“Man overboard” – when the command sounds on cruise ships, something has gone terribly wrong and the extensive safety precautions on board have failed. The chances of successfully rescuing the passengers in distress dwindle with every minute. Anyone who goes on a cruise would prefer not to have to deal with such a scenario. But accidents on cruise ships are not as rare as you might think. Every year around 20 people disappear from a cruise ship. Some of them fall overboard, others disappear completely without a trace. Confused fellow travelers are almost always left behind. And the question of what happens if someone just disappears on a cruise.

To be honest, in most cases nothing happens at first. This is because it is usually not immediately noticeable when someone disappears from the ship. Because it’s not that easy to fall off a cruise ship. The railing is designed so that you don’t accidentally climb over it. Most of the time the departure is intentional, alcohol-related or part of a crime. In this case the victim is thrown off board. And that’s why there are usually no witnesses. If you notice that someone is falling from the ship, you should immediately call “man overboard”.

In this case, there is a set protocol that the crew on board must adhere to. The watch leader first stops the cruise ship’s engines and marks the scene of the accident in the water with lifebuoys. Then the “rescue radar transponder” is ejected and the captain throws out a lifeboat, which sets out to search for the missing person. Sometimes the coast guard of the nearby state comes to help with boats and a helicopter if the search is difficult.

Unfortunately, this search is not always successful. The most well-known case of a tragedy on a cruise revolves around Daniel Küblböck. In September 2018, the TV star fell overboard in the Labrador Sea during a cruise from Hamburg to New York, according to the shipping company “Aida Cruises”. Despite an extensive search, his body was never found; Küblböck was declared dead in August 2020. The exact reasons behind his disappearance are still unclear today.

Relatives feel the same way in 30 percent of all cases of missing persons on the high seas. They are never explained. In general, the earlier the disappearance is discovered, the higher the chances of finding the missing person. Because even if, despite all the precautionary measures, an emergency should occur – and you fall off the cruise ship, the chances of survival in the first few minutes are not that bad, depending on the water temperature.

As the person involved in the accident, you can also have a lot of influence on whether the whole thing will have a happy ending. So you should definitely try to draw attention to yourself. This is best done with a colorful piece of clothing, if one is within reach. Since you should move as little as possible in the water in order to save energy, the space for this is limited. To avoid getting cold so quickly, you should definitely keep your clothes on unless they are used as an emergency signal. And it always helps not to give up hope so quickly.

However, the likelihood that you will ever find yourself in such a situation is very low. With millions of passengers every year, 20 missing persons cases are a very small proportion. And most departures, according to Michael McGarry of the international association for cruise lines Clia, are due to “irresponsible behavior as a result of alcohol consumption,” as he explains to the “Travel Reporter.” The safest way to prevent an involuntary jump into the water seems to be to avoid (too much) alcohol on board.