I HATE TO SAY IT, BUT SAFETY TRAINING IS USUALLY BORING. AND ANNOYING AND INCONVENIENT TO BOOT. BUT BEFORE YOU give me the boot, hear me out. Just talking about safety can turn into white noise quickly. How often do you pay close attention to the safety instructions before takeoff? “Fasten your seatbelts … blah … blah … blah … emergency exit … blah…blah…blah…in case of a water landing … blah … blah … blah … we hope you enjoy your flight.”
Blah, blah, zzz.
Sure, in the first few flights you took back in the day, you probably paid close attention to the safety instructions. After that, my guess is it was Blah City. You know it’s important, but it’s hard to listen to the same thing again and again.
On the surface, the same holds true with ship safety. I’ve been on a few cruises, and before we’ve set sail everyone has had to visit the muster station—a fancy way of saying lifeboat area. You and hundreds of your newest mateys are lined up in an uncomfortably cramped space and you might even muster up the courage to crack a bad joke about Col. Mustard in the muster station with the mustard packet.
You’re taught how seven short blasts and one long one from the ship’s horn means there’s a real emergency. You’re also shown how to put on a life jacket.
After going through this procedure once or twice, you start to think this is really cutting into your buffet-binging. Those chocolate chip cookies aren’t going to eat themselves.
But after interviewing Dr. Robert Ballard about nautical safety, I decided I should pay close attention to the safety messaging on my family’s latest trip by ship aboard the massive Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, which made headlines the week after we returned when nearly 500 passengers got sick and more recently when a crane fell on it. I also decided, if I had the chance, to ask a crew member for some perspective. I got my opportunity at a Q&A session with the captain, Goran Peterson.
Peterson, who has decades of sea experience, had only recently taken over as captain of the Oasis at the time. He graciously answered my question by pointing out the ship has large, two-engine lifeboats that hold 400 people. They are more than double the size of previous lifeboats, he said. Also, “They are hanging outside, which is very easy to access. You don’t have to lower them out or extend them over the side.”
He then mentioned the marine evacuation system, which is basically a slide and raft mostly for crew as well as innovations in mustering procedures. “We know where everybody is at any given time,” he said. That’s because the SeaPass cards that people use to buy, buy, buy and enter and leave the ship can be tracked.
I found the technical aspects of nautical safety interesting, but there were a couple of things that I discovered on my own. First: It was a relief to me that the main safety messaging on the ship on Day One was performed in the assembly stations (aka theaters). Instead of meeting at a muster station with life jacket and two ibuprofens in hand, we were able to sit and listen to the safety information in comfortable seats. No life jackets required.
Even more interesting to me was the video I found on the TV in our stateroom after I met the captain. It was a safety video disguised as a spy vs. spy novella. Agent Blair is a spy trying to locate the dastardly Ivan Mishnakov on a cruise ship. She’s tasked with recovering the “Ming mecca chip” before Mishnakov can give it to “the famed”—that means she’s very bad—Brezna Russeau.
Along the way, Agent Blair gets visual and audial support from Agent Oliver Crisp who is positioned in some cold-weather outpost. The two agents then go through a series of safety-related messages in an entertaining way. When she investigates Mishnakov’s room, she sees a smoldering cigarette: “He’s worse than we thought,” Crisp deadpans. “Smoking is not allowed in staterooms or in stateroom balconies for that matter.”
It’s an enjoyable seven-minute video that addresses safety in a nonmechanical way. I won’t spoil the ending for you. Psych, I definitely will: Blair recovers the chip after a high-seas fist fight with Russeau, who should have been wearing a life jacket.
Is the video cheesy? Yes. Are there cringy jokes? Absolutely. But it’s fun and different. When it comes to safety, sometimes you need to change things up to get people’s attention by going full bore to avoid the bore.
James Tehrani is an award-winning editor and writer based in Chicago. He has more than 20 years of experience in publishing, including editorial roles at Workforce, Modern Healthcare and Consumers Digest. He has also hosted a Web video interview program called “The Wacky World of Work.”