Skip to content

What is a cruise ship muster drill?

Aug. 09, 2022
6 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

No, not "mustard." Muster. If you've been under the impression that this cruise ship staple involves condiments, listen up.

The mandatory muster drills — also known as cruise ship safety drills, safety briefings or lifeboat drills — serve to tell passengers all they need to know to stay safe on a cruise. They're the cruise ship equivalent of school fire drills.

True emergencies are rare at sea, but it's important for everyone on board to know what to do if an "abandon ship" order is given by the captain. That's where a muster drill is helpful.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter.

What is a muster drill on a cruise ship?

A crew member demonstrates the proper way to wear a life jacket during a muster drill on Virgin Voyages' Valiant Lady. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Cruise muster drills are mandatory safety briefings that all passengers must attend before the ship is allowed to sail. This applies even if you have cruised before.

The purpose of a cruise safety drill is to familiarize you with your assembly station, where you will gather in case of an emergency. Each passenger is designated a station based on where their cabin is located, and each station has its own corresponding lifeboat.

During the drill, the crew will also tell you where to find your life jackets and demonstrate how to properly put them on in the event they're needed.

The captain is also likely to make some announcements to go over general safety rules for the vessel (don't throw anything overboard, don't smoke except in designated areas, don't run on the wet pool deck, hold handrails in rough seas, etc.) and demonstrate the emergency signal — seven short blasts, followed by one long blast on the ship's alarm system, which can be ear-splitting.

Related: Cruise ship embarkation day do’s and don'ts

How are muster drills conducted?

Celebrity Cruises passengers must now complete e-muster drills instead of in-person ones. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

For years, ships forced passengers to gather at the same designated time in large groups, either out on deck by their lifeboats or in an indoor space, such as the theater, casino or a lounge.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic created a need for social distancing, most big-ship cruise lines have developed virtual muster drills, which can either be watched on your cabin television or on your cruise line's mobile app within a certain time frame after you've boarded. (Check with your line for details.)

Despite those technological advancements, nearly all lines' ships still require you to report to your designated muster station to check in with crew members waiting there. Some will conduct a life jacket demonstation in person; others will simply verify that you've watched any required instructional videos. All will either scan your keycard or take down your name or cabin number to confirm you've done your due diligence.

Some lines conduct in-person drills where everything is done in real time. Others gather everyone to watch a video in the same place simultaneously, missing the whole point of developing video muster drills in the first place.

Why do cruise ships have muster drills?

By law, cruise ships must have enough lifeboats on board for every passenger. (Photo by leezsnow/Getty Images)

Cruise ships are required to conduct muster drills for all passengers on board before they are allowed to set sail. The purpose is to familiarize passengers with safety protocols and demonstrate what they'll need to do in an emergency. Familiarizing them with the process ahead of time eliminates an unnecessary layer of chaos and panic in the unlikely event of an emergency.

In 1914, Safety of Life at Sea regulations were implemented following the sinking of Titanic in 1912. Those who are familiar with the tragedy will know that so many died because there weren't enough lifeboats on board. The senselessness of those deaths led officials to realize changes were needed.

SOLAS seeks to hold all vessels to a consistent standard of safety in an effort to avoid further loss of life in a similar situation. As such, the SOLAS rules have been amended many times. They originally stated that muster drills had to take place within 24 hours of sailaway.

In 2013, following the sinking of Costa Concordia in Italy, a new amendment was made. It went into effect in 2015 and declared that muster drills had to be completed prior to the ship's leaving the dock or immediately upon leaving, rather than within 24 hours of departure.

Related: 21 tips and hacks that will make your first cruise go smoothly

What happens if I skip the muster drill on my cruise?

A teddy bear wears a child-size life jacket during a muster drill on Carnival Conquest. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

If you fail to report to your assigned muster station by the cutoff time, your name and cabin number will be reported to the vessel's commanding officers, who will embarrass you by summoning you over the shipwide public address system.

It's likely that there will be a makeup drill conducted for those who missed it the first time around, but in severe cases, those passengers will not be allowed to sail and could either be forced to disembark before the ship leaves or to depart in the next port of call.

For more cruise terminology, check out TPG's glossary of common cruise terms.

Got more cruise questions? TPG has answers:

Featured image by A passenger checks in at his muster station onboard Disney Fantasy after completing the virtual muster drill on the Disney Cruise app. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees