Cruise Industry

Industry Focus: Why cruise lines are reluctant to employ lifeguards

Many people may not realise that aboard ship, any cruise ship, anywhere in the world, there is never a lifeguard on duty, that’s slowly changing, but why the reluctance from cruise lines?

At most hotels and resorts with one or more pools in the Middle East there is a lifeguard on duty during operational hours, while in South Africa it is more of a mixed bag, with a lifeguard usually only available at the top-end resorts and all public pools.

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However, many people may not realise that aboard ship, any cruise ship, anywhere in the world, there is never a lifeguard on duty, except aboard Disney Cruise Line, which in October last year quietly became the first cruise line in the world to add lifeguards to all the pools aboard the ships in its fleet, bringing the cruising arm of the Disney empire in line with its land-based resorts.

On all other major cruise lines, however, the responsibility for children in and around the pools is set firmly upon the parents, a state of affairs that many industry observers want to see changed, following the tragic death last month of a four-year-old boy, who drowned aboard the Norwegian Breakaway.

His six-year-old brother was also involved in the incident and survived with serious injuries. That tragedy came in the wake of several other high-profile deaths of children at sea. A six-year-old from Florida drowned aboard a Carnival Cruises ship last year, just a few months after another four-year-old boy was left brain-damaged by a near-drowning aboard a Disney Cruise Line ship.

These deaths all occurred aboard cruise liners that are often sailing with more than 1,000 children onboard, and have among their onboard facilities vast waterparks and pool areas.

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In the Middle East and South Africa, it may seem unthinkable, but cruise lines lack of progress in ensuring poolside safety is not through any want of initiative or genuine concern for the safety of their guests, but rather a result of the ‘compensation culture’ that has become a hallmark of North American society.

If a cruise line hires a lifeguard, the safety of the children and adults using their onboard waterparks becomes their responsibility, undermining the ‘sole responsibility’ clauses written into passengers’ terms and conditions on their cruise tickets. Disney Cruise Line has likely, therefore, had to closely re-word their legal frameworks, a move they clearly felt was necessary given the family-friendly nature of their brand.

Safety experts have welcome the move, but insist that parental responsibility remains at the core of ensuring the safety of children around water. “Even if there is a lifeguard, parents are the first layer of supervision,” Roy Fielding, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, which oversees water safety initiatives, told Fox News, adding that parents need to be 100 percent attentive and within arm’s length, “not reading a book or on their phone” when their children are in and around water.

Disney Dream Lifeguards Donald's Pool

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This is the same view held by the more than 21-million people who go on a cruise each year, many of them with their young families and was the overwhelming majority opinion of our Facebook followers when Cruise Arabia & Africa put the question to you several weeks ago.

Passionate advocates for the cruise industry insist that parents are responsible for their children on the pool deck, but others argue that modern cruise ships have become so large, with such vast pool areas, that parents cannot reasonably be expected to ensure the safety of their children, which is why lifeguards are a legal requirement of all major waterparks.

“In my view, cruise ships should have lifeguards for the same reason you would expect lifeguards at a water park,” said B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association. “Cruise ships are essentially floating amusement parks, and they should be providing reasonable protections with respect to the attractions they offer.”

According to James Walker, the attorney and creator of, there are no US laws that require cruise lines to provide a lifeguard for their pools, and officials that Cruise Arabia & Africa spoke to in South Africa and the UAE asked to remain anonymous, but indicated that laws not required by the US authorities, generally aren’t pursued by cruise destinations because of the fear that cruise lines may take their business elsewhere.

This would have a significant impact on the Middle East’s tourism sector, and would deprive South Africa of a major source of foreign revenue. The world’s major cruise lines would never abandon the North American market, however, as it is the largest and most important, but until such time as the US Congress makes lifeguards at sea compulsory, it is unlikely that major cruise lines will follow in the footsteps of Disney Cruise Line.

A Carnival Cruises spokeswoman told Cruise Arabia & Africa that they make it clear to their guests that child safety around water is the parents’ responsibility. “The maximum depth of the pool is 4 feet, 6 inches, and parental supervision is required for children under 13.”

Carnival carries 700,000 passengers under 13 every year. Aboard Norwegian Cruise Line, they require children under 12 to be supervised at all times. “As with many land-based hotels and resorts with swimming pools, we have highly visible signage to alert guests to the fact that a lifeguard is not on duty. At the pools, we also require that children under 12 are accompanied by an adult at all times,” a spokesperson told Cruise Arabia & Africa.

“Unlike many injuries and other tragedies, a child going under the water happens without noise and can certainly occur without notice,” Dr. Kyran Quinlan, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, told Fox News. “Until children are excellent swimmers, parents would be wise to serve as their children’s lifeguard in settings like hotel pools or cruise ships.”

To that end, Safe Kids Worldwide ( suggests one adult at a time should be the designated “Water Watcher” for a set amount of time, for example fifteen minutes, so you know someone’s eyes are always on the kids.

Categories: Cruise Industry

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