What is a Muster Drill on a Cruise? Everything You Need to Know


If you are taking a cruise of any sort you will have to take part in a muster drill. I’ve been on 22 cruises to date and have taken part in a variety of muster drills. These vary in length, location, and organisation. In this post, we will cover what a muster drill is, when/where it happens and why you must attend.

What is a Muster Drill on a Cruise?

A muster drill is an exercise run by the crew of a cruise ship for the benefit of its passengers. The purpose of the drill is to prepare passengers for an emergency situation. A muster drill is also occasionally referred to as a ‘lifeboat drill’ or ‘safety drill’.

A muster drill will happen on every cruise and it is important that you attend and are prepared for what is going to happen.

Is The Muster Drill on a Cruise Mandatory or Optional?

It is a legal requirement that all passengers take part in the muster drill. It is mandatory. We will cover later in the post what happens if you miss the drill but spoiler, it isn’t good!

Cruise lines are legally bound by SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) to provide a muster drill for all guests. The cruise line would be breaking the law if it, for whatever reason, didn’t conduct the muster drill correctly.

Prior to the Costa Concordia disaster of 2012, the muster drill was required to take place within 24 hours of embarkation. It must now happen before the ship departs or immediately on departure. 

The time, location and specifics of the muster drill will vary by cruise line. Each passenger will be marked off a list when they attend to prove that they have attended the drill.

MSC Status Match Black Card in Theatre
MSC Meraviglia Muster Drill

How Long Does a Muster Drill Take?

The length of the muster drill does depend on cruise ship size and organisation but generally speaking, the muster drill will last around 30 minutes.

Cruise ships which have guests onboard that speak a number of languages will take longer when doing their muster drill. The muster drill often involves quite a bit of speaking and if the cruise line has a large percentage of passengers who speak another language the drill will also be completed in this language.

(The cruise line wouldn’t do the drill in another language for a few passengers but if a large enough percentage of the ship speaks a certain language the ship will try and accommodate this.)

You’ll find muster drills conducted in multiple languages on MSC and Costa cruises. On my last MSC cruise, we had a number of different crew members reading out the muster instructions in different languages. I only speak English and am always SO impressed by people who speak multiple languages. As you can imagine though, this does make the muster drill take longer.

Life Jacket Selfies What Is a Muster Drill?
Photo shared by members of our Facebook group. What a gorgeous bunch?! Thank you all! Join us here.

Where do Muster Drills Take Place?

Muster drills take place on a part of the ship called your ‘muster station’. Muster stations can either be inside or outside. Prior to the drill, you will be asked to check where your muster station is. Your muster station is usually written on your cruise card and it’ll also be written on the back of your cabin door.

Inside Muster Stations

Most muster drills will take place inside in a lounge, theatre, restaurant or bar.

The muster stations will either be a letter, a number of a combination of both. ‘A1’ ‘B’ or ‘4’ could all be your muster station. The map on the back of your cabin door will show you where this corresponds to. The location of the muster stations may also be announced over the tannoy.

The muster stations are usually grouped together by cabin location. You might have all of deck 8 in muster station ‘D’ for example.

Below is a photo I took just before the muster drill on the Celebrity Silhouette. As you can see ‘A6’ is on the left and ‘A4’ is on the right.

Celebrity Silhouette Muster Station

Outside Muster Stations

Some cruise lines conduct outside muster drills on the promenade deck. I really don’t enjoy these. It is so much easier to sit inside in a theatre or lounge rather than stand on the promenade deck. When standing on the promenade deck you may be asked to form lines similar to how you would in a real emergency when expecting to board the lifeboats.

You may be asked to stand in lines of 5 which can be quite claustrophobic and you may end up with people treading on your feet. Be prepared for this and if you can, wear shoes without covered toes rather than sandals.

Having the muster drill outside does make more logical sense in regards to preparation for a real emergency but it just isn’t as much fun. I recently took a Costa cruise where we had to take part in a muster drill on the promenade deck.

What Happens at a Muster Drill?

Prior to the drill, the ship’s bars will close.

1) Announcement Made

The muster drill usually starts with an announcement made across the ship that the muster drill is about to take place. Prior to this, the cruise line will make you aware of the time that this is happening. I’ve only been on one cruise where I didn’t know in advance when exactly the muster drill would be, this was on a Costa cruise.

Costa do give you a rough idea of the time but I didn’t know exactly when the drill would be.

Family Selfie Life Jackets Muster Station
Photo shared by members of our Facebook group. I LOVE lifejacket selfies! Thank you all! Join us here.

2) Announcement For Crew

At this point, you’ll usually have another announcement for crew inviting them to ‘take their places’. Crew members will be stationed in all the stairways and also the corridors on which your cabin is located. If you ever get lost or don’t know where you’re going make sure you ask the crew, they are there to direct you. They may ask to see your cruise card to check that you are heading in the right direction.

The crew will usually be wearing bright high vis jackets and will often have their life jackets on.

Muster Drill Crew Life Jacket
The lovely Charlotte when she worked on Emerald Princess!

3) Alarm Sounded

The general emergency alarm is signalled by 7 short blasts and one long blast on the horn of the ship. To my amazement, I have heard of people managing to sleep through the alarm. The alarm is really loud and definitely unmistakable.

3) Muster Station Attendance

After hearing the alarm guests will be reminded to proceed to their muster stations. Here your cruise card will usually be scanned as a way of recording that you have attended. If your muster drill is taking place inside you’ll be invited to sit down, if it is outside you’ll be invited to stand.

If there are passengers missing from your muster drill the crew may call out cabin numbers to ask if any guests are present. This happened on my last cruise with Celebrity.

