How Many Cruise Ships Have Sunk? And How Would You Survive?

Are you planning on a taking a cruise in the near future? Then you may want to stop reading right now: Cruise ships can and do sink, especially if they hit a coral reef or an iceberg. Fortunately, that sort of cruise ship disaster doesn’t happen often. And when ships do sink, that doesn’t mean that many — or any — of the passengers will get hurt. Here’s what you need to know.

Can cruise ships sink?

Senior couple watching ocean from cruise ship's deck

Have you ever thought about the question: Can cruise ships sink? And how many cruise ships have sunk? | CaraMaria/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Perhaps the most famous cruise ship sinking was the Titanic. The Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage, claiming more than 1,500 lives, Scientific American reports. Cruise ships can still sink. But as Scientific American explains, the changes made in the aftermath of the Titanic tragedy — and the many superior technologies for navigation and communication that have been introduced since — have made it “unlikely that the specific circumstances leading to the sinking of the Titanic will recur.”

Still, the ocean remains an unpredictable and dangerous place. The threat posed by icebergs, for instance, “has not been not eliminated, but it has been greatly diminished by modern surveillance” with technologies like GPS, radar, AMVER, and sonar, Scientific American reports. Plus, in the event of a disaster, cruise ships can get assistance from rescue vessels, or passing commercial or military ships. But ships can still sink, with disasters like the Costa Concordia proving that even sophisticated technology can’t completely prevent every disaster.

The Express reports that colliding with an object in the water can cause a cruise ship to sink. But weather can also threaten the stability of a cruise ship. Wind on its own can’t cause a cruise ship to capsize. However, combined with waves caused by wind, that wind could feasibly cause a ship to capsize. Rogue waves, mechanical failures, and human error can also leave even large cruise ships vulnerable.

How many cruise ships have sunk?

Want to know how many cruise ships have sunk? Good luck finding a straight answer. The New York Times notes that nobody systematically collects data on collisions, fires, evacuations, groundings, and sinkings of cruise ships. “The reason for the lack of data is that cruise lines, while based in the United States, typically incorporate and register their ships overseas,” the Times explains. “Industry experts say the only place cruise lines are obligated to report anything is to the state under whose laws the ship operates. ”

We don’t have a comprehensive public database that would tell us how many cruise ships have sunk. Neither the International Maritime Organization nor the United States Coast Guard tracks everything. In fact, the only person who does seem to track everything is sociology professor and cruise enthusiast Ross A. Klein, who operates a site called Cruise Junkie.

Cruise Junkie reports that dozens of passenger ships sunk between 1979 and 2013, according primarily to reports by English-language news sources. But only a few of those were cruise ships. The Times notes that from 1980 to 2012, about 16 cruise ships have sunk. Typically, cruise ships that sink are those sailing in inhospitable waters, like the Antarctic Ocean, or ships belonging to smaller lines.

What do you need to know to survive a cruise ship disaster?

Couple on deck chairs on a cruise

Though your cruise ship isn’t likely to sink, it doesn’t hurt to go in prepared. | Steve Mason/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

The first thing to know about surviving a sinking cruise ship? Today, “ships don’t sink with everybody dying,” Klein told The New York Times. “The chances of loss of life are pretty minuscule.” His advice if something happens the next time you take a cruise? “Just endure it as best you can. If something goes wrong, your attitude is what’s going to get you through it.”

The Times reports that “The best way to survive a disaster is to go into it prepared.” As soon as you board a cruise ship, you should familiarize yourself with the exits, the stairways, and the signage. Know where your life jacket is (and practice putting it on). Remember to follow crew members’ instructions, but to use common sense, going upward toward the deck or to a muster station.

If you hear the “abandon ship” command from the captain, crew members will begin lowering lifeboats. Every modern cruise ship has to have enough lifeboats for everyone onboard. The Times recommends wearing layers of warm clothing, taking along any necessary prescriptions, and packing fresh water. The publication also reports that it’s a good idea to tie together the lifeboats not only to share resources, but also to make it easier for rescuers to spot you.

Read more: You’ll Never Believe the Horrific Ways People Have Died on Cruise Ships

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