Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Recent drowning restarts cruise lifeguard debate

Last week a 10-year-old girl drowned on the Norwegian Gem. The tragedy restarted the debate on cruise lifeguards. As Cruise Law News noted, this is the seventh drowning-related incident on a cruise ship in the past two years. Because of the tragedy, cruise customers and concerned parents tend to react the same way: add lifeguards. However, lack of lifeguards are only part of the problem, and even with multiple steps to improve safety, no cruise ship will ever be 100% safe.

Lifeguards cannot prevent all drownings
Thousands of people will drown this year. They will drown in pools, lakes, the ocean, wherever there is water. Many will drown right in front of a lifeguard. Lifeguards are a preventative step, but no one can keep every swimmer safe. It only takes a minute for something to go wrong and depending on reaction time, a lifeguard can be too late. Would a lifeguard have made a difference on the Gem? Who knows. The pool was very crowded and relatively deep. All parents have to watch their children at any pool, but certainly one without a lifeguard.

Why don't cruise ships have lifeguards?
Even though they don't eliminate drownings, there is no reason all the major cruise lines shouldn't have lifeguards. Like many decisions, it is probably based on cost and perception. Lifeguards have limited utility on a ship where every worker tends to where multiple hats and can be used throughout the day. But also adding a lifeguard might make the parents become less engaged. They might think someone else is watching their child, so they don't have to pay as much attention. There is also the legal liability. When a cruise line adds a lifeguard it is somewhat implied that the guard is now responsible, instead of the passenger. Still, none of these costs or legal issues really justify not having lifeguards. As the lawsuits pile up from drownings, we predict that every big ship will soon have lifeguards. The insurance companies will insist.

What about passenger help
The most interesting aspect of the Cruise Law News report where some of the eyewitnesses explaining how passengers with medical training were not able to help. This is an even more complex legal issue. We are now in such a litigious time that cruise companies probably fear what any passenger might do to another in a time of crisis. A passenger who helps someone drowning or choking or having a heart attack, could be well intentioned, but the cruise staff is unable to check backgrounds or skills. Especially in the heat of the moment. It is a shame that good help might go to waste, but until the cruise companies can get some Good Samaritan clauses that hold up in court, it seems like it is best for everyone if the cruise employees handle emergencies.

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