How Common are Cruise Guest Overboard Incidents?

by | May 3, 2024 | Cruise Ship Accident, Cruise Ship Injury, Maritime Accident, Maritime Injury, Maritime Law

Summertime and summer vacations are right around the corner. For many Americans, that means embarking on a cruise. Cruise ships have long epitomized the allure of travel, promising luxurious accommodations, incredible destinations, and unparalleled experiences. Yet, amidst the opulence and excitement, there exists a sobering reality: the risk of guest overboard incidents.

While rare, falling overboard poses serious threats to passengers and crew alike. These incidents encompass not only the immediate danger of drowning but also the potential for severe injuries and even fatalities. Below, the maritime injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia provide more insight into how common guest overboard incidents really are, and the impact they have on victims and their families.

Understanding the Risks of Guest Overboard Incidents

The allure of expansive decks, panoramic views, and the soothing rhythm of the sea can sometimes lull passengers into a false sense of security. However, the unpredictable nature of the ocean demands constant vigilance. A misstep, a moment of inattention, or even a deliberate act can result in a fall overboard, with potentially dire consequences.

Some estimates suggest that there have been as many as 400 guest overboard incidents in the past 23 years. More recent statistics show:

  • Number of incidents: Between 2009 and 2019, there were an estimated 212 man overboard incidents on cruise ships, according to a report by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
  • Yearly average: This translates to roughly 19 incidents per year.
  • Rescue rate: It is important to note that not all overboard incidents result in fatalities. Of the 212 incidents, CLIA reports that 48 people were rescued alive, which is roughly 28%.

Immediate Dangers of Falling Overboard

In cruise ship overboard incidents, the injuries sustained can vary in severity depending on factors such as the height from which the individual falls, the angle of impact, and the conditions of the water. Once in the water, the individual faces numerous hazards, including strong currents, rough seas, and hypothermia, especially in colder regions or during nighttime incidents.

Some common injuries associated with these incidents include:


The most immediate danger of falling overboard is drowning, as individuals may struggle to stay afloat or become incapacitated due to injuries sustained upon hitting the water. Swift rescue efforts are essential to preventing drowning-related fatalities in such situations.


The force of impact upon hitting the water can result in fractures to various parts of the body, including the arms, legs, pelvis, and spine. Fractures may range from minor breaks to more severe injuries requiring surgical intervention.

Head and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

Falling overboard can lead to head injuries, including concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI), caused by the impact of the fall or by striking objects in the water. TBIs can have serious long-term consequences and may require immediate medical attention.

Spinal Cord Injuries

The sudden jolt upon hitting the water can cause spinal cord injuries, ranging from mild compression fractures to severe damage resulting in paralysis or loss of sensation. These injuries may have lifelong implications for mobility and quality of life.

Lacerations and Contusions

Contact with the ship’s structure or debris in the water can cause lacerations (cuts) and contusions (bruises) to the skin, muscles, and soft tissues. These injuries may vary in severity depending on the force of impact and the nature of the object causing the injury.


In colder regions or during nighttime incidents, individuals who fall overboard may be at risk of developing hypothermia due to prolonged exposure to cold water. Hypothermia can lead to confusion, loss of consciousness, and eventually, cardiac arrest if not treated promptly.

It is important to note that the severity and extent of injuries can vary widely from one incident to another. Prompt medical attention is crucial to assessing and treating injuries sustained in cruise ship overboard incidents.

Despite the swift response of ship crews and the implementation of safety protocols, rescuing a person from the sea presents significant challenges, especially in adverse weather conditions or remote areas.

Impact of Injuries

Even if a fall overboard does not result in drowning, the impact of injuries sustained upon hitting the water can be severe. The height of cruise ship decks amplifies the force of impact, potentially causing fractures, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. Additionally, the risk of sustaining lacerations from contact with the ship’s structure or debris in the water further compounds the danger.

Contributing Factors to Guest Overboard Incidents

Several factors increase the likelihood of falling overboard on a cruise ship:

  • Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption impairs judgment, coordination, and balance, increasing the risk of accidents and falls.
  • Rough Seas: Unpredictable weather conditions, such as high winds and rough seas, can create hazardous conditions on deck, making it easier for individuals to lose their footing.
  • Reckless Behavior: Ignoring safety guidelines, engaging in risky activities near railings, or attempting daredevil stunts pose significant dangers and increase the likelihood of accidents.
  • Medical Conditions: Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, mobility issues, or impaired vision may be at higher risk of falling overboard, particularly if they require assistance while navigating the ship’s decks.

