This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
What happens if you have a medical emergency on a cruise?
A cruise has long been on your list of things to do, and it’s finally time to make your reservations. You’ve chosen your itinerary and your embarkation port — probably chosen your favorite cruise line as well. But perhaps there’s a little concern about your first-time cruise. After all, there are things to consider.
You’re leaving the country, and you’ll need a passport. You may not know the language of port cities you’ll be visiting. And heaven forbid, there could be a medical emergency while you’re away. How can you be confident that you’ll be okay? How can you be prepared for the worst while allowing yourself to enjoy this lifetime dream?
What’s available on a cruise ship?
Most cruise lines have onboard medical centers with board-qualified doctors and nurses to take care of medical needs. They can certainly set broken bones, stitch cuts, and administer medications.
Medical equipment onboard a cruise ship will generally include lifesaving equipment, such as defibrillators and external pacemakers. Some ships also include x-ray machines, lab equipment, and electrocardiograph machines.
What training do onboard doctors have?
Most cruise doctors are trained to provide cardiac life support and have experience in general emergency or critical care. They will most likely have at least minor surgical skills. If more extensive medical care is needed, ship doctors are qualified to authorize the transfer to a hospital or facility on shore.
What happens in the case of a medical emergency?
First a doctor determines the nature of the emergency and the care required. If he/she makes the decision that the nature of the emergency is severe enough, evacuation will be ordered. The captain will be notified immediately and will confer with the doctor to coordinate changing the course or speed of the ship — or communicating directly with a rescue agency, such as the Coast Guard.
The condition of the patient and where the ship is located will both be considered. A ship may be diverted so a patient can be transferred to a shore medical facility. That transfer can take the form of a speed boat or helicopter, although not all cruise ships have helipads.
What is the worst-case scenario?
It is possible that the nature of the illness/injury may require more comprehensive facilities than are available nearby. In such a case, the patient (or those attending him) may recommend medical repatriation. A patient may prefer to be treated near home, rather than in a foreign country. It may also be preferable to be near other family members who can lend support or where convalescence can take place.
What can you do to be prepared?
Check with the cruise line and specific cruise ship you plan to travel with, to find out what their medical facilities include. If there is a specific medical condition you are concerned about, you should discuss it with the cruise line. You may wish to arrange to have specialized medical equipment brought onboard. It is highly suggested that you purchase travel insurance, which can help with emergency medical services as well as reimburse you for costs should you have to cancel the rest of your trip. You should always bring a list of medications and doses you are taking.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers cruise every year without any problems at all. I hope you will rest assured that you can be well cared for if a medical emergency arises. Go ahead and book your reservations and enjoy that bucket list cruise!