Overboarding Accidents On A Cruise Ship: The Survival Rates

When you think of going on a cruise, you’re probably thinking about a relaxing vacation, fun in the sun, and all the adventures awaiting you on shore at exotic ports of call. You probably don’t spend too much time thinking about a cruise ship passenger’s worst nightmare: falling overboard. But overboarding accidents are a very real danger when you’re sailing along on a massive ship in the middle of a vast and unforgiving ocean.

How many people go overboard on cruise ships?

More than 20 people fall overboard from cruise ships every year — and the survival rates are not great. If you think about the circumstances of a cruise ship fall, this isn’t too surprising. After all, modern cruise ships are behemoths that can be hundreds of feet tall, thousands of feet long, and travel over 20 miles per hour. The survival rates for falling off 20-story buildings aren’t too great, either.

What are the dangers when falling overboard?

The greatest danger when falling overboard from a cruise ship is simply the great dangers inherent to any fall from a significant height. You can suffer broken bones, internal injuries, and massive trauma. People think of water as a gentler alternative to falling onto a solid surface, but at great heights, falling into water isn’t appreciably different from falling onto concrete.

Of course, on a cruise ship, you not only have to worry about hitting solid surfaces that are part of the ship, but ultimately you would end up falling into the water itself. If you can’t swim, this definitely presents a life-threatening problem, but even if you’re a champion swimmer, you probably won’t be in great shape at this point. Falling from a ship into the water will almost certainly knock the wind out of you, and if you’ve suffered any injuries, you may find it very difficult to stay afloat or even get back to the surface from the initial fall. Then, of course, it is very easy to find yourself in an incredibly dangerous drowning situation.

Even if you get unbelievably lucky and survive the fall with no appreciable injuries, your chances of survival depend greatly on the temperature of the water. In cold water, hypothermia can set in in a matter of hours. In 41°F water, a person can only survive 1-2 hours. If no one saw you go overboard, you may not be missed for quite a long time, eating away at those precious survivable minutes. Even if you were spotted, remember that the cruise ship will take time to turn around and locate you. Water must be approximately 80°F to be survivable indefinitely. And if the water is a survivable temperature, then it’s warm enough for sharks to be a danger.

How many people survive falls from cruise ships?

Sixty percent of deaths in cold water occur within the first few minutes. It is very difficult to survive the shock of being plunged into cold water, and any injuries you suffer will only compound the difficulties. In addition, 1 in 5 overboard deaths occur during rescue attempts.

Overall, an estimated 85-90 percent of overboard fall victims die. Many of these deaths are intentional suicides, but we don’t really know how many, because cruise lines are largely left to their own devices to report and determine the cause of accidents, and it clearly benefits them to report as many as possible as being beyond the cruise line’s control.

In many incidents, overconsumption of alcohol and inadequate safety features contribute to falls. Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, PA are maritime lawyers who can help pursue cruise lines for their liability in these cases.