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What is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard?

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Though incidents are mercifully few in comparison to the number of passengers afloat, people fall overboard from cruise ships every year. The number who fall overboard from yachts is a lot higher. While the exact number of people who go overboard is unknown because many cases are not reported or witnessed, there have been reports of more than 200 people falling overboard from cruise ships in a ten-year period. There were about 111 cases of ‘man overboard’ between 2015 and 2019, but in that time over 130 million cruise passengers were carried around the world’s oceans.

So, what is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard? Here are some of the most likely scenarios.

So, what is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard?


It’s no secret that many people enjoy drinking while on vacation, and cruises are certainly no exception. It’s also well known that people who have had a drink or two do stupid things, and those that are heavily intoxicated can be a danger to themselves and others.

Drunkenness is one of the leading causes of people falling overboard. When people are intoxicated, they are more likely to take risks or stumble and fall, both of which can lead to going overboard. They may think they are stronger than they are and attempt to climb from balcony to balcony. One slip or a sudden gust of wind is all it takes for them to lose their grip and fall.


In some cases, people simply get too close to the edge of the ship and accidentally fall over. This is especially true if there are no railings or other safety precautions in place. That’s unlikely to be the case in modern, well-equipped cruise liners it’s not always the case in smaller, less well-maintained vessels.

It can also be due to foolhardy attempts to climb onto protective railings, perhaps for that tempting photo opportunity, or from balcony to balcony, even without the effects of alcohol that impairs judgment.

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Suicide by jumping off a cruise ship is one of the most tragic and disturbing ways for someone to take their own life. This type of suicide is particularly shocking because it occurs in such a public, seemingly safe setting. To understand the complex psychology behind this type of self-harm, it is important to consider some of the factors that might contribute to suicidal thoughts or behavior on board a cruise ship.

For example, minor annoyances like loud music or crowded conditions can feel exceptionally threatening when one is confined on a boat with feelings of loneliness and despair, alone in a small cabin. People are at increased risk for suicide due to mental health challenges like depression or social isolation, and suicidal thoughts can manifest within the minds of the crew who have to endure long months at sea, separated from their families.

Ultimately, experts believe that suicide by jumping off a cruise ship can be prevented through ongoing education about warning signs and appropriate interventions, both onboard and before the trip gets underway. By taking these steps, we can reduce instances of this heartbreaking form of self-destruction.

What Is Most Likely To Cause Someone To Fall Overboard On A Cruise Ship?
Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash


incidents of a murder aboard cruise ships are extremely rare, but they do happen, leaving cruise ship passengers feeling unsettled and concerned about their safety aboard these massive vessels. When they have occurred, the murder has usually been committed aboard the vessel and the body thrown overboard, rather than someone being pushed overboard.

Yet despite the risks, many people continue to enjoy cruising vacations, thanks to the many benefits that these trips offer, such as superior entertainment, top-notch customer service, and spectacular views of some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. With proper precautions, going on a cruise remains a safe and enjoyable experience for all who are looking for an unforgettable time at sea.

Murders at Sea

There have also been several incidents of passengers being killed by onboard staff, including the murder of a chef by an assistant restaurant manager in 2007 and the stabbing death of a bartender by another crew member in 2010. Other notable cases include the murder of a passenger by his wife, and that of a young woman who was strangled by her jilted lover.

Whatever the circumstances, these tragic incidents are always deeply shocking and serve as stark reminders that the seemingly idyllic setting of a cruise ship can quickly turn into something very different when the motive and the emotion combine into a lethal and explosive cocktail.

Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

What happens when someone falls overboard?

When someone falls off a cruise ship and goes overboard, there is typically a very rapid response by both the passengers and the crew. For one thing, all nearby passengers are immediately alerted through announcements or alarm bells. The crew then starts conducting searches of the water around the ship, using various methods such as visual scanning or night vision cameras to locate any floating objects.

Responders also have access to various lifeboats and rescue rafts that can be deployed quickly to provide assistance. If the person who has gone overboard is still in reach of the ship, responders may attempt a rescue with a longpole; if not, they will try to locate them using sonar equipment or other maritime tracking tools.

Man Overboard Exercises

Man overboard exercises are an important part of cruise ship safety protocols. These types of boat safety drills help to prepare crew members for the potentially dangerous situation of someone falling overboard and into the water. In some cases, the drills may involve dummies that can be thrown overboard to simulate an actual person in distress. Alternatively, they may involve simulated deck activities that would occur if a real person were pitched into the water.

Regardless of the specific exercise format, these drills are essential for getting crew members prepared and ensuring their quick response if a passenger should go overboard. As such, man-overboard exercises are an essential part of maintaining safe conditions on any cruise ship.

Man Overboard Chances of Survival

The chances of being found if you fall overboard while cruising can vary significantly depending on several different factors. For example, the season and weather conditions can make a big difference, as well as the size and location of the ship you are on. In general, it is estimated that someone who falls overboard will likely be found within 12 to 24 hours if they are wearing a life vest or other safety gear. However, if you do not have this equipment, the chances of being rescued may be significantly lower, especially in rough seas or inclement weather conditions.

Additionally, larger cruise ships are typically better equipped to spot someone who has gone overboard than smaller boats.

Reaction Times

Falling from a moving boat or ship of any size means that a certain amount of distance will be created between the person who has fallen overboard and the vessel itself even if the alarm is sounded immediately. The speed and size of the vessel will determine how fast it can turn to commence a search once the alarm has been sounded.

A small boat can come about in seconds but a cruise ship will require much longer to slow and stop, or to turn. In such a situation the only thing you can do if you fall overboard yourself is to stay calm and await rescue. It is of course difficult to remain calm in such life or death situations but there are no alternatives.

Factors that affect the chances of survival for person overboard

  • The temperature of the sea (warm seas or the chances of hypothermia)
  • Whether or not the person was wearing a life jacket or other personal floatation device
  • Age and physical health of the person
  • The mental state of the person
  • How soon the crew were alerted that the person was missing
  • The weather and the visibility
  • The sea conditions (rough seas or dead calm)
  • Time of day or night
  • Proxmity to the coast (possible coast guard assistance)

Ultimately, your best chance of survival for an overboard person will depend on a variety of different factors. Obviously calm seas, daylight, and warm waters increase the chances of survival as opposed to a pitch black night, rough seas, cold water, and a night time search.


Though rare, incidents of people falling overboard while on a cruise ship do occur. These tragic events can often be avoided by taking necessary precautions and being aware of the dangers that exist while cruising. If someone does fall overboard, it is important to have a quick response plan in place so that crew members can attempt to rescue them as soon as possible.

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