Emergency Procedures for Disabled Passengers


A report highlighting difficulties on cruise and passenger vessels that disabled persons may encounter when following standard emergency procedures.

What the reporter told us:

My husband and I have travelled with this company a couple of times, and on both occasions whilst we attended the emergency muster drill, nothing was said regarding people who were physically unable to walk down the vessel stairways. My husband is a wheelchair user, and last year I actually questioned what people in wheelchairs should do in an emergency since, quite understandably, we were told that wheelchair users should not use the lifts.

Last year we were told that there would be stewards available who would ensure that wheelchair users, etc., could get to their muster stations. This year we noticed that all the wheelchair users (or at least those who were assigned to our particular muster station) were gathered together slightly apart from the rest of the passengers at the muster station. This was done so that after the muster and briefing, we could leave before the able-bodied passengers filled all the lifts. We had mistakenly assumed, having been specifically segregated from able bodied passengers, that the muster instructions  and briefing would have been specifically suited to those unable to use the stairways on their own. We were all told that in the event of the alarm sounding, we should return to our cabins, collect warm  jackets, hats, any  medication and our life jackets, and then proceed to our designated muster station. We were also told that if there was smoke involved, we should keep low and crawl, in order to get to the stairs and our muster station, but nothing was said about wheelchair users. I asked afterwards what people like my husband should do and I was told not to worry because they were aware of which cabins were occupied by wheelchair users and that these people would be collected and taken down the stairs in a stair chair by designated crew members. My query is this. With our muster station being on Deck 7 and our cabin on Deck 12, if when the alarm sounds we were on another deck how would we get to our cabin in order to collect our life jackets, warm apparel, medication, etc. let alone be there ready for someone to get us down the stairs?  If people are in a panic, I can’t see how able-bodied people, let alone wheelchair users, are going to get to their own cabin to collect their things and then get to their muster station.

From the point of view of wheelchair users, it would seem to me to make more sense if there was a designated gathering point on each deck. That way, when the alarm sounded, whichever deck one was on, crew members could guide those in wheelchairs to where they ultimately needed to be.

In addition, if lifejackets were already at the muster stations rather than being placed in individual cabins, they could be distributed at the muster station and assistance could be given with the donning of the lifejacket. In short, it may be fine for able bodied people who can use the stairs   to go to their cabin, collect their things and then proceed to their muster point, but such an action could not be carried out by someone in a wheelchair since they would not be able to use a lift.

I should also point out the fact that it is not uncommon for stewards’ trolleys to be left outside cabins which makes it difficult at best to pass by with a wheelchair.

CHIRP Comment:

The Maritime Advisory Board (MAB) spent a lot of time discussing this report and commented as follows:

So far as legislation regarding disabled passengers is concerned, there is an EU Directive (1177/2010) which requires international and domestic passenger vessels within European waters to allow disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility to have the same rights as other passengers. Similarly, the US market is governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The UK have gone further when enacting the EU Directive into UK Law by requiring companies to have procedures with respect to disabled passengers and access. The MAB discussed as to whether there was any standard best practice documentation that could be referred to with several of the more well-known cruise companies – apparently there is none.

In general terms with reference to passengers with disabilities, the Maritime Advisory Board highlighted the following;

  • Everyone is different, and the range of disabilities varies from being wheelchair bound to those who may be:
    • visually impaired, with sight difficulties up to total blindness;
    • aurally impaired, with hearing difficulties up to total deafness;
    • frail, with difficulties in movement;
    • mute and unable to vocally respond; and
    • afflicted with any number of mental disabilities.

All of the above would require specialist care and attention in some shape or form.

  • CHIRP understands that the procedures that most companies have in place assure that in the event of an emergency, a disabled passenger has a trained crew member or crew members assigned to assist. Perhaps a reasonable course of action might be for a ship representative to discuss with the passenger what assistance may be required in the event of an emergency. A disabled passenger knows for instance, what drugs might be needed in the short to medium term, how best he or she can be moved, and any specific requirements concerning the disability. Perhaps a “grab-bag” could be prepared in readiness for any potential emergency?
  • With respect to the lifejackets being situated in cabins as opposed to being at the muster station, this point was queried with several cruise companies. Some have made a conscious decision to relocate all lifejackets close to the lifeboats. Others have not. It was mentioned that relocation of the lifejackets would be problematic on older vessels where there may not be sufficient space to allow for lifejackets to be situated in this position.
  • Similarly, CHIRP understands that many new build cruise vessels have disabled cabins located close to the muster This however, is not universal and there are no regulatory requirements from IMO to ensure that the vessel design takes this into account.With respect to the specific concerns of the reporter, this report would appear to demonstrate that there was a standard emergency lecture with no bias towards disabled passengers, albeit that they were separated  from  the main body of passengers. Whilst companies  will  have their own specific procedures, a more correct response to the concerns of the reporter would be to tell them to stay where they are and ask for assistance,  at which point the personnel assigned to that passenger would be summoned to assist with the particular actions required.CHIRP would like to hear from both passengers and the cruise industry on this subject. This may be in the form of reports detailing issues experienced, or from vessels  and company management as to how they cope with such matters. We would be delighted to publish any comment  in our “correspondence received” section of Maritime FEEDBACK. More and more people are taking cruises in their retirement and CHIRP believes that the whole subject is worthy of further discussion.

Report Ends