A law tightening security and crime reporting on cruise ships is likely to pass after Congress returns from its August break, and I say bully for that.
I’m also pleased to report that the bill has been stripped of its only truly stupid provision — one that would have required cruise ships to be retrofitted with railings at least 54 inches high. That requirement has been amended to 42 inches high, a standard that modern cruise ships already meet or exceed.
At 54 inches, I calculate that the railing would be at shoulder height for the average American woman (at 5 foot 4) and upper chest height for the average American man (at 5 foot 9). This would seriously interfere with enjoying the experience of being at sea, and would not prevent anyone determined to climb over the rails from doing that.
The bill will still require cruise lines to put peepholes in cabin doors, increase video surveillance, keep rape kits on board and report crimes to federal authorities.
The cruise industry had initially opposed the bill, but reversed its stand. That was wise. It will only enhance the credibility of an industry that has gotten more than its fair share of bad press lately.
[Added 8/2/2009] It appears I’ve vexed some people with this blog post, and I guess I can understand why the photo seems flippant to people who are concerned about cruise passengers going overboard. So, I’ll elaborate.
I believe that it is unwise to have extremely intoxicated people on a ship with railings that they can climb over. I think the way to address this is not to raise the railings, which wouldn’t be very effective. The way to address this is to deal with cruise line policies about serving alcohol to people who are drunk.
I can’t see any way that raising the balcony railing in the photo above would keep me safer. Despite the fact that I’m tall enough to get my feet on the railing (I’m 5 foot 9), it is still well above my center of gravity when I stand up. I can’t fall over it unless I climb up onto it, something I’m not going to do accidentally.
Many times, I’ve stayed at hotels with balcony railings at this height. Sadly, people do occasionally climb over and even get thrown over balcony railings at hotels or apartments. Sometimes they jump. I’m sorry about that, but I’m still going to enjoy a balcony that I can see over and rest my arms on (or feet, if I feel like it) — at sea or on land.
You can say “if it saves one life” it’s worth the inconvenience or annoyance to thousands or millions of other people, but it’s arguable whether it really would save a single life. In cases where people climb onto or over 42-inch rails, they can presumably climb over 54-inch rails.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that it would save lives, how then could I be against improving safety?
Well, it would improve safety to outlaw motorcycles or hang gliding or to take any of a million other measures. We don’t try to create a perfectly safe world. We all draw the line somewhere between our fun, our convenience, financial considerations and safety, in just about everything we do. OSHA draws the line on railings at 42 inches, and that makes sense to me.
I also believe the cruise lines need to be more accountable for crimes on board, particularly sexual assaults, and I agree with every other provision of the bill.