Cruise ship passengers

Cruising is statistically the safest form of transport in the travel industry and takes place under strict security conditions.  But there are a few things you should be aware of.

This advice has been prepared in association with the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) . As with all information provided by third parties, the FCO is not responsible for its accuracy.

How do cruise ships plan for emergencies?

  • safety drills are mandatory and details about these are typically found on daily newsheets or TV programmes provided by the crew
  • it’s common practice for safety drills to take place either immediately before departure or shortly afterwards.
  • familiarise yourself with the safety drill information as soon as you reach your cabin.
  • during your cruise you might also see and hear a number of drills for the crew where they respond to a variety of 'emergency' situations.

What kind of security can I expect on board cruise ships and the ports they visit?

  • most cruise ships have CCTV, which can be used to assist with onboard investigations
  • security checks have been enhanced and are a similar standard to those of airports
  • when the ship is in dock you’ll be security checked whenever you disembark and return to the ship.
  • passengers are normally given(usually photo)  ID cards on check-in, which you must show to enter and exit the ship.

Cruise lines, ships and the ports they visit are required by law to have appropriate security plans.
The deployment of security staff is usually discreet so you may never notice them but there should be trained security personnel on board at all times.

What happens if I am the victim of a crime?

You should report it to a crew or staff member. Security personnel should then inform the appropriate authorities. Who these are will depend on where the ship is, when the crime is committed and the nationality of those involved.

Significant crimes against British nationals on any ship can in certain circumstances be reported to UK police and may be investigated even though they occurred outside the territory of the UK.

A crime may also be reported to the authorities in the port/country in which the ship was docked (or was headed) when the crime was committed with the result that local law enforcement agencies may also be involved in the investigation.

Lost or stolen passports

If your passport is lost or stolen during the course of a cruise you may need to obtain a replacement passport from the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate before you can continue your cruise. You may not be able to continue your cruise if a replacement passport is not available before the ship sails. Clarify this situation with your cruise company before travelling, especially about the arrangements they have in place for you to re-join the ship at a later stage.

For more general information see our pages on what to do if things go wrong and passports.

How can relatives/ friends contact me in an emergency?

  • At the time of booking you should be given printed information on how to contact the ship by telephone, fax or email  - leave this with friends or relatives
  • leave a copy of your travel itinerary with family or friends before you travel
  • almost all ships have satellite telephones in cabins, and many also have internet cafes
  • increasingly, ships have wi-fi technology so that you can use your own laptops in your cabin or around the ship
  • some ships enable you to use your mobile while the ship is out at sea as well as in port.

Visiting multiple countries - visas

Cruise lines may be able to organise group visas for those going on organised tours in certain countries. Sometimes, the ship can acquire visas for you as it proceeds towards the port, and this cost is typically added to your shipboard account. For other destinations, you might have to obtain your own individual visas even if you don’t intend going ashore -  check this at the time of booking with either the travel agent or the cruise line.

Make sure you have the necessary documentation in place if the country where you start the cruise requires you to have a visa – there’s more information on entry requirements in our travel advice by country.

If you’re refused entry to the country and miss your cruise the cruise line will not ordinarily be required to pay you compensation.

Health issues

Medical care is not free on cruise ships, even on British flag ships.

It’s essential that you take out adequate insurance cover, including cover for the cost of medical treatment or medical evacuation – in an emergency you may have to be airlifted to port if the ship is at sea. 

If you’re cruising within Europe ensure you have an EHIC card – but you’ll still need comprehensive travel insurance as well!

All cruise ships should have a qualified doctor and medical facilities on board. Although the range of facilities varies from ship to ship and line to line, the minimum standard is designed to provide emergency medical care and the capability to stabilise patients.

Discuss any concerns you may have about your medical needs and the level of care available on board with your cruise company.

If you require emergency medical treatment that means that you need to be treated on land you should be aware that it may not be possible for you to return to the cruise later. In these circumstances the cruise ship (or their representative in-country) should:

  • ensure that you are placed in the most suitable medical facility, including liasing with your insurance company;
  • arrange for you to re-join the ship at a later stage, or be returned to the UK when you are well enough to travel;
  • arrange accommodation for your travelling partner/Next of Kin while you are in hospital; and
  • advise you on how to transmit appropriate funds.

Ensure that you have all your documents, including your passport and insurance policy, with you and a contact list for unforeseen events. You should also remember to take with you, if possible, any items that you or your companion may need when ashore, especially if you are not able to rejoin the cruise at a later date. In an emergency you can contact the nearest British Consul.

Prescription medicines

If you are on prescription medicine bring enough to last the duration of the cruise, as it may be difficult as well as costly to purchase these on board.

Gastrointestinal illnesses

Given your close proximity to other passengers, and the fact that you are in a confined area, outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness do occur from time to time although incidents on cruise ships are less common than on land. Many ships are likely to ask if you have recently experienced any typical symptoms before embarkation and you may be denied entry if there are genuine concerns.

If you are diagnosed with a gastrointestinal illness on board, you may be asked to remain in your cabin until cleared by the medical staff, so as to help reduce the potential that the infection will spread further amongst passengers and crew.

Cruise ships undergo regular, unannounced inspections by UK port health authorities to help ensure they meet the statutory food safety and hygiene requirements, and if they operate in the US they also have to meet the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program standards. Crew members should be trained to follow routine hygiene and sanitation procedures to help prevent outbreaks and also to deal with any that do occur. This type of training is ongoing to help ensure that standards are maintained.

The National Travel Health Network and Centre’s factsheet on gastrointestinal illness provides more information, as does the Health Protection Agency.

See our travel health page for information on vaccinations and other general health precautions

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