Legal Tips On The High Seas: Cruise Law

Linkilaw Legal Advice

It’s that time of year again: Vacation season is around the corner. If hopping on a cruise is your preferred type of holiday, keep reading, because it’s time to get ready! Pack your suitcase with summer clothes and soak up these important legal tips so you can enjoy a safe and carefree cruise vacation.

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The intricate world of maritime law

At first glance, cruise ships are generally considered safe, with low records of onboard crime – after all, where would the perpetrator hide? It is not all that sunny, however; crimes and misdemeanours on cruises still do happen, and the real picture of their extent seems to elude us. This is partly due to the fact the cruising companies aren’t legally obliged to report crimes – they only do so voluntarily, at their own choosing.  

Maritime or admiralty law is famously known for its complexity, primarily because every country has its own version of it. Add to it the fact that legal jurisdiction depends on the type of sea territory the ship was in when the crime happened, and chances are you will have quite a convoluted legal case in front of you. Most of these are decided in court on an individual, case-by-case basis.  So if something happens on a ship, sorting it out can be a proper doozy.



  • Read your cruise contract, especially the fine print. The font is small for a reason. Most companies state in their contracts that possible disputes are to be settled under the laws of a particular state – most likely one which is rather lenient to the cruising industry. This is also the main reason as to why most cruise lines register their ships with foreign countries and fly foreign flags.  Did you know, for example, that one of the largest cruising companies in the world, Royal Caribbean, is registered in Liberia and its ships fly the flags of Liberia and the Bahamas?


  • If you have suffered an injury during your cruise, it is within your legal right to sue the company and ask them to cover you medical expenses, lost wages, as well as compensate for the stress and pain endured. There’s a potential catch, though: The court in which suit must be filed could be determined in the fine print of the cruise ship ticket. Be sure to inspect it carefully.


  • Don’t even attempt trying to get on a ship if you’re up the spout. Not only will you have limited medical assistance at your disposal, but the confined space and sea sickness might take a toll on your delicate state. Same as airlines, all cruise companies refuse to take onboard women in their third semester of pregnancy.


  • If a ship is in the country’s internal waters (bays and ports), all laws of that country apply.


  • Territorial waters stretch up to 12 miles from the country’s coastline, which means all of the country’s laws apply to the ship when it’s within that radius from the coastline. In practice, for instance, this means that a US cruise ship has to wait to get at least 12 miles out of the coastline before it opens the casino (gambling is prohibited in most US states).
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  • The contiguous zone extends from a 12-to-24-mile radius from the coastline, which means that the countries’ authorities have a certain amount of rights they can exercise in this belt (such as patrolling).


  • Everything beyond 24 miles off the coastline counts as the high seas or international waters. In general, the law of that ship in international waters is the law of the country in which it was registered.


  • Cruise ships are like floating cities where you will find no lack of temptation, especially when it comes to gambling and alcohol. As the land laws of a country don’t quite make it all the way to cruise ships on international waters, the rules are much more permissive. Considering no passenger onboard is going to sit behind a steering wheel to get home, very few are denied or restricted the amount of liquor they consume. Don’t fall prey to the infamous free flow of alcohol: In an intoxicated, or even tipsy state, you are much more prone to get tricked, scammed, or even robbed or assaulted. Precaution is key, especially when you’re on a ship.