4) Final Alarm Sounded

After the muster drill, a final alarm will be sounded which signals the end of the drill. At this point, you are free to go and do whatever you’d like. The bars will reopen at this point and the day will continue as normal.

As you can imagine it can be quite tricky to get around the ship at this point as all guests will be at their muster stations. This is the only time in the cruise where you will find ALL guests walking around the ship at once. Due to this, you may have to wait to catch an elevator/lift. I usually find a quieter bar or lounge and wait for the rush to die down before heading back to my cabin or wherever I wanted to go.

Celebrity Silhouette

What is Covered at a Muster Drill?

At the muster drill, you will usually be told how to put on your life jacket and told where your lifeboat is. Some cruise lines actually show you how to jump off the ship should this be necessary for an emergency.

Practical Tips

The muster drill will also cover some practical tips about hygiene and handwashing onboard. They’ll also tell you what to do should you see a man overboard or anything suspicious.

Some cruise lines will play videos to keep your interest. Celebrity has a particularly catchy song about washing your hands which will be stuck in your head for months after the cruise.

Do You Need to Take Your Life Jacket to a Muster Drill?

This depends entirely on the cruise line. Some cruise lines do still require you to bring your life jacket to the muster drill. Life jackets can be found in your cabin if this is necessary and they’ll usually be on top of the wardrobe.

More and more cruise lines are now not requiring guests to bring their life jackets to the muster.

If bringing your life jacket is required you may have to put on the life jacket after a demonstration from the crew. I find putting on the life jacket easy but it’s folding up the straps afterward that I struggle with! If you don’t have to bring your life jacket with you you will still have to watch a demonstration from a member of the crew of how to put on the jacket.

Below are a lovely bunch who shared their lifejacket selfies with our Facebook Page. Thank you all!

What Are Muster Drills
A lovely bunch of people who shared their lifejacket selfies with our Facebook Page. Thank you all!

What Happens if You Miss The Muster Drill on a Cruise?

If you miss the muster drill on a cruise you’ll usually just be invited to attend another ‘catch up’ muster drill later on. If you failed to attend the second drill the cruise line would be completely within its rights to disembark you from the cruise ship.

If you’ve not already sailed they could disembark you there and then. If you have already sailed away you may be disembarked at the next port. You wouldn’t receive any sort of refund for this and would have to organise your own transport back.

Muster Drill For Disabled Guests

In some circumstances, cruise lines will hold separate muster drill for guests with disabilities or limited mobility. If the muster drill is set to take place outside cruise lines will usually have another drill taking place inside so that guests can sit down. If you are disabled speak to your cabin steward about this.

During the muster drill itself, the elevators/lifts will not be operational so it is important that you get to your muster station early if you require the use of the elevators/lifts.

Why do They Call it a Muster Drill?

Muster:
to assemble for inspection, service, etc.,
as troops or forces.
to come together; collect;
assemble; gather.

I wanted to find a really exciting answer to this question but there isn’t one. The words just describe what you do, you muster (gather)… but it’s only a drill. It really is that simple.

Muster Drill Cruise Tips:

Be Prepared

Make sure you know where your muster station is ahead of time. The crew are there to guide you but if you’re wandering in the wrong direction this can really slow you down. Knowing where you’re going can make a big difference.

Do Not be late!

Being late is inconvenient for all involved but is particularly annoying for your fellow guests. The cruise line may wait for a little while for you and you can guarantee that you’ll receive some evil stares from the other guests. If you know ahead of time when the muster drill will be there is no need to be late so make sure that you know.

Put Away Your Phone

You are not allowed to be on your phone during a muster drill. If you do use it you will be told off and I’ve even heard about people having their phones taken away for the duration of the drill because the guests couldn’t bear to be without it. Make sure that you are actively listening when the crew are speaking.

If you do have to take your life jacket to the drill a life jacket selfie is highly recommended.

Muster Drill Lifejacket Selfies

Muster Drills With MSC Cruises

On most British and American cruise lines the cruise will have a start and endpoint. All guests will embark and disembark at the same ports with very little variety on this.

MSC Cruises are different however. On cruises with MSC, guests can embark and disembark at any point which means that there is a constant stream of new people coming onto the ship and needing to complete muster drills.

On any cruise, you only need to complete one muster drill.

The muster drills will continue to happen throughout the cruise but once you have been once you do not need to go again. There are a couple of other cruise lines that allow guests to embark at different ports but MSC have the most noticeably different muster drill.

To learn more about MSC Cruises check out this post about my favourite family cruise lines: Best Cruise Lines For Families (Tried & Tested 2019). 

Crew Muster Drills

In addition to the muster drill for guests, the crew onboard will have to take part in a number of other drills. Some of these will happen weekly, some monthly and some annually. These are to make sure that the crew knows how to operate the lifeboats and deal with various emergencies that could arise onboard.

Occasionally when you’re on a cruise you will hear announcements made ‘for crew’ directing them to do certain drills. On my last Costa cruise, there were a series of announcements which went on for almost an hour detailing crew to do various things ‘for exercise’. I’ve never noticed quite such a thorough safety drill on any other cruise line. It was quite interesting actually!

Where To Next?

If you’re considering your first cruise, or would just like to learn a little more about cruising, this post is a brilliant place to start: 67 Cruise Tips From 67 Cruisers. 

The post shares tips from 67 real cruisers and takes you through from embarkation to disembarkation. By reading this guide you’ll be better prepared for your cruise than 99% of other cruisers!

67 first time cruise tips from 67 cruisers ultimate cruise tips guide

If you have any cruise questions or stories/photos you’d like to share, please join us in our Facebook group!

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Emma Le Teace

Hey! I'm Emma. A cruise blogger, YouTuber and founder of the 'Cruising Isn't Just For Old People' Facebook community and website. You can learn more here: About Me.

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