First-time Cruisers Ask: Is the Muster Drill Really Necessary?

Going onboard a cruise ship for the first time is an exhilarating feeling. There’s so much to see and explore. If your cabin is ready and you get to the ship early enough, you might even be able to stretch out on the bed and take a load off. But no matter what you do, you’ll be interrupted for the muster drill. What is the muster drill? Is it something you are required to attend? What happens if you miss the drill? If you’re a first-time cruiser, these are questions you absolutely need answers to.

What Is the Muster Drill?

The muster drill is, in short, a safety drill. If you’ve ever flown on a plane, it’s the equivalent of the flight attendant pointing out the exits, demonstrating how to use the seatbelts and what to do if the oxygen masks come down.

Each stateroom is assigned a muster station. It will be posted on the inside door of your stateroom. On some cruise lines, you’ll also have it printed on your stateroom key card. Depending on the cruise line, it might have a fancy marketing name for them, but they serve the same function. 

Having the muster station listed on your stateroom card is a good thing. In the event of an emergency, you’ll be expected to gather at your muster station. This way, you don’t have to commit your location to memory. Just look at your card and head to your station.

What Happens At the Muster Drill

What happens at the must drill has a lot to do with which cruise line you travel. Some require everyone in the stateroom to bring their life jacket with them to the drill. Once everyone has been accounted for, passengers will be shown how to use it in the event of an emergency.

Other cruise lines tell you to leave the lifejackets in the stateroom. Once everyone is situated, a video is shown explaining the safety protocols.

These drills only happen once on embarkation day before you set sail. The length of the drill depends on the cruise line. Royal Caribbean holds its drill 30 to 60 minutes before sailing. Norwegian Cruise Lines say their drill lasts anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes. In truth, I’ve never timed any of these drills. But none of them seem to last longer than 15 minutes. 

Is Attendance Required?

If you ask about a “muster drill” and the crew calls it something else, like the “mandatory safety drill” or another name, just know it’s the same thing as the muster drill.

The reason some call it the “mandatory safety drill” is because it’s just that – mandatory. Don’t show up, and you’ll hear your name broadcast over the PA system. Hide out in your stateroom? They’ll come knocking. 

We don’t recommend you dodge going to the muster/safety drill. It’s actually for your own good. Much like flying, the chances you’ll ever need to apply what you’ll learn in the muster drill are virtually non-existent. 

The operative word is “virtually”. There have been a small number of times that passengers have had to put on their lifejacket. But just like car insurance, you almost never need it. Nonetheless, if something happens, you’re glad you have it.

The same is true with the safety drill. You may never use it. But if you need to, you’ll be glad you paid attention.

What Happens If the Muster Drill Is Missed?

Just like on an airplane, the safety drill isn’t something the cruise lines decide to do on their own. It’s actually maritime law. Which means if passengers don’t comply, they can be kicked off the ship.

That means “do not pass Go. Do not collect $200” (a nod to those who have played Monopoly). Said plainly, you can be thrown off the ship and you will not get a refund for your cruise. If you paid for an excursion, you just made a donation to whatever company runs that excursion.

Now, you might ask if someone getting removed from the cruise ship has ever happened. Truth is, we can’t find any documentation of that ever happening. Like we said earlier, the crew will hunt you down to get you to the safety drill. Besides, when the consequences are explained it doesn’t take much to convince a person to come.

A Small Price To Pay

When you get down to it, there’s no point in trying to avoid the muster drill. It’s going to happen whether you are there or not. The ship will not leave until the muster drill takes place. And to make sure everyone attends, all the restaurants, bars, casino, and every public place shuts down. So the only place to find stragglers is in their cabin.

And because it’s over so quickly, you can officially get started on your vacation. So get to the drill when the announcement is made. Listen to the safety instructions. Then go have a blast!


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