Spencer Aronfeld, Founding partner Aronfeld Trial Lawyers Miami

More families are taking cruises than ever before, according to recent reports from Cruise Lines International Association, Inc, which shows that demand has gone up 20.5 percent in the last five years. As more families are choosing cruises as their vacation of choice, it is more important than ever to emphasize safety for the youngest passengers onboard.

Major cruise lines including, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises heavily market to young families who are looking for the accommodations of a luxury resort, while experiencing endless excitement and adventures at sea. These major cruise lines offer state-of-the-art ship design with an array of kid-friendly activities, such as wave pools, rock-climbing walls, FlowRiders, laser tag, movie theaters, ice-skating, even a first-of-its-kind roller coaster at sea. It seems as if cruise lines are always looking for the next best thing when it comes to attractions and activities for passengers on their ships.

Cruise ships are regulated by maritime law and must follow regulations designed to protect the safety, security and health of its passengers. However, this responsibility does not mean that all areas of the ship must be “child-proofed.” However, just like on land serious accidents and injuries can happen to children at sea when the proper precautions are not taken, or the cruise line is negligent in caring for its minor passengers. Among the most common accident sites on cruise ships involve stairs and steps. While a cruise line can be held liable for unsafe conditions if a child passenger is injured, it helps to be aware of safety concerns that affect children on a cruise.

The pools are always a major attraction when it comes to families on cruise ships, but whenever water is involved, certain risks come into play. Most cruises do not provide lifeguards at their pools, so patrons are swimming at their own risk. For this reason, children should always be supervised by an adult when around pools, water slides, wave pools, splash pads, etc. If the cruise line does not provide lifeguards, they are required to post signage indicating that patrons are swimming at their own risk, but for safety purposes, parents can never be too cautious. Never assume someone else is watching your child when they are in or around water.

Even if the child is not actually in the water but is near the edge, pool decks can become very slippery and dangerous. We always recommend children wear water shoes with proper tread that provide good traction around these areas. A child who is running around the water’s edge could easily slip and fall into the water without the parent even knowing. Drowning can happen in seconds and is a leading cause of preventable injury and death in children under 10 years old.

Not only are pools and other water attractions popular areas where accidents involving children occur, but injuries on decks are also quite common. In 2017, an 8-year-old girl tragically fell two stories from an interior deck while traveling with her family onboard the Carnival Glory. The child was waiting for the ship to disembark with her family at a railing with her younger brother when she fell. While hotels and resorts on land have certain requirements, they must meet when it comes to proper height of railings and banisters cruise ships do as well.  These tragic accidents can happen at sea, and cruise lines are held to the same standards of safety.

Make sure children are kept at a safe distance from railings but are also cautious on stairs. In fact, staircases are one of the most common places where people trip, slip or fall on cruise ships. One reason for this is cruise ship design does not always comply with what normal building codes require on land, including dimensions with which steps, treads, risers and other banisters are constructed.

Another common injury that can occur to children while at sea involves sun damage. Because of how easily children can burn and the intense sun exposure while at sea, it is important that parents protect their children’s skin as much as possible. Put on plenty of sunscreen and make sure that your children wear hats and appropriate cover-ups when in the sun or on the ship’s deck. Putting on sunscreen once is not enough. It should be applied frequently throughout the day.

For children who are older and are trusted to explore the ship on their own, teaching them the importance of safety in numbers is key. As children get older, it can be easier for them to make friends on the ship, and while children can be extremely trusting, it is up to the parents to make sure they are not too trusting of others they meet on the ship.

Never allow your child to go in another person’s cabin or allow a stranger in their cabin. If the older children are alone in the cabin, tell them to not open the door if someone knocks, even if that person says they are a crew member. If the individual is, in fact, a crew member, he or she can come back later when the adult returns to the room.

Most cruise ships are intimidating even for adults, let alone children. Always make sure that children are with at least one other companion, such as an older sibling or other adult. Parents should also set up parameters with their older children on where they can go on the ship. If any areas exist that a parent wants children to stay clear from, make sure that this information is made clear before the start of the cruise.

It can seem like a lot of rules, but the safety of your children always comes first. Your family can have the time of their lives while at sea. These safety tips can help keep you and your loved ones safe while on your next cruise.

If your child does suffer injury or illness while on a cruise and is treated by the medical staff onboard the ship, it is always advisable to get a second opinion immediately when you return home. While cruise ships have a medical facility and a doctor onboard, their ability to properly diagnose and properly treat anything other than upset stomachs, sea sickness, and minor cuts and bruises, is questionable.

Spencer Aronfeld, a maritime lawyer, is the founder of Aronfeld Trial Lawyers in Miami. He is a board-certified civil trial lawyer and has successfully represented injured people and their families in accident cases against cruise lines around the world.