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Cruise Feature Article
Surviving the Drill

by Sharon Jackson

Life boat drills for all passengers are required when you go on a cruise. For most cruisers, this is the least exciting part of the cruise. But, it IS important and it doesn't take long. On most ships, the drill takes place on the first day in the late afternoon. (I like to get the drill over with before sailing so I have time to grab a pina colada and head up to the rail at the bow of the ship and throw streamers and wave good-bye to all of those poor souls left on land.)

When you first enter your cabin, your orange "designer" life jackets, complete with buckles, flashlight and whistle, will most likely be laid out on the beds. The jackets are HUGE and they have these nifty collars that will cure forever the bad posture your mom used to always yell at you for. Within a very short time you will hear the first of a zillion announcements about THE LIFE BOAT DRILL. The announcements will tell you that THE DRILL is required of ALL passengers and you cannot hide out in your cabin during IT because all the cabins will be checked by the crew and there will be a ROLL CALL at all the life boat stations. (I'm not sure whether or not the crew actually checks the cabins because I can be intimidated very easily by loud announcements and I've never had the nerve to forego THE DRILL and actually test this out.)

The announcements will also tell you that when the drill starts you must put on your life jacket, fasten it securely, and go immediately to your ASSIGNED life boat station. Somewhere in your cabin will be a diagram of the ship with little arrows pointing out the route from your cabin to your "assigned" life boat station. You MUST follow the route exactly as laid out and you MUST use the stairs as all of the elevators will be shut down during THE DRILL. FIND THIS DIAGRAM IMMEDIATELY! If your cabin is on deck 8 and your life boat station is on deck 1, you have two choices:

  1. 1. Follow all the instructions, hike up 8 decks and spend the rest of the cruise recovering in the Infirmary
  2. 2. Head immediately to the Purser's desk and CHANGE YOUR CABIN TO A HIGHER DECK.

I favor the ships that have the cabins on high decks ABOVE the life boat stations. On those ships, you get to walk DOWN to the boats, and then just hang around for a few minutes afterwards until the elevators are working again to take you back UP to your cabin. (Of course, if you have booked the Penthouse Suite, none of this applies. I think the crew actually carries you to the life boats where you have your own private life boat complete with verandah and stocked mini-bar.)

By now, you have seen your life jacket and you know the route to your life boat station, right? What you DON'T know is HOW to put on the life jacket.

Here is where lady luck comes in. IF you are lucky, the folks who had your cabin the week before figured out the life jackets and have left the straps hanging in line with the appropriate fasteners. If this is the case and you are of at least average intelligence, you MAY be able to figure out how to put your arms through the openings and may even put the correct straps through the correct buckles. If you are unlucky, the cruiser who wore your life jacket immediately preceding your cruise will have panicked when removing it and left all the straps in twists and knots as they fought mightily to extricate themselves in the shortest possible time. This is usually the case with MY life jacket. However, after many years of cruising, I have found the key: I let my husband figure it out and then he helps me with mine. If you get stuck, don't worry about it. Just do the best you can and when you get to your lifeboat station, you'll either be "close enough" and blend in with the group, or you'll look so ridiculous, everyone will get a good laugh and you'll become the star of the cruise and get great service from all the bar waiters!

I do not mean to make light of life boat drills. They are very important and should be taken seriously. You never know when the practice might actually prove to be life-saving. Cruising and travel by any type of ship is one of the safest means of transportation. But, take the life boat drill seriously - it's required for a good reason and is 20 minutes well spent!

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