But no matter how many safety features the cruise lines add to their boats, it still falls to the parents to ensure their child's safety. As we found out in January of 2012, with the sinking of the Costa Concordia, safety is paramount while out on the sea.
How can you ensure that your family stays safe while cruising? Here are a few good tips:
The important thing is to set down some basic rules with your kids. These can include:
- No climbing on the railings
- No running
- Keep identification bracelet on at all times
- Never go with a stranger without express permission
- Who they can and cannot talk to
- Where they can and cannot go
- Where they should go if they get lost or separated
Every child should know their full name, your name, deck number, and cabin number. If your child is too young to remember all of that, make an identification card that you can tape to the inside of their shirt or stick into their pocket.
You should also explain to the kids what they should do if the ship's emergency system is activated. They should also know what the crew uniform looks like and that it is safe to approach a crew member if they are in trouble.
You should also find out what to do if your child gets hurt or lost. Each ship has a different procedure in regards to a lost child. Check with your purser for more information.
Make sure everyone attends the ship's safety drill, no matter their age. Not only will they learn what happens if there's an emergency but also allow the leader of your muster point to make accommodations for your kids. You will also want to speak to the crew member in charge or your purser to ensure that child-size life vests are available for your child's use.
Visit the kids' facilities on board as soon as possible. Introduce yourself to the staff, check out the facility, and make sure your kids are comfortable staying there. Use this time to ask the staff questions, such as:
- what kind of training they've had,
- if adults and strangers are allowed in the facility,
- what the secure check-in and checkout procedures are,
- what happens to the children in an emergency.
If something doesn't feel right to you, speak to the cruise director or someone else in charge. Don't doubt your parenting intuition - it's just as important to you on a ship as it is on land.
Never leave your young child unattended onboard. No matter how safe you feel or what other people say, leaving kids alone in a cabin by themselves, even for a quick run to the snack bar, can spell disaster. Ask someone you trust stay with them or have them come with you. If you want a nice night out with your spouse, ask the activity director about onboard babysitting. You might pay extra but it will take a lot of weight and stress off of your shoulders.
If you have older kids, you might feel comfortable letting them run free on the cruise ship during the voyage. Before you set them free, make sure to tour the ship. Point out how to get from common areas to your cabin, where all of the kid-oriented activities are, and where they are not allowed to go.
When you do finally set them free, make sure you know where they are going to be. In return, they should know where you will be, in case they need you. You can even sit down each morning and set up a schedule that day and if it changes at all, they're required to come back to the cabin and leave you a note.
You kids may think that you're micro-managing, but if something happens, you'll want to know exactly where the kids are and how to get a hold of them. You might even want to bring onboard a set of walkie-talkies so you can check in with them at any time.
You should also set up frequent check-ins during the day so you can be sure that they're safe and not getting into trouble. You can disguise these as set mealtimes or activities that you want to do as a family. There should be defined punishments if the kids do not make these check-ins - maybe they lose their roaming privileges and have to stay with you for a day.
Make sure that older kids understand that this freedom is limited to the boat. When you go ashore in a strange and foreign land, your family unit should stay together with children in clear site of a parent. This will reduce issues with the locals, ensure everyone stays safe, and that you have the best and must fun cruising vacation possible.