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Your guide to accidents on cruise ships

Moored cruise ship - accidents on cruise ships

Cruising holidays with the family are more popular than ever.  An estimated 1.64 million people in the UK chose to take a cruising holiday in 2014, compared to 1.53 million in 2009 (Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

The rising numbers of holidaymakers who prefer to take a relaxed, leisurely cruise to their chosen destination may also increase the risk of suffering an unfortunate accident or injury. 

The most common types of passenger claims for incidents on board a cruise ship or ferry usually involve:

  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Falling objects
  • Swimming pool accidents
  • Drowning or near drowning accidents
  • Faulty equipment

Cruises and ferry journeys may not always be “plain sailing” so it’s important to be aware of the legal duty of care you are owed by cruise operators.

The rules about making a claim for an accident aboard a cruise ship or ferry are different to those that apply if you are injured in an accident at a hotel or resort.

Your Legal Friend has over 30 years’ experience in personal injury compensation and a specialist knowledge in all aspects of international personal injury law. We can provide you with all the expert guidance you will need to help you help you succeed in making your claim against a UK tour, cruise or ferry operator.


  • 1.79 million British holidaymakers took a cruise in 2013, an increase of around 5% over 2012.
  • Passenger figures have risen by more than 300,000 (up 21%) in the last five years          (Cruise Lines International Association, 2014)
  • The number of passengers carried by cruise ships is expected to exceed 24 million in 2018.         (Statista Inc, 2014)
  • There were 72 onboard fires between 1990 and 2011
  • 6 cruise vessels sank, collided with rocks, reefs or icebergs between 1990 and 2012          (Cruise Minus, 2015)

What are the most common accidents on cruise ships?

Thankfully, not all incidents involving ferries or cruise liners involve a collision or a vessel capsizing.  However, many of the most common, everyday accidents on cruise ships can still cause you a serious or even fatal  injury, including:

  • Slips, trips and falls

Passengers can suffer an accident even before they leave port. Gangway injuries may occur as passengers embark and disembark. Slips and trips are common in the restricted space of a passenger cabin or shower / bathroom. Tripping on stairways, in dining areas and near pools is also a frequent hazard onboard a moving ship.

  • Falling objects

Ship movements or sea conditions can sometimes put passengers at risk from falling objects, which are not adequately secured on main decks, in dining areas and cabins. A sudden change in speed or course can cause passengers to lose their footing or create hazardous waves in the ship’s swimming pools.

  • Swimming pool accidents

Poorly maintained pools and Jacuzzis are a potential safety hazard. Not only do ‘wet areas present a  serious risk of slipping on tiled surfaces but also uneven, cracked or broken tiles can cause stubbed or broken toes and trips.

Pool depth markings are not always clear, which can cause passengers to misunderstand where they can safely swim and lead to potentially fatal difficulties while in the water.

Many of the leading cruise lines do not employ lifeguards to supervise swimming pool areas and have indicated they have no plans to change their policy.

Instead, they claim to follow the lead of hotel and resorts by providing clear and visible signs, which inform cruise ship passengers that a lifeguard is not present.

  • Drowning or near drowning accidents

Falling overboard is always a potential risk. Of the 96 passengers reported to have fallen into the sea from a cruise ship between 2009 and 2013, only one in five (20) were saved, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

Barriers surrounding decks should be properly maintained and checked, and life jackets and floats should be readily available.

  • Faulty equipment

Preventable accidents include mechanical defects with the ship itself, as well as any equipment available to use, such as:

  • Climbing walls
  • Flow Rider Surf Simulators  - where a thin stream of water shoots up a sloped platform to create a wave-like flow of water
  • Gym equipment
  • Bowling alleys

If you have an accident on board a ship

The law involved in making an injury claim for an accident on board a ship is different to the law that applies to an accident that occurred at a hotel or resort.

The Terms and Conditions contained in your holiday contract, which are supplied by both Tour operators and cruise lines, are bound by regulations set out in the Athens Convention.

The Athens Convention – what you need to know

The Athens Convention applies to EU member states and has been in force in the UK since 1996.

Operators of seagoing vessels owe a “duty of care” in the carriage of passengers and luggage by sea, and to passengers who are either getting on or off the boat.

The Convention operates in favour of the consumer for maritime related accidents i.e. shipwreck, collision, stranding, explosion, fire or defect in the ship. In these cases fault is automatically presumed to be on the part of the carrier unless they can prove otherwise. This is different to claims under the Package Travel Regulations 1992, which require you to prove the carrier was at fault. Other non-maritime related accidents (i.e slips and trips onboard the ship or illness claims) also require you to provide fault against the carrier.

A cruise ship accident claim will always be brought in accordance with the Athens Convention and not under Package Holiday Regulations 1992.

You can still claim compensation for a ‘spoilt holiday’ if your holiday provider has breached the terms of your holiday contract, or if your holiday fulfils the definition of a package holiday.  However this will be a completely separate action under the Package Holiday Regulations 1992.

It is also important to be aware that the Athens Convention does not apply to domestic cruises around the British Isles.. 

If your cruise departed from a foreign destination

You may be able to proceed with a claim under the Athens Convention providing you have entered into the cruise holiday contract. Most major cruise operators state in their booking conditions that the contract is subject to English Law and that any dispute will be resolved within the courts of England, so this should not be a problem for most holiday makers. 

For holidays which include accommodation i.e. cruise and stay holidays, the Package Travel Regulations 1992 may apply to accidents and illnesses which do not involve the cruise ship i.e. slipping accident at the hotel.

Time Limit

A further important difference is the time you have to make a claim from when the accident occurred:

  • 2 years - Athens Convention  
  • 3 years - Package Travel Regulations

Compensation Limit

A limit is imposed on the amount of compensation that can be claimed for personal injury or death.


All sea carriers must have insurance as they have a strict liability for personal injury, fatality or any shipping related incident affecting their passengers unless there is evidence to show the incident was caused by:

  • A natural phenomenon of an “exceptional, inevitable and irresistible character”, or
  • wholly caused by a third party.

Making a claim – what you need to know

Building your case and making a claim requires the in-depth knowledge of a specialist personal injury solicitor.

Your Legal Friend has over 30 years’ experience in successfully managing compensation claims and has expert knowledge of all aspects of international personal injury law.

We specialise in helping all those who have suffered from a holiday accident through no fault of their own while onboard a cruise ship or ferry and who wish to claim compensation against a UK tour, cruise or ferry operator.  These claims can cover compensation not only for your injuries but also for spoiling your holiday if your injuries prevented you from taking part in any of your holiday activities.

We can also help you to claim back any additional expenses you have suffered as a result of your accident, such as:

  • Any medical expenses you had to meet whilst on holiday
  • Time taken off work on your return from holiday.

Throughout your claim, Your Legal Friend will help you every step of the way.

  • No win, no fee – guaranteed
  • Specialist team of occupational illness solicitors
  • A wealth of knowledge and expertise
  • Advice, support and guidance throughout your claim
  • Over 30 years of experience in personal injury compensation

Talk to us today

For an informal, confidential chat with one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors, call us now on 0808 301 7535 (calls free from landlines and mobiles). Or just complete the 'Start a new claim’ option on the right and we'll call you straight back.