.) Some cruise lines require passengers to bring life jackets from their staterooms and put them on at their muster stations, while others simply explain how life jackets should be worn. In some cases, crew members responsible for each lifeboat introduce themselves and explain their duties. In others, passengers assemble in the ship's theater and watch a safety video.
Who Must Attend a Lifeboat Drill?
Every passenger must attend the muster drill, no matter how many times they have cruised. While this might seem, from the experienced cruiser's perspective, to be a waste of time, it is essential to the safety of everyone on board. Every stateroom is assigned a specific muster station, and the only way to know where to go and what to do in case of a disaster is to attend the drill and find out where your muster station is located. On some cruise lines, crew members call roll at each muster station. On others, public spaces and staterooms are searched for stragglers while the lifeboat drill takes place. Some cruise lines have been known to deal harshly with passengers who attempt to evade the lifeboat drill; if you attempt to skip it, you will eventually be found, and you will be responsible for making your fellow passengers wait for your arrival (which they will not appreciate if they are standing in the sun wearing life jackets). You may even be put off your ship.
Wheelchair and scooter users should talk with their stateroom attendant or another crew member before the lifeboat drill takes place. During the drill, the ship's elevators will most likely be shut down, and this means that transit between decks will be difficult. Depending on the cruise line, wheelchair and scooter users may be able to assemble at a specific place for instruction, or they may need to get to their muster stations before the elevators are shut down. The drill itself is less important than understanding the procedure for moving wheelchair and scooter users between decks if a real emergency occurs; teams of crew members may be tasked with moving passengers with mobility issues from deck to deck if an evacuation order is given.
Passengers traveling with children or grandchildren should ask about evacuation procedures, particularly if their children or grandchildren will be participating in childcare or youth activity programs. Many cruise lines issue children wristbands that show muster station numbers, and your cruise line may also establish special evacuation pick-up areas for children participating in shipboard activities sponsored by the cruise line. Passengers traveling with younger children should make sure smaller life vests are issued for their young charges; stateroom attendants should be able to provide youth and toddler life vests upon request.
The Bottom Line
The purpose of the lifeboat drill is to inform passengers of emergency evacuation procedures. Every passenger should attend the lifeboat drill and pay close attention to all information provided. If an emergency should occur, the information given during the lifeboat drill might just be the difference between life and death.