Navigating the High Seas

Navigating the High Seas

New Coast Guard rules redefine video requirements onboard cruise ships

In recent years, the cruise industry has received a lot of attention from the news media regarding serious security issues onboard its vessels, ranging from people falling overboard to sexual assaults. These incidents caught the eyes of Capitol Hill lawmakers, who have called a number of hearings to address the concerns of the traveling public. As a result, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register earlier this year that details proposed changes to its passenger vessel regulations under the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) of 2010.

In addition to amending rules pertaining to deck rails, assault response and crime scene preservation training are two of the rule changes that are directly related to video surveillance. Specifically, the Coast Guard will now require ships to have a surveillance system in place for recording evidence of possible crimes or unsafe behavior.

Under the proposed rule changes, any vessel carrying at least 250 passengers that either embarks or disembarks passengers on U.S. soil would be required to maintain a fall-overboard image capture system, a fall-overboard detection system or some combination of both. According to the Coast Guard, this system should also record the date and time of the incident to aid search and rescue personnel and law enforcement.

While most, if not all, cruise ships already have video cameras in place, the newly proposed rules stipulate that the vessel’s surveillance system must cover all areas of the ship where passengers or crewmembers have common access. (This rule excludes staterooms and crew cabins.) Also, the footage would have to be retained for the duration of the voyage (7 days on average) and for 7 days after the cruise has ended. If a crime were reported during that 14-day period, the video would have to be retained for another 120 days.

Surprisingly enough, despite the fact that the CVSSA was passed five years ago, the Coast Guard does not currently govern the use of surveillance onboard cruise ships. With these proposed changes, however, the agency will now have exact guidelines outlining what to look for during routine inspections to ensure proper video coverage and retention policies are in place.


The proposed rule changes are trying to get cruise ship operators to be more proactive with incident detection. While recent developments in video analytics technology have the potential to enable operators to be more proactive through the tracking of people’s movements and behaviors, implementing these developments on ships faces significant challenges. First and foremost, as anyone involved in the deployment of video analytics can attest, configuring cameras that can alert to a person falling or jumping overboard is fraught with technical hurdles. It is not going to be as simple as installing a plug-and-play solution. When the Coast Guard initially sought comments in 2011 related to the CVSSA on the types of technology available to detect people going overboard, a cruise vessel trade association responded that while solutions existed to capture images of persons that have gone overboard, actual detection systems were deemed unreliable in marine conditions. Even though there have been great advances in analytics since that time, the same argument holds true today.

There is not a single system available today that can provide crew members with a reliable alert when someone goes overboard. There are man-overboard solutions on the market, but with the conditions that exist in a maritime environment, there’s no technology that provides the dependability that is needed. For example, even a relatively simple analytic, such as line crossing, only works reliably if the camera is pointed directly at the line within the area being monitored. On a cruise vessel, the majority of cameras are focused on the decks where most people gather and would thus be ineffective at performing this task.

Another problem that people commonly run into is being able to differentiate between objects that are thrown overboard as opposed to people going overboard. The number of false alarms that would potentially be generated would be substantial and more than likely result in alarm fatigue from crewmembers that may start to disregard them after a period of time.


Aside from the reliability problems posed by man-overboard solution, another point of contention raised by stakeholders is that a cookie-cutter approach to video surveillance is simply not possible because each vessel is unique. All ships are different not only in their size and shape, but also in their culture—factors that affect a ship’s risk profile.

Some of today’s largest cruise ships have the capacity to carry more than 6,000 passengers and 2,000- plus crewmembers. In many ways, security and surveillance operations on these vessels are similar to that of a small city. Security staff also has to oversee security and loss prevention at retail shops, casinos, restaurants, bars, theaters, swimming pools and many other common areas throughout the ship. The same threats that a store or casino would face on land also apply in a maritime environment.


For this reason, it’s imperative that cruise lines implement the right video surveillance technology, not only to be in compliance with Coast Guard regulations governing passenger and crew safety, but also to protect themselves against litigation. Ships have leveraged video surveillance for years, but they are increasingly challenged to find the right combination of cameras, and recording and management software that will provide them with adequate coverage and the ability to carry out investigations of onboard incidents quicker and more effectively. One of the biggest advances in video technology has been the advent of 360-degree megapixel cameras that enable end users to cover a larger part of their environment with fewer cameras, which has subsequently resulted in greater situation awareness.

Royal Caribbean International, which is one of the largest cruise line operators in the world, has been one of the leaders in leveraging panoramic cameras. In 2010, the cruise line deployed 360-degree cameras on what are the two biggest cruise ships sailing the ocean today: Allure of the Seas and its sister ship, Oasis of the Seas.

On the Allure of the Seas, there are more than 300 IP panoramic cameras installed to monitor public areas of the ship with multiple entrances. Using just a single 360-degree camera mounted in a hallway on the ship with elevators on opposite sides, the ship’s security staff are able to see all traffic in the hallway, in and out of the elevators and to and from the adjacent stairway. Previously, this would have taken four traditional cameras to cover.

Facing these new proposed regulations, cruise lines are going to need complete field-of-view coverage. The best way to accomplish that is with 360-degree panoramic cameras, which give total situational awareness. While the technology obviously provides a ship’s crew with the ability to capture serious crimes when they occur, it is also helpful in responding to the numerous, more mundane incidents that occur frequently on a cruise vessel, such as finding lost or stolen property or tracking down a child who slipped out of his or her parents’ view.

While the ways in which comprehensive video coverage can be leveraged for more proactive versus reactive incident response is yet to be seen, one thing is clear: Authorities are going to take a much harder look at the systems deployed onboard cruise ships, and cruise operators need to be prepared.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Security Today.


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