Those Pesky Drills

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Susan SchaeferOn a cruise last year, we had to do the lifeboat drill the “old fashioned way,” outside on deck. The saving grace was that we could leave the life jackets in our staterooms. But we still had to stand on deck, in the sun, in the middle of summer in Florida. Sweltering doesn’t even begin to describe how oppressive the heat felt. Of course, many of the passengers griped about the discomfort of being packed like sardines on deck while the drill seemed to drag on forever.

How quickly we forget why these drills are so important, regardless of how many times a person goes on cruises. Just a few days ago we had a most recent reminder. Fred Olsen Cruises had an engine room fire onboard one of their ships. Fortunately crew members were able to extinguish the fire, and they made it to the next port where they debarked all of their passengers and flew them home.

It was just over ten years ago when the Star Princess caught on fire, thanks to a passenger tossing a lit cigarette butt overboard. Passengers on that ship were standing on deck at their muster stations wearing their life vests. The crew was about ready to place the passengers in lifeboats when the fire was finally extinguished.

It’s almost like today’s cruise passengers have already forgotten about the Costa Concordia, with dozens of lives lost, many because some passengers had not been properly briefed on evacuation procedures; you know, those pesky lifeguard drills we always complain about.

Lifeboat drills are never fun. Fortunately, today most ships conduct their drills inside, in the air conditioned comfort of theaters, lounges, and restaurants. So there’s no discomfort to whine about, yet passengers try their level best to avoid the drills. Occasionally we’ll hear a story in the media about how some “poor passenger” was put off their cruise because they skipped the lifeboat drill. It is really amazing how people quickly forget, or just plain ignore, the importance of attending and paying attention to these drills.

As cruise consultants, it is in our best interest to educate our clients as best as possible about what to expect when they board their cruise ship. If they are first-time cruisers, we can give them an overview about what to expect from the time when they arrive at the cruise terminal, how the check-in and security process will operate, and how to prepare for the lifeboat drill. Give them tips on how to make the best of the drill, such as:

  • Familiarize yourself with your muster station location as soon as you get to your stateroom.
  • Get to your muster station a few minutes before the drill is supposed to start. If the location is indoors, you’ll be ahead of the crowd to secure a seat. If it’s outdoors, try to secure a spot in the shade where you can stand.
  • If you are susceptible to overheating, take a small hand-held battery operated fan to help keep you cool during an outdoor drill.
  • Pay attention to the drill. Understand the procedure on how to report in the case of an actual emergency.

If your clients are past cruisers and feel they know the drill inside and out, impress upon them the need to still attend the drill, and to show up on time so their fellow passengers aren’t forced to wait for them.


Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at susan@shipsntripstravel.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

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