Reviewing the reported issues related to passengers with disabilities, CHIRP and the cruise sector note that when passengers initially consider booking a cruise, it is important to identify the precise individual needs.

Whilst this factor might not be fully considered by travel agent(s), it should certainly be mentioned by the passenger(s).

If the travel agent is not able to answer queries, the cruise industry suggested that direct contact be made with the individual company – many of the major cruise operators have specific personnel to assist with resolving any concerns that disabled passengers may have.

There is a concern that some passengers fail to declare their disability which lends itself to problems when actually onboard a vessel.

Meanwhile, the cruise sector stressed the importance of the vessel and her crew being aware of specific disabilities both prior to boarding and immediately upon boarding:

  • It is important to identify the exact nature of the disability – vibration pillows, flashing lights, etc. can be provided to assist with awareness in emergency situations, but prior knowledge is required.
  • There are a restricted number of adapted cabins available at any one time. This may include passengers who are travelling for therapeutic respite as an integral part of their recovery.
  • Prior to boarding, passengers should ensure that they are on a list indicating that they would need assistance in the event of an emergency.
  • From both the crew and the passengers’ perspective it is important to fully engage upon boarding. Many cruise operators have specific crew personnel to assist with disabled passengers – these personnel become the key contact throughout the voyage.

An emergency briefing highlighting specific actions to take in an emergency should be given by the key contact. This may well be dependent upon the exact disability but could be “stay in the cabin and assistance will come, or if not in your cabin then proceed to the muster station”. If not in a cabin and unable to proceed to a muster station, then ask the nearest crew member for assistance – trained crew will then be able to come to help. From the passenger perspective, if at all in doubt as to what would be required in any given emergency, then ask.


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One cruise company highlighted the fact that their nominated disabled cabins were clustered around one muster station.

Another company mentioned that their cabins are spread out so that they are not clustered. The rationale for this is as follows:

  • With the majority of disabled personnel in a single location, trained expertise can be at hand to assist with boarding.
  • Conversely one of the biggest challenges is boarding a lifeboat rapidly and effectively. The last few passengers, (disabled) will take the longest to board.
  • SOLAS requires 30 minutes maximum to evacuate – this is based on a lifeboat capacity of 150 persons. Lifeboats (marine evacuation systems) can now hold 400 persons. Add in
    worried passengers and this becomes challenging.
  • One of the biggest changes being considered is the use of lifts. The thought process of “do not use” is being challenged due the larger number of personnel to evacuate which might be as many as 6,000 on some of the larger passenger vessels. One line of thinking is that if the lift in question has an independent power supply and the emergency is not fire, then it might be considered safer and more effective to transfer passengers up ten decks in 10-20 person lifts. It would be a judgement call for each company as to the safety of doing this and as to prioritizing disabled passengers. However, the subject is being widely discussed across the cruise sector.
  • Many cruise companies have “stair chairs” at every stairwell for use in an emergency for those passengers who have severe mobility issues.
  • One cruise company mentioned that they do not advise passengers to go back to their cabin to collect lifejackets. Many operators are moving away from this “historic” practice which might potentially send persons into danger. Lifejacket lockers may now often be found by the muster point and/or lifeboat / liferaft embarkation point. In part the ability to do this is linked to the age of the vessel, and the physical practicality of relocating jackets from cabins to locations near to the lifeboats or rafts.
  • One cruise company commented that they specifically train crews in “Crisis Management and Control”, including refresher training. With respect to the comment of passengers being directed towards muster stations prior to commencement of a drill, this is done simply because passengers often turn up early. Thus, a part of the crowd control is settling the early arrivals prior to the onrush when the bells are rung.
  • The industry confirmed that best practice with the management of disabled passengers is up to the individual cruise company. The regulations in the US (American Disabilities Act) and similar EU regulations are followed to the letter but anything above this is entirely down to the company.
  • Without specific knowledge of the exact nature of a passenger’s disability or disabilities, then there remains the potential problem of having trained crew to cater for the exact requirements of the passenger – a case in point is manual handing of a passenger. CHIRP received one comment to the effect that there is a thought process where if a passenger cannot board without limited assistance, then travel may not be permitted.

Overall CHIRP would comment that in the absence of any common rules or practices, possibly the best advice is to ensure that all of your requirements are known prior to boarding. If the booking agent cannot help in this respect, then go directly to the shipping company who should be able to help with any specific queries. Once on board, the specific requirements should be confirmed as soon as possible.