For some time, I’ve written about the need for cruise ships to run muster drills before they sail following any new passenger embarkation, such as in my January column, Cruise ship safety has improved in the year since the Concordia disaster. Today, CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) member ships are following that policy.
Over the years, I’ve been on cruise ships with well carried out muster drills and others where some miscues occurred.
The muster drill is when passengers physically practice where they should go on the ship, in case of emergency, and how to don their life-vests. They learn how they are alerted to an emergency, what procedures they must follow and what contingencies would be available for them under various conditions, etc. Via the drills, crews gain proficiency in properly directing passengers in case of an emergency.
Many miscues involve passengers who prefer to ignore the drills altogether, don’t pay attention to the crew at the muster stations and sometimes make it difficult for other passengers to listen to the crew emergency briefing during the drill. Once, I encountered a glitch in the drill when some new crew members weren’t totally familiar with ship’s procedures and a few times when communication glitches slowed the emergency procedure’s presentation by crew members.
With an upcoming cruise planned, I’ve been giving thought to how cruise ships might improve their muster drills, which I consider critical to passenger safety.
For each muster drill there are specific things which must take place for the drill to accomplish its goal of preparing passengers and crew for potential emergencies:
• 100 percent participation by passengers and crew, and
• Passengers must learn how to quickly go to their muster station, where they will assemble in the case of an emergency, and what to do, and where to go, if that location is unavailable, and
• Passengers must learn how emergencies are signaled, what the ship’s emergency procedures require of them, and what contingencies are available for them in case of problems, etc., and
• Passengers must learn how to don their life-vest, and practice it, to ensure it will be properly worn in an emergency, to make sure it stays on and isn’t a hindrance, and
• The crew must practice emergency procedures, via the muster drill, to ensure passenger safety, in case of an actual emergency.
One of the serious problems of muster drills has, historically, been a few passengers who don’t want to participate in the drills for a variety of reasons. If all passengers are to be safe in an emergency, all passengers must participate.
Passengers who arrive late at the muster station hold up everything at the stations during the drill. To ensure each passenger has the benefit of the drill, the crew must wait until all passengers are at their muster stations to explain emergency procedures and practice with the life vests. The longer drills are delayed for straggler passengers, the more restless passengers become, resulting in their attention fading.
Some ships wait to find out who’s not at the muster stations before trying to round-up wayward passengers. That takes too long. I think more ships need to assign crew to patrol the hallways and staterooms at the start of the drill or actual emergency to ensure every passenger is quickly marshaled to their muster station.
While every ship I’ve been on recently has stationed crew members strategically to help direct passengers to their muster stations, all cruise lines should inform every passenger of their muster station assignment upon check-in and give them a map showing how to get there. This would help ensure passengers assemble at their muster station quickly.
When cruising on a ship new to me, or one I haven’t been on for some time, I make sure I know exactly where my muster station is, well before the muster drill begins.
Once the passengers are assembled at the muster station, it’s important that they actually pay attention to what’s being said about procedures and how to wear their life-vest.
Too many ships have passengers don their life-vest too early in the muster drill. Practicing with the life-vests is often noisy as passengers compare notes, warm and potentially sweaty; if they must be worn for long, and it’s tough to settle everyone down, afterward. I suggest the life-vests’ portion of the drill should be the last thing done at the muster station; once on, while it may be a chore for the crew, every passenger should be checked to ensure they put on their life-vest correctly.
The instructions given to passengers at the muster station are important. They should be as succinct as possible. They must be clear, precise and brief. Too many times I’ve listened to muster drill instructions which seem to go on forever and make little sense.
Visual aids should be used, if possible. Maybe a quiz could be announced to follow the presentation, with a few passengers chosen afterward to answer a question; if right, they are awarded a $25–$50 cruise credit. That would help keep people interested.
Now that the cruise lines are having timely mandatory muster drills, it’s time to maximize their effectiveness.