OpinionHow Important is the Muster Drill Aboard a Cruise Ship?

How Important is the Muster Drill Aboard a Cruise Ship?

muster drill cruise shipI have cruised with several different cruise lines and I am amazed at how different the experience can be on different ships.    And in light of the recent Costa Concordia wreck, I can only think how important it would have been for both the crew and passengers to be more prepared for such a situation.

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The muster drill is the part of the cruise most people can’t stand.  Everyone has to get dressed in those pretty orange vests called life jackets and meet in a certain location to go over safety protocol in case of  an emergency.  This usually happens before the ship leaves the port or just after and is mandatory for every passenger.  By law the muster drill must take place within the first 24 hours from embarkation.  But it’s usually better for cruise lines to just get this out of the way so the paying passengers can get back to enjoying their vacation.

When cruising with Royal Caribbean I was amazed at how efficient and organized their muster drill was.  Everyone was standing in single file lines and the crew called out cabin numbers to make sure everyone was there before they went over how to use the life jackets and what the procedure would be in case of emergency.

I have heard that Princess cruise lines has a very organized muster drill as well.

And then, while sailing on an MSC ship a few months ago, it was even more amazing to see what a joke the muster drill was.  We all just stood and sat around in a large lounge with our life jackets on, and after a chaotic demonstration on how to use the life jackets, that was it.  The drill was not even on the outside deck, and I don’t even know what door I was supposed to go out to get on a lifeboat in case of disaster.  It was a bit unnerving to say the least, that this Italian cruise line did not think the muster drill was that important.

With humongous ships now sailing the open seas, new regulations have allowed for these larger vessels to allow the passengers to meet in large open lounges instead of on open decks.  And life jackets are not being provided at the muster stations themselves, which only makes sense to me, since in an emergency you don’t want people running back to their cabins for their life jackets and clogging up those narrow hallways.

With the Costa Concordia wreck, the ship was still well within the rules of SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), since it had not been a full 24 hours since embarkation, but this means that some 700 passengers who had just boarded from Rome had not taken part in the muster drill.

After the way the Concordia cruise ship situation was handled, many cruise lines and the industry in general is reassessing how and when it handles those muster drills.  But this being said, it was largely human error that led to the unfortunate events of the Concordia disaster, and if protocol was followed properly it would not have been such a tragic loss.

When you get on a cruise ship you are probably just ready to start enjoying your vacation, but you still want to have the peace of mind of knowing that your cruise line and captain is capable of handling even the worst of situations.

We would love to hear from our readers to see what you think of muster drills and which cruise line you think is best at preparing their passengers for an abandon ship.  I have been impressed with Royal Caribbean but hear that Princess does a great job as well.

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
OpinionHow Important is the Muster Drill Aboard a Cruise Ship?


  1. The best muster drills I’ve been through in my opinion were on some of the older ships of Celebrity Cruise Lines (the Zenith which has since been transferred to Pullmantur, and Galaxy which has since been transferred to TUI). They assembled us first to our muster stations, which were in public rooms on the lifeboat embarkation deck, and explained to us about putting on our life jackets and other safety info. Then they escorted us to the exterior promenade deck and our “lifeboat stations”, where if we had to abandon ship we would enter the lifeboats from. They thought of everything as, if there was some kind of emergency, gather all the passengers together in common areas, but keep them indoors and sheltered from the elements as much as possible, but quick access to the adjacent lifeboats if an abandon ship order was necessary. They also made sure we know our lifeboat stations as well as muster stations in case an order came to skip the muster stations go directly to the lifeboats.

  2. We cruised with Norwegian Epic. Our safety drill was of no use in my opinion, regardless of whatever checkbox the cruise industry allows them to check off. It certainly was within a few hours of departure. We gathered as a designated place on one of the decks on the casino deck. All we did was sit to wait for all to have been gathered and checked off an assigned safety person’s clipboard list. In light of the Costa Concordia, I can honestly say I was in no way prepared for a cruise disaster. While I’m unconcerned with how to don a life vest, knowing it was in our room is of no use; are we really to return to our rooms to retrieve it? While we got to know the ship during the cruise, and visited the life boat deck, never once did I see a video of how they launch, how we’re expected to board, and what might occur in the event of a loss of power (how would the boats be lowered or how would our room keys work to get in to get our life vests?). I guess it’s really a “hope it doesn’t happen” approach and “follow instructions.” However, if what is being reported is true, that instructions from the Costa Concordia crew were insufficient, well…i guess it will be fate or higher power determining whether i’d have lived or died.

  3. My partner and I went -Transatlantic – to New York just before Christmas The cruise was the roughest crossing the Queen Mary 2 had ever undertaken – passing through a hurricane and 140 mph winds. Waves were breaking over the 7th and 8th decks.
    The safety drill was a shambles – taking place in the comfort of a lounge with passengers wandering in and out. There was no roll call and it was not obvious where the muster station was.
    I wrote to Cunard after the cruise bringing to their attention my concern and I am still waiting for a reply – and the QM2 is supposed to be the flagship of the fleet?

  4. Some years ago, I cruised the Caribbean with Royal Caribbean, and the drill was held/started as we were still in port. I think it did continue for a few minutes after we set sail. It was, judging by the standards described by others with more varied experience, about 75/80% efficient, and I had no complaints at all. I don’t like the sound of having to return to your cabin for collect your life-jacket though………..surely that just increases the risk.

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