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Ask a Captain: How many people does it take to sail a cruise ship?

13 Jul 2022
Matt Hochberg

If you've been on a cruise ship, then you've probably wondered how the ship works, the crew members that manage the ship, and a lot of the logistical work that goes into it all.

Spectrum of the Seas bridge

Royal Caribbean's ships are like a floating city, and there's lots that goes into making it all work. 

Each cruise, the ship's Captain and other officers hold an event onboard known as, "Captain's Corner," where guests can ask them questions.

On an Anthem of the Seas 2019 cruise, a passenger wanted to know how many crew members it takes to man the navigation of the ship. She wanted to know what's the least number required for the ship to operate.

What is the minimum amount of crew needed on the bridge at any one time?

Explorer of the Seas bridge

Captain Srecko Ban was the ship's Captain at the time and explained that there are a minimum amount of bridge crew members they must maintain at any given time, "The minimum manning on the bridge is two licensed officers, and one lookout."

"One of them being the first officer, in charge of navigation, and the second officer assisting first officer and looking after the safety center."

The lookout does more than simply scan the horizon for obstacles or other traffic, "my lookout is a quartermaster with experience to steer the ship, should there be a need for us to use hand steering versus autopilot."

Navigator bridge

Captain Ban said most of the time the autopilot is used to get from one place to another.

However, when there is bad weather, traffic in the way, or every time the ship is taken in and out of port, other officers are present, "We have senior team on the bridge as well, which consists of myself, Staff Captain and Chief Officer."

What is the worst weather you've faced as a captain?

Storm in Port Canaveral

Captain Ban mentioned having more staff on the bridge in the case of bad weather, which prompted the question what was the worst weather he's been in.

"Well, as far as my time on the cruise ships, I haven't really faced any big storm and for good reason."

"We are very mindful of our cargo, or people, that we carry aboard and the need for us to provide a safe environment and comfort to everybody."

James Van Fleet predicting weather

Captain Ban said his team monitors the weather and they go around any bad weather that is predicted ahead of them.

Read moreHow Royal Caribbean navigates bad weather with its own meteorologist

He did say during his time working as a merchant marine, he encountered "difficult weather challenges", which he characterized as being similar weather to the 2000 film, "The Perfect Storm".

Which port is the most challenging to navigate for a cruise ship?

Adventure of the Seas sailing into Nassau

Anthem of the Seas is one of the largest cruise ships in the world, so getting her in and out of port is not simple.

Captain Ban said the growing size of cruise ships has made the docking process everywhere more of a challenge than in the past. Strong winds are the biggest issue, more so than the layout of a port because when a ship takes wind directly abeam, they lose speed.

Harmony of the Seas bridge wings

He said St. Maarten provided sufficient space, but getting into Nassau can be an issue, "Nassau can be particularly tricky for us."

"Going through the channel and entering the harbor, it's very narrow and we are turning this here and channeling through and it's very difficult for us when we face conditions with strong winds, which usually is the case."

More than just navigation

While many people imagine a cruise ship's bridge handing where a ship goes, Captain Ban added an additional function is serving as the primary hub for the ship-wide safety operations.

"The bridge is not just a place where we navigate the ship, it's also the safety center with all different safety installations you find around the ship is remotely controlled from the bridge."

"In order for us to initiate response to emergencies in a timely fashion, we have assigned person to alert people that need to know about it, like myself."

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