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How Many People Fall Overboard on Cruise Ships?


About 270 people have gone overboard on cruise ships from 2000 to 2016, according to reports on the cruise ship industry. The highest number of incidents in a year was 27 in 2015, followed by 25 in 2009. While some defenders of the cruise ship industry will point to increasing passenger numbers as the reason for this uptick, the annual average of overboard accidents have seemingly doubled since 2000 (from 10 incidents a year to 20+ a year since 2011). Because the cruise industry and the media do not always report on overboard incidents, it’s not certain that the public figures are as high as the actual number of falls.

Instead, private citizens have had to gather information gleaned from incident reports and news stories. Dr. Ross Klein, who operates, has written 4 books on the dark side of the cruise ship industry. His findings are behind the accident figures used by reporters all over the world.

From his research, reporters have learned that nearly half of all overboard accidents or passenger disappearances occur on ships owned by Carnival Cruise Lines, followed by Royal Caribbean. Among the fatalities, a surprising amount of people died during rescue attempts. Though 60 percent of overboard deaths occur in the first few minutes of being in the water (often due to the temperature or fractures from the landing), 1 in 5 overboard deaths occur during the rescue.

In general, overboard accidents have at least one of these risk factors involved:

  • Suicidal intent
  • Drunkenness
  • Foul play

However, not all accidents occur for these reasons. One man fell overboard while standing on a table when the ship was moving full speed—he simply tripped and fell above the railing. In general, intoxication is the critical factor that leads to an overboard accident. One woman sued her cruise line for allowing her to become drunk enough to fall overboard, then taking too long to rescue her. This case operates on the same logic as Florida’s dram shop laws, which hold restaurants and bars responsible for the drunkenness of its guests.

The Window for Rescue

Depending on the temperature of the water and where the cruise route is located, passengers who have fallen overboard often have a small window of time before they drown. Because the chain of events between a passenger witnessing a fall and the captain turning the ship around can take several minutes (at best), a 60-minute window for rescue is not long enough in many cases.

The window of time before hypothermia sets in depends on the water:

  • 40 degrees Fahrenheit: 60 minutes until hypothermic
  • 50 degrees Fahrenheit: 2 hours until hypothermic
  • 60 degrees Fahrenheit: 6 hours until hypothermic
  • 77 degrees Fahrenheit: little danger of hypothermia, but heightened danger of shark attack

Cruise Liners Responsible for Passenger Safety

Short of a passenger trying to jump off the ship intentionally, cruise liners are responsible for the safety of their passengers. Ensuring that railings are high and secure, or ensuring that passengers are not drunk enough to endanger themselves or others, is vital for ship owners and crew members. When they fail to maintain a safe environment for passengers, they ought to be held responsible for the results.

Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. has been holding cruise line companies accountable for unsafe practices since 1984. Our Miami cruise ship accident lawyers have successfully litigated against them in numerous cases. STFBC is known for winning record verdicts for our clients, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements. When you need a Miami personal injury attorney who knows how to investigate your case, get answers, and maximize your chance of recovery, turn to a team with over 100 years of collective experience.

Call (305) 770-6335 or use our short online form to contact our team for a free review of your case.