Are You Ready for the Cruise Muster Drill? Here’s What to Know…

If you’ve never cruised before, you may not know anything about one of the ship’s most important safety practices, known as a muster drill.

Muster station sign on a cruise
No matter which cruise you pick, you’ll need to complete a muster drill prior to the ship leaving the dock.

And even if you have sailed, in recent years the drill has changed dramatically following the pandemic. So what exactly is this drill and what does it involve?

Truth is that the practice is no big deal, but if you know what to expect beforehand, you can definitely make it go smoother, spend less time, and get on with the rest of your vacation.

What Is the Muster Drill?

For those that have never cruised before, the ship’s muster drill is an emergency practice in case you have to abandon ship in the middle of the cruise. Rules require that it be done before the ship leaves the dock. You can think of it as being similar to the rules that require the airline crew to go over the safety procedures before every flight.

The muster drill isn’t really a “drill” however. These days, it’s more of a safety briefing where you’ll learn what to do in the case of an emergency on the ship.

How Do I Complete It?

Today, you start the muster drill by watching a couple of short videos on your phone via the ship’s app or on the stateroom TV. Then you check in at your designated muster station.

It used to be that to complete the muster drill you had to find your assigned station, check-in, physically line-up with your other passengers and then listen to the crew explain what to do in the case of an emergency. Due to the pandemic, the cruise lines adjusted the drill as before it meant passengers were in (very) close proximity to each other for extended times.

Today, on most cruise lines the drill is a two part process. First, you watch a couple of short videos on your cabin TV or through the cruise line’s app once you are on the ship. These go over how to put on a life jacket and what the ship’s emergency horn signal sounds like.

Second, you will check in at your muster station. The muster station is the meeting point you go to in case of an emergency on the ship. Each cabin is assigned a muster station, and it’s printed on your room keycard, on the back of the cabin door, or in the ship’s app.

Head to the station and the staff will scan your card to show that you’ve checked in and possibly have a short (1-2 minute) briefing. Sometimes you simply have to scan in to show that you’ve been to the station and then you are done.

When Does the Drill Happen?

The muster drill doesn’t have a set time. It’s completed as passengers board. The muster stations are manned by the crew for several hours during the boarding time and you simply watch the videos and then check-in on your own schedule. It just needs to happen before the ship departs.

So some people will complete the drill at noon on boarding day while others might not complete it until later in the afternoon.

The smartest thing to do, however, is go ahead and get it done as soon as you can. This allows you to get to enjoying your vacation right away instead of having to stop the fun to go do the drill.

How Long Does it Take?

The muster drill used to take considerable time — easily 20-30 minutes as the ship shut down, everyone made their way to the muster station, and then had to listen to the emergency instructions.

Now, it takes less than five minutes. The videos that explain the life jacket and emergency signal are each just a minute or so. Then you simply need to walk to the muster station and scan your card to check in.

After that, you’re done and can get on with the fun of your cruise.

What Happens if I Don’t Do the Drill?

Thinking of skipping the “homework” of the muster drill? Not a great idea. Remember, passengers are scanned in to show that they have done the drill. So the crew has an entire list of who has and hasn’t completed it.

Since the drill is required by law, the crew will then track down these passengers to ensure they go through the safety regulations. That means you can be in the middle of enjoy your cruise and have to stop everything to do the muster drill.

It’s much simpler just to take a few minutes right at the start and get it done.

Do I Need to Bring Anything?

The only thing you need to bring to the drill is your room keycard. The crew will scan this to show you’ve completed the muster drill. You don’t need to bring anything else with you, such as the life jackets that are found in your room.

What About Kids?

Babies and small children are given a band to wear during the cruise that displays the muster station. This way, if parents and kids are separated, the crew will know where to bring them.

Everyone on the ship will need to complete the muster drill, including kids. You’ll want to bring them (and their keycards) along with you as you arrive at the muster station.

If you have a smaller child, then the crew will provide them with a bracelet/band they will wear the entire cruise. This band has the muster station printed on it. In the case of an emergency where the child is in the kids area or otherwise not with you, then the crew will be able to know where to bring the kids to meet up with their parents and get to safety.

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