I’ve never fallen off a cruise ship.
This is no small admission, given that I drink quite a bit while on board, travel solo and am known to be a bit of a clutz. But the secret to my success in this department comes down to two words: personal responsibility.
I bring it up because this week, the family of a woman who — while traveling with friends aboard the Carnival Liberty — consumed too much alcohol, climbed up the railing and fell overboard is suing the cruise line. And while this is without doubt a tragic situation, the story raises serious questions about both how often this happens and who is to blame.
In reporting the story, NBC’s affiliate in Miami stated that “nearly 300 people” have fallen off of cruise ships since 1995. And when delivered by an intense newscaster reporting on a family’s tragedy, that sounds like an awful lot, even though simple math allows you to conclude that it happens to approximately 13 people a year. And heck, maybe 13 people a year falling off ships sounds like a lot, too… but consider the fact that over 11 million people in the United States alone took cruises over the past 12 months, and you begin to get a clearer picture.
If you were told tomorrow that your odds of winning the lottery were 13 out of 11 million, you probably wouldn’t run out to buy a ticket. (Fun fact: They are actually far worse, but the lottery folks would much rather you think of it in terms of “all you need is a dollar and a dream.”) Heck, your chances of getting hit by lightning this year are 1 in 960,000… which, now that I type those words, is a lot lower than I imagined! Yet they are significantly higher than the 13 out of 11 million chance that you will wind up going overboard.
The Blame Game
What can be disturbing in these types of stories is the way they are reported. Newscasters breathlessly talk about passengers “falling” overboard as if they tripped on an uneven sidewalk. Anyone who has ever been aboard a cruise ship knows that it is literally impossible to simply “fall” off a ship without first climbing atop something. Maybe it’s a chair on your balcony, maybe you want to perch on the railing for a selfie. One thing you are not doing is simply walking along the deck when — woops! — over the edge you tumble, like a discarded napkin blown away on a breeze.
Alcohol often plays a role in these cases, and it’s easy to point a finger at the bartenders who may have over-served a guest. There is, perhaps, some validity to that claim. But doing so takes personal responsibility away from the person consuming the alcohol, not to mention the family and friends accompanying them. Would you rather put your fate in the hands of a stranger who is serving you alcohol or the people with whom you are celebrating?