On most mainstream ships, life jackets are stored in individual cabins -- usually in the closet, though sometimes under the bed (additional life jackets are kept at muster stations in case you are unable to reach your cabin in a real emergency). When the alarm sounds to signal the start of the safety drill (required by law), passengers have to grab their gear from their cabins and haul it (and themselves) to a designated muster station, where crewmembers explain procedures and conduct a head count. Afterward, passengers are responsible for bringing their jackets back to their cabins before they can go about their cruise business.
As Fain puts it on his blog, "it is a royal pain in the ass -- an important pain, but a pain nonetheless."
So why hasn't anyone done this sooner? After all, there are no regulations as to where life jackets must be kept -- a spokesperson for the International Maritime Organization tells us that they just need to be readily accessible and their position plainly indicated. The vests-in-cabins plan could simply be a holdover from the days when ships were smaller and deck areas couldn't accommodate the jackets.
Fain writes, "We have the space ... the advantages are so overwhelming that you have to wonder why we haven't done this before. The only answer we have come up with is that we never looked at this process as carefully before Oasis." Fain indicates on his blog that that the idea came out of a brainstorming session for Oasis. The line has also developed a digital system for real time accounting of passengers at their muster stations -- no more clipboard confusion.
Royal Caribbean did not respond to our request for additional information.
Storing life jackets at muster stations rather than in cabins seems like a win-win situation to us, too -- cruisers score a bit more storage space, and crew have a more streamlined system (and no longer have to worry about someone tripping over the straps that inevitably trail behind other passengers as they return to their cabins en masse after the drill).
Would you rather have a lifejacket in your cabin because that's where you spend a good chunk of your time -- or do you think other lines should follow Royal Caribbean's lead? Do you have any other ideas on how cruise lines can improve onboard muster drills? Are there lines that do a better job than others, based on your recent cruise experiences? Tell us!
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor