Cruise Ship Jails – Why Do They Have Them and What Are They Like?


Due to the large number of guests on a cruise ship, cruise ships do have to have jails onboard. They are needed for a variety of reasons and members of the ship’s security team manage the jail.

The cruise ship jail, or brig as it is known, is not accessible to guests for obvious reasons and isn’t usually visited on ship tours for security reasons. For this reason, many people forget that it exists at all.

The cruise ship brig is only used for the most serious incidents.

Do Cruise Ships Have Jails?

Cruise ships have small jails onboard, they are called brigs. The jails are located in the crew only areas and guests rarely see them. The onboard jails are small and used as a place to hold guests suspected of breaking the law or those who are acting in a dangerous or reckless way.

Although cruise lines do have jails onboard, it isn’t the intention of the cruise line to keep guests here for any great period of time.

Keeping a guest in the brig is a last resort and one that cruise lines try to avoid as much as possible.

An alternative to placing a guest in the jail (brig) of a cruise ship, is to hold the passenger in cabin arrest where the guest would not be able to leave their cabin. This may happen in a situation where a guest was being drunk and disorderly.

There are some ships, usually smaller older ships, that do not have brigs onboard.

Why Are Cruise Ship Jails Called Brigs?

The word brig is a shortened form of brigantine, “a small, two-masted ship” with large, square sails. These speedy sailing vessels were extremely common until the late 1800s when steamships became widely available.

source.

Brig just means a prison, especially onboard a ship, it is defined as a place for ‘temporary confinement’.

On a cruise ship you won’t find the brig referred to as a jail, for the purposes of this post I use the terms brig and jail interchangeably.

What Are Cruise Ship Jails (Brigs) Like?

The brigs themselves are very basic. Most are a simple room with a bed in one corner and little else.

They have a similar design to modern jail cells. Many people imagine cruise ship jails to have iron bars and be similar to that which you’d find on a ship hundreds of years ago, fortunately, this is no longer the case.

The photo below is of me in the brig of the USS Midway. This is not what the brigs on modern cruise ships are like, but is what many people assume cruise ship jails are like.

queen mary 2 brig

Cruise ship brigs will contain:

  • A bed
  • A Toilet
  • A Shower

What Security Measures Are in Place at Sea?

Cruise lines have multiple safety measures in place on every cruise and crew trained in all aspects of crime and reporting.

  • Guests and their belongings are scanned whenever boarding the cruise ship. This is to check for any prohibited items. Depending on the items found, these will be removed from the guest and the guest may even be denied boarding in extreme circumstances.

    Prohibited items include: Drugs, firearms, weapons, ammunition, explosives, knives, flammable substances, and in some cases drones.
  • Each cruise ship has a trained security team onboard with various roles. All members are trained, to some degree, in what to do should a crime be committed on board the cruise ship.

    The security team is available 24/7.
  • All crimes that happen onboard cruise ships are reported to the relevant authorities based on where the cruise ship is sailing.

Why Would a Guest be Placed in The Jail of a Cruise Ship?

A guest may end up in the brig of a cruise ship for a couple of reasons.

The Guest has Committed a SERIOUS Crime

If a guest is suspected of having committed a serious crime, they may be placed in the brig. This would only happen if the crime in question was something very serious like an assault or murder.

If a serious crime like this did happen, the guest would be placed into the brig until port where the local authorities would take over.

Unfortunately, murders do sometimes happen at sea. With 30 million guests cruising annually, statistically it is likely to happen.

To learn more about how many people die on cruise ships per year, and what they die of, check out this post:

The Guest Was a Danger to Themselves or Other Guests

If the guest was being a danger to themselves or other guests they may be placed in the brig as a last resort.

If the guest had made threats against other guests or threats to end their own life, they may be placed in the brig. Cruise lines do try to avoid putting guests in the brig, but in some circumstances where no other options are available, it may be necessary.

If a guest was drunk and disorderly in some circumstances they may even be asked to sign a contract that says that they won’t drink for the rest of the cruise or will be removed from the ship. This isn’t an empty threat, cruise lines can, and do disembark passengers.

A Guest Trying to Scam The Cruise Line

Amazingly some people do go on cruises to try and scam the cruise lines. Fake ‘trip and slip’ incidents occasionally happen at sea with the guest hoping to secure a free cruise.

Luckily for the cruise lines there are CCTV cameras all over the ships. In most situations, this would be dealt with without the use of the brig but if the passenger had committed a serious crime in pursuit of their scam, entering crew only areas for example, the brig may be used.

Who Decides Who Goes in The Brig?

The final decision of if a passenger goes into the brig is with the captain of the cruise ship. The security team onboard would work with the captain to decide on the best outcome.

In the majority of situations, the security team are usually able to diffuse a situation by returning a passenger to their cabin instead of the brig.

To Conclude:

Cruise ships do have jails onboard, they are called brigs and are nothing more than a small room where guests could be held if absolutely necessary. The cruise ship brig is used as a last resort for the cruise line.

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Emma Le Teace

Hey, I'm Emma, an award-winning cruise blogger, and YouTuber. I share cruise tips, tours, and videos on this website to help you master cruising on a budget. You can learn more here: About Me.

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