Here’s What The Horns Sounding on a Cruise Ship Mean

You’re on your cruise ship. The entire week is ahead of you. You’re excited about the exotic ports of call, the food, the shows… and yes, the time off from email and the cell phone. You have a drink in your hand. You’re in paradise.


The ship’s horn sounds loudly. It’s enough to scare you half to death.

While the horns on a cruise ship may surprise you, they are an extremely important aspect of sailing. The ship’s horns harken back to a day before radios and loudspeakers.

They serve as communication with other boats in the area, telling them what the cruise ship is planning to do. Without the horn signals, the risk of a collision would be much greater.

So what do they mean?

As you would guess, different horns have different meanings. We’ve broken down the horn signals with what they mean below.

Inland Waters (Near Port)

One short blast = Changing course to starboard (right)
Two short blasts = Changing course to port (left)
Three short blasts = Operating in reverse
Five short blasts = Danger signal
Two long blasts = Leaving berth

Open International Waters

One short blast = Passing on ship’s port side
Two short blasts = Passing on ship’s starboard side
Three short blasts = Operating in reverse
Five short blasts = Danger signal

In addition, ships will also sound their horns for other reasons; most notably in low visibility. This will usually involved regular bursts of sound to let other ships in the area know that the cruise ship is there.

And when a cruise ship makes the sound heard below? Well, that’s just them blowing off a little steam and having some fun.

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  1. A general emergency alarm is indicated by these seven short and one long blasts of the ship’s horn. The crew may have to leave the ship due to an onboard fire, a grounding, a collision, or other circumstances. In some cases, the crew can hear the ship’s bells or whistles.

  2. I just heard a cruise ship give seven short blast and one long blast… it is at the dock and is departing. Any ideas what this might mean? I have never heard this before, and I live right near the cruise ship terminal.


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