Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is it safe to sail during Hurricane Season?

Sailing during hurricane season is not all bad. In fact it can generate some cheaper cruises at times. Cruise ships are large enough and generally built with a good stability that they are still safe in bad weather. Of course no cruise line sails into a storm instead going around and otherwise altering course to provide for the highest level of passenger comfort and safety as can be afforded the passengers.

Hurricane season runs June to November. This is on the Atlantic side. The season runs a bit earlier on the Pacific side, however seldom are cruises impacted by hurricane type storms in the US based Pacific Ocean cruising areas.  This may seem like a long time of year in which we can encounter hurricanes and yes that is true. However, generally in the Atlantic most of the storms are spotted in August thru September which is the peak of the season, statistically speaking. Storms have been known to occur before and even after the season, it is a function of favorable weather for the formation of the storm.

The cruise lines for economic reasons not completely directly related to the storms, move a large portion of the fleet to other areas most notably Europe during the Summer Season. Other ships are moved to Alaska which is an area not affected by hurricanes as such. Thus, the bulk of the fleet is out of the Tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea where hurricanes are most problematic to US interests and that of cruisers. Thus, there are fewer ships to be impacted by such a storm. The remaining ships in the Caribbean region do have plans in place and plenty of help in their corporate offices to modify schedules as needed.

Most hurricanes come thru both the Lesser and Greater Antilles, depending on exactly when the storm moves from a tropical wave to a full-fledged storm status. Some then go up along the East Coast of the USA while others come thru the Gulf of Mexico hitting the USA, Mexico, or countries of Central America.  Thus, we can and often do see storms coming into areas where the cruise ships sail. More often than not they affect either the Eastern Caribbean or the Western Caribbean areas at one time. A single storm may affect first the Eastern and then the Western Caribbean but generally not at the same time. Due to their affect on one area at a time, avoiding the storms is not too difficult.

The cruise ships are fairly stable, but they instead use their advanced systems to navigate around or out of the path of a storm where possible. Despite the stability of the ships, it is far better to just avoid the storms and this can lead to missed ports, and rarely shortened or lengthened cruises. Ultimately passenger as well as crew safety are most important so changing around, adding and dropping ports is all part of the changes you will see. It’s permitted by the passenger contract so ultimately nothing is owed by the cruise line for the change. Just keep in mind the Captain wants to get home to his family in one piece as well.

Sailing into or thru a storm may seem like it would get you to the port you expected to see, however because sometimes hurricanes grow rapidly and have unpredictable winds and wave action, that is just not a safe idea. To further the thought of danger from sailing into the super rough weather, one has to consider that rescue could be difficult if something went wrong and bad weather tends to increase the risk of an accident happening. Thus sailing into or thru a storm is not a wise idea.

Some will say sailing during hurricane season will save some of your premiums. Although this may be true on select sailings aboard select ships the overall theme of late is that hurricane season sailings to the Caribbean are no less expensive and some weeks are even more expensive than most every other time of the year. Much of this is a function of the cruise lines moving ships around where they can generate the most profit and leaving few in the Caribbean forcing higher prices to the cabins left for sale.  This is not as good for the consumer but is good for the cruise lines.
Ultimately one has to consider that there are risks when sailing during hurricane season. Those are bad weather and changes to the itinerary to avoid the worst or storms or avoid visiting damaged ports of call.  Thus, if you are deadest on seeing specific ports it is important to understand hurricane season can force changes for the safety of the ship, passengers, and crew which is ultimately the captain and cruise lines 1st priority.

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