Safety Measures to Prevent Falls Overboard

To mitigate the risks associated with falling overboard, cruise lines have implemented various preventive measures and safety protocols:

  • Safety Railings and Barriers: Cruise ships are equipped with sturdy railings and barriers along the perimeter of decks to prevent accidental falls and provide a physical barrier between passengers and the open sea.
  • Surveillance Systems: Advanced surveillance systems, including video monitoring and motion sensors, are deployed to monitor activity on deck and detect potential incidents in real-time.
  • Safety Drills and Training: Mandatory safety drills are conducted at the beginning of each cruise to familiarize passengers with emergency procedures, including proper use of life jackets and evacuation routes.
  • Security Personnel: Trained security personnel are stationed throughout the ship to enforce safety regulations, monitor passenger behavior, and respond promptly to any emergencies or incidents.

In response to the inherent risks associated with maritime travel, regulatory bodies such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have established stringent safety standards and guidelines for cruise ships. These regulations encompass various aspects of ship design, construction, and operation, with a primary focus on ensuring the safety and security of passengers and crew members.

Can Victims file a Maritime Injury Lawsuit if They are Injured after Falling Overboard a Cruise Ship?

Victims who are injured in cruise ship guest overboard incidents may have the legal right to file a maritime injury lawsuit. Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, governs legal matters related to navigation and commerce on navigable waters, including incidents that occur aboard cruise ships. There are several potential grounds for filing a maritime injury lawsuit in such cases:


If the cruise ship operator or crew members acted negligently and their actions or failure to act contributed to the overboard incident or exacerbated the injuries sustained by the victim, the victim may have a valid claim for compensation. Examples of negligence may include inadequate safety measures, failure to properly maintain equipment, or lack of sufficient training for crew members.

Unsafe Conditions

If the cruise ship was in a state of disrepair or if safety features such as railings were defective or improperly maintained, the victim may have grounds for a lawsuit based on premises liability or product liability.

Failure to Provide Adequate Medical Care

If the victim sustains injuries after falling overboard and the cruise ship’s medical staff or emergency response team fails to provide prompt and adequate medical care, resulting in worsened injuries or complications, the victim may have a claim for medical negligence or malpractice.

Intentional Acts or Assault

In cases where the overboard incident resulted from intentional acts such as assault or battery by another passenger or crew member, the victim may have grounds for a lawsuit based on intentional torts.

Violation of Safety Regulations

Cruise ships are subject to various safety regulations and standards established by maritime authorities. If the cruise ship operator or crew members violate these regulations, resulting in an overboard incident and subsequent injuries, the victim may have a legal basis for a lawsuit.

It is important to note that maritime injury lawsuits can be complex, and the legal process may vary depending on factors such as the jurisdiction in which the incident occurred, the nationality of the cruise ship, and the terms of the passenger ticket contract. Additionally, there may be specific procedural requirements and time limitations for filing a claim under maritime law.

Victims of cruise ship overboard incidents should consult with an experienced maritime injury lawyer to assess their legal options, understand their rights, and navigate the legal process effectively.

Why it is Important to Contact a Maritime Injury Lawyer

Maritime injury lawyers have experience handling claims against cruise ship companies and understand the unique challenges and strategies involved in guest overboard incidents. They can leverage their expertise to build a strong case on behalf of the victim and pursue the best possible outcome. Contacting a maritime injury lawyer after a fall overboard from a cruise ship is crucial for several reasons:

Understanding Legal Rights

Maritime law is a specialized area of law that governs incidents that occur at sea, including accidents aboard cruise ships. A maritime injury lawyer has in-depth knowledge and experience in this field and can help victims understand their legal rights and options for seeking compensation.

Assessment of Liability

Determining liability in cruise ship overboard incidents can be challenging, as multiple factors may contribute to the accident, such as negligence, unsafe conditions, or equipment failure. A maritime injury lawyer can conduct a thorough investigation to determine who may be held accountable for the victim’s injuries and losses.

Navigating Complex Legal Processes

Maritime injury cases can be complex, involving multiple parties, international jurisdictions, and specific legal doctrines. A knowledgeable maritime injury lawyer can navigate these complexities on behalf of the victim, ensuring that all legal requirements are met and deadlines are adhered to.

Maximizing Compensation

A maritime injury lawyer can advocate for the victim to maximize their compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, disability, and future medical needs. They can negotiate with the cruise line or pursue litigation if necessary to ensure the victim receives fair and adequate compensation.

Contacting a maritime injury lawyer after a fall overboard is essential for ensuring that victims receive the legal representation and support they need to pursue justice and fair compensation for their injuries and losses.

Get a Free Maritime Injury Consultation

If you or a loved one have suffered a fall overboard while on a cruise, Kherkher Garcia can help. Our maritime injury lawyers provide personalized guidance and representation to help victims pursue compensation for their injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from the incident.

We have handled numerous maritime injury claims, and we know what it takes to protect your rights and obtain a successful outcome. To find out how we can help you get the justice and compensation you deserve after a guest overboard incident, contact us for a free maritime injury consultation. Call us at 713-333-1030, or complete our confidential online form to get started.

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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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