The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires that a muster drill must be conducted by the ship within 24 hours of departure, but many Cruise ships actually conduct the drill before the ship departs for the first time. On the Costa Concordia the vessel picked up passenger at a number of ports during its cruise around the Mediterranean and hence did not always hold a muster drill for new passengers before departing, so nearly 700 people who boarded at the port of Civitavecchia had not undertaken muster drill when the ship struck the rocks and sank.
Whenever new passengers embark a safety briefing must be given immediately before or after departure. This briefing shall at least include the instructions required by SOLAS regulation III/3.3. It is usually made by means of an announcement in one or more languages likely to be understood by the passengers. The announcement is made on the ship’s public address system or by other suitable means likely to be heard at least by the passengers who have not yet heard it during the voyage. Some cruise liners will also play safety videos coving the evacuation procedures over the in-cabin television system. The SAFEGUARD project has perform a series of full-scale ship passenger trials to gather data on human behaviour during a muster drill.
In the wake of Costa Concordia tragedy The Cruise Lines International Association, European Cruise Council, and the Passenger Shipping Association have adopts a new muster policy for the mandatory muster drills of all embarking passengers prior to departure from port. Any passengers that embark after the official pre-cruise drill will promptly participate in an individual or group safety drill that meets SOLAS requirements.
Traditionally, passengers would all assembly in muster stations next to the actual lifeboats ready for embarkation, however, as the vessel size and number of passengers as increased some cruise ships first assembly passengers in muster stations in large public spaces close by the lifeboat embarkation points. These muster station must have ready access for passengers and be in the vicinity of the embarkation station and ample room for marshalling and instruction the passengers.
Passengers may sometimes refer to the muster drill as the lifeboat drill but they do not actually get into the lifeboats they merely assemble next to or close by the lifeboats. Actual lifeboat drills not only involves people getting into the lifeboat but also them being lowered, launch and recovery.
Regulations do not specifically say that passengers must wear life jackets during the muster drills but they must be shown how to put them on. The lifejackets should be designed such that at least 75% of people, who are completely unfamiliar with them, can correctly put it on within a period of one minute, without assistance. Some tests were actually conducted with over 250 persons donning lifejackets as part of a large research project undertaken at the SHip Evacuation Behaviour Assessment facility (SHEBA) to help establish the actual distribution of times for donning a lifejacket.
Some Cruise lines require lifejackets to be worn by the passengers during the muster drill, while others conduct drills without passengers donning life jackets. Chris van Raalten director of maritime safety and compliance at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines commented that “one seemingly small change has had a big impact: on the largest ships, passengers are no longer required to wear their life jackets to the lifeboat drill. The shift has saved time and spared guests having to negotiate their way through crowds of bulked-up fellow passengers at the start of their vacation; thus speeding up the briefing and allowing guests to focus on their instructions.”
Many cruise ships have the life jackets stored in the cabins with additional jackets stored near assembly areas. Some operators may expect the passengers to return to their cabins to collect their own life jackets; while some have the crew collect the life jackets from the cabins while sweeping through these spaces to make sure passengers are all accounted for. Other Cruise lines store the majority of held at the muster station. One of the reasons being that in a real emergency occurring during daytime the majority of the passengers are likely to be dispersed around the ship rather than in their cabins and they do not want to force passengers to have to travel back to their cabins to collect their lifejackets before assembling at the muster stations. Others were worried about passengers might slip or trip over dangling lifejacket belt straps.
You may also be interested in the next Design & Operation of Passenger Ships Conference, which is taking place in London on 20 - 21 November 2013.