It's not very likely, in spite of the heavy media coverage of "man overboard" incidents. In fact, the biggest risk to your safety during a cruise is not falling over the ship's side, it's illness, particularly from the norovirus.
Cruise ship railings are typically about four feet high. Even for a tall person, that's over waist height. Falling overboard is extremely unlikely unless you are engaging in risky behavior, such as excessive drinking or climbing from balcony to balcony.
Cruise Ship Safety Regulations
Cruise ships that embark passengers at U.S. ports are inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard during their first port call and quarterly thereafter. These inspections cover structural and fire safety, life boats and life preservers, crew training and shipboard drills.
In addition, passenger ships calling at U.S. ports are required to comply with International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the SOLAS Convention shortly after the Titanic disaster in 1914. The SOLAS Convention spells out passenger ship safety requirements, including the required numbers and types of life boats, smoke detectors and fire suppression systems on new and existing passenger ships and specific search and rescue procedures cruise ship captains must follow.
The IMO also issues standards for crew training. These standards, called the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), include specialized training for passenger vessel crewmembers on crowd management, safety and crisis management.
Staying Safe on Your Cruise
The best way to avoid falling overboard on your cruise vacation is to behave responsibly. For example:
- Avoid drinking to excess.
- Don't engage in horseplay near the ship's railings – or anywhere else, for that matter.
- Follow safety instructions issued by the crew.
- If you're sailing in rough weather, don't go near the guard rails, because the ship could roll and you could fall overboard.
- Don't boost fellow passengers, especially children, onto railings or tables for a better view.
Above all, use common sense. If you wouldn't climb onto a railing or other structure on land, don't do it while at sea.