Why Do People Jump Off Cruise Ships?

By: Joseph Ewart

As a 30 year cruise industry veteran, website, I can honestly say that I am perplexed as to why more people seem to be jumping overboard. It is certainly tragic when this occurs and the news media seems to report these phenomena more frequently and with more in-depth coverage than other similar events. This probably because cruising is in and of itself more interesting and sexy than most other forms of leisure travel. And approximately 85% of all North Americas have not taken a cruise so there is an element of mystery to the process.

Does this mean that cruise ship travel is any less safe than it was ten or fifteen years ago? I think not. If one takes a look at the number of incidents against 12 million travelers, it is relatively small number. That of course does not mitigate the grief and anxiety of family members and we certainly sympathize with the people left behind.

On the other hand, people have made posting on cruise community boards that they are hesitant to cruise due to 'safety' issues. In virtually every case of a passenger going overboard, the action was an individual decision fueled by alcohol, carelessness or the end result of suicidal tendencies. Some passengers who go overboard have survived but most do not.

Cruise lines are making concerted efforts to reduce these occurrences but is it reasonable to hold the lines at fault for the actions of their passengers? Like a high rise hotel, or tall building, there are just too many places where someone can jump from.

As alcohol consumption seems to be a key factor in many of these tragedies, there is a increased emphasis on controlling excessive drinking on board with additional training being conducted with bar and security staff. But, just like ashore, if someone is set on getting drunk, it is hard to stop them. And this seems to go hand in hand with the proclivity to try to balance on a railing or tightrope walk on a 10 story high stairwell railing. Clearly, if one does this at a large hotel or office building and falls, the outcome is going to be the same.

In 2004, there were 32,439 suicides reported in the US equating to a rate of 11.1 per 100,000 residents. The cumulative number of total overboard incidents (includes rescued passengers and crew members) since 2000 is 85. This would tend to indicate that while this phenomena is sensationalized by the media and does need the attention of the public and the cruise operators, it is by no means approaching levels anywhere near the national norm. Again, it is a tragic occurrence when it results in a fatality and needs careful thought and oversight as mentioned above.

But should it enter into the vacation decision-making process? The answer is Yes and No. Yes, like all travel options, common sense and situational awareness are requisite. But to the extent that cruise travel could be deemed hazardous, we feel that it is no more worrisome than any other vacation destination choice.

Cruise smart and you will cruise safe.

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