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Dealing with a Cruise Ship in Rough Seas

Nobody enjoys rough seas during a cruise. They can cause seasickness and often lead to an increase in passenger slip, trip and falls injuries. Fortunately, most modern cruise ships are equipped with devices designed to minimize and virtually eliminate the rocking and rolling feeling that passengers and crew experience in rough seas. This equipment is commonly referred to as stabilizers or stabilizer wings. Smaller or older cruise ships have installed two stabilizers-one on each side of the ship. Larger ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Voyager, Freedom and Oasis class vessels have four installed four stabilizers, two on each side of the ship.

Often when we investigate a cruise ship passenger injury claim, the passenger does not really understand why they fell. They can be simply walking through the ship and suddenly find themselves lying on the deck-often with a broken arm or leg. The sudden trauma may cause them to forget what happened in the moment before the fall as the last thing they remember is simply lying on the floor in pain.

In these kinds of cases, when our attorneys investigate a potential passenger injury claim; we obtain and inspect the ship’s log and compare it to global weather tracking conditions.  We carefully assess the wave height and temperature, barometric pressure and wind conditions. Wind analysis is important because wind speed and wind direction analyzed in conjunction with the speed of the cruise ship at the time of the incident can be key indicators of when stabilizer wings should be deployed.

The ship’s log will tell us when and if the stabilizers were in fact deployed. We frequently find that stabilizers are “coincidentally” deployed shortly after a passenger falls but without a change in weather conditions.

What are stabilizers and how do they work?

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Stabilizers on cruise ships look a lot like airplane wings-and when deployed extend from the ship of the vessel outward.  And like airplane wings they can pivot be up or down depending on the wave conditions.

Whenever the ship’s wave and weather sensors detect severe wave and wind conditions the stabilizers can be automatically deployed.  In addition the bridge can manually deploy the wings on one or both sides of the ship’s hull. According to reports, the use of stabilizers can eliminate about 85% of the roll of the vessels.

Stabilizers only affect the rocking and rolling of a cruise ship; but have no effect on controlling the ship’s pitch (which is the front of the ship bobbing up and down in rough seas).  That it why it is important for the bridge to pick a courses that minimize heading into rough seas head on. Cruise lines do not like to deploy stabilizer wings because they create drag, reduce speed and increase fuel consumption.