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A journey on the high seas on a very large boat may not seem as fraught with danger as it was in the days of schooners and Spanish galleons. But the ocean is still not something you want to fall into from the deck of a ship.

Statistically speaking, the instances of passengers falling overboard are extremely low. According to a 2017 report compiled for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a cruise industry trade group, only about 19 souls fall into the water from cruise ships annually.

In 2016, specifically, the report cited a total of 12 overboard incidents involving both passengers and crew. When you consider that, in the same year, more than 24 million people took a cruise — not including crew members — the odds are pretty good you won’t go overboard. In fact, cruising today is one of the safest forms of travel available. But serious incidents do happen.

For readers who follow cruise news, it may seem like overboard incidents are happening more than ever. In March, for instance, a server onboard the Norwegian Epic sailing near the Bahamas caught sight of a female passenger jumping off the ship at night. She was rescued by the ship’s crew.

In July, a 33-year-old Norwegian Cruise Line crew member fell overboard off the coast of Cuba, spending a miraculous 22 hours in open water before his rescue by another cruise ship. The following month, a 46-year-old British woman, Kay Longstaff, plunged from a deck of another Norwegian ship into the Adriatic Sea about 60 miles from the Croatian coast. Fortunately, the open water Longstaff fell into was relatively warm — about 80 degrees Fahrenheit — which helped her survive 10 hours before she was retrieved by the Croatian Coast Guard.

Most recently, German pop singer Daniel Kueblboeck was reported missing at sea after going overboard from an AIDA Cruises ship sailing off the coast of Newfoundland.

British tourist Kay Longstaff (C) exits Croatias coast guard ship in Pula, on August 19, 2018, which saved her after falling off a cruise ship near Croatian coast. - British tourist Kay Longstaff went overboard from the Norwegian Star cruise ship about 60 miles (95km) off Croatia
Longstaff exits Croatia’s coast guard ship in Pula, on Aug. 19, 2018, after falling off a cruise ship. (Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.)

Why People Go Overboard

You may be wondering how someone manages to fall off a massive, city-size cruise ship. Sadly, some incidents are malicious (think: being pushed). Other times, people deliberately leap overboard. Cruise ships do take measures to stop these scenarios.

“Safety regulations, including uniform minimum railing and balcony heights, and structural barriers are also in place to prevent passengers who are acting responsibly from simply falling off a cruise ship,” said Sarah Kennedy, a spokesperson for CLIA. “There are no known cases of someone acting responsibly who has accidentally fallen over the railing of a cruise ship,” she added.

Frankly, the circumstances surrounding overboard incidents, including the aforementioned reports, are often unclear.

“However uncommon, [CLIA] takes[s] seriously the possibility of guests engaging in unauthorized, risky activity that could lead to them going overboard,” Kennedy said.

“[Cruise lines] have been testing different types of systems in order to detect those instances and respond as quickly as possible,” she added. “These measures make use of video and other imaging technology, as well as enhanced training for crew.”

As to why Norwegian Cruise Line has recorded more overboard incidents of late than other lines? Probably not because the decks are littered with banana peels. We reached out to Norwegian for comment, but they referred us to back to CLIA.

(Photo by pichitstocker / Getty Images.)
(Photo by pichitstocker / Getty Images.)

5 Ways to Avoid Falling Overboard

Every traveler should want to avoid falling off a cruise ship, and there are absolutely measures you can take to stay planted safely onboard.

1. Think Before You Drink

Do not imbibe excessively and then swagger around the deck, or lean against the railing under the moonlight trying to locate the Big Dipper.

2. Never Replicate Scenes From “Titanic” 

Sorry, Leo fans. That means no hanging precariously off the bow of a ship in a romantic gesture. It’s a good way to end up reenacting another scene from the classic film: the one where you’re floating around waiting to be rescued.

Titanic Kate Winslet GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

3. Don’t Strut Around in Deteriorating Weather

If you can’t open the door to the deck because it’s so windy, just stay inside. Say your ship gets caught in a hurricane, for example, or even in the upper reaches of the Beaufort scale and you’re outside on a slippery, exposed deck: The cruise lines won’t blame the weather for your tumble — they’ll file that away under “passenger behaving irresponsibly.”

4. Take Arguments Inside

If you find yourself in a threatening situation, move inside quickly and immediately alert a crew member.

5. Be “Slip Smart”

Go ahead: Don your towering stilettos for a fancy onboard dinner. But switch to sensible footwear for that postprandial al fresco stroll. Look for a true boat shoe, like the classic Sperry, which is known for its reliable wet and dry nonslip sole.

Feature image courtesy of the author. 

Know before you go.

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