Last updated: 01:50 PM ET, Thu December 01 2016

If I Were In Charge Of Cruise Ship Lifeboat Drills

Let me start by saying I absolutely believe in a safety first approach to travel and that lifeboat drills, like airplane safety briefings, are necessary before beginning a vacation. But by golly, there sure are a number of things that, in my opinion, could be done differently in the process.

The first thing that strikes me about lifeboat drills, or muster drills, is the variety of approaches to them – usually based on the vintage of the cruise ship and its specific safety infrastructure in place for emergency purposes – some of which can’t be changed but at least improved. A drill, as well as an actual mustering, are called by a series of seven short followed by one long blast from the ship’s horn and alarm system. From time to time, I’ve heard that number unfortunately miscounted from the bridge when performed.

Traditionally, passengers are then expected to grab life vests from their staterooms and take them to their assigned lifeboat along the promenade deck, where they are instructed to practice putting them on. Nowadays, very few cruise lines require that passengers actually bring and don the vest, a procedure akin to asking airline passengers to practice putting on oxygen masks before takeoff. However, a select few still insist that it’s best for guests to immediately know how. I tend to think it’s actually more dangerous to have people wearing them and not be able to see their own feet and stairs when assembling.

Once guests do actually arrive at their muster station, the means in which roll-call is taken should be universally electronic at this point. It’s remarkable how long it can take for the crew to check everyone off, manually verifying cabin numbers, as guests grow tired standing outside. Just a swipe or tap of a keycard quickly, as some brands do, handles this better than any other system.

Speaking of outside, those ships that still muster along the promenade deck surely must know that the echoing PA system is virtually imperceptible even when everyone is quieted down. Truly the best approach to muster stations are for passengers to all be comfortably seated inside to begin with. There they can actually hear the announcements without any confusion, and some even better rely on superior video projections to consistently present important safety information graphically without seemingly endless translations.

If the lengthy English safety script was not laborious enough to listen to, many cruise ships understandably repeat the information in several other languages thereafter, but surely the universal pictograph approach is simplest with or without subtitles, as presented on a plane.

In short, I suppose after experiencing over one hundred lifeboat drills, it would be nice to finally see an efficient, extensive enough and more consistent means of bringing everyone up to speed on safety before sailing.