The most "heroic" thing most cruise ship staff members get to do is carry a buffet tray for an elderly guest or bring a smile to a child's face with a towel animal. But occasionally a ship's crew gets the chance to exercise their true emergency training -- as was the case with the crew of Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, who made a difference in the lives of three men just last week.

On February 16, the ship was steaming toward the Caribbean from Cape Liberty Cruise Port when it picked up a distress signal. The entire bridge team was on hand to search for a disabled craft. Within an hour, they spotted a sailboat adrift at sea. Despite heavy swells, a small rescue boat from the Explorer managed to reach the sailboat and rescue the three men onboard and their luggage.

Apparently, these men had set sail from Baltimore to Key West on a 39-ft. sailboat. A week into their voyage, they encountered high winds and heavy seas, which destroyed the boat's sails, mast and radio antenna. When the engine failed and the boat started taking on water, they issued their distress call.

Cruise ship rescue missions are not entirely uncommon (in 2006, Holland America's Noordam picked up 22 people after their boat capsized in the Aegean Sea; the year before that, Ryndam plucked three people -- and a cat -- from a sailboat caught in rough seas off the coast of Mexico). However, Royal Caribbean went above and beyond the call of duty for these men. After being checked by the Explorer's doctor, the men were given cabins, food and clothing. When the ship reached San Juan, Royal Caribbean paid for the men to fly to Key West, their original destination. Once the three sailors got over their recent trauma, we bet they appreciated the comfy digs and delicious cuisine of a cruise ship ... as compared to their much smaller sailboat!

"It isn't often that you can make such a difference in a person's life, but in this situation, we feel we have truly touched the lives of these three men," Explorer of the Seas Captain Sverre Ryan is quoted as saying in a recent press release.

Have you ever witnessed a rescue at sea or seen a crewmember do something heroic? Share your stories with us by emailing

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor