Medical Evacuation From a Cruise

What Happens If You Get Sick on a Cruise?

If you get sick or hurt on a cruise, the urgency of your condition will determine whether you are treated aboard, taken ashore at the next scheduled port, (more urgently) taken ashore at the nearest port, or require an at-sea medical evacuation.

All large, ocean-going cruise ships have a medical center staffed with licensed physicians and nurses. Most are equipped according to guidelines established by the American College of Emergency Physicians Cruise Ship & Maritime Medicine Section and are capable of prescribing and administrating medications and performing minor surgery. Once you are evaluated, it is between the ship’s medical staff, and the ship’s Captain, to decide if your condition can be treated onboard, or is serious enough to warrant disembarkation and transfer to the nearest hospital on land.

If You Need On-Shore Hospitalization

If your condition allows for the infirmary to care for you until the ship’s next scheduled port, the ship’s team will arrange with local emergency services for you to be picked up and transferred to a shoreside medical facility at that destination.

If your condition warrants an unscheduled stop at the nearest port, that will be arranged by the ship’s team as well.

If your condition is so serious and life-threatening, and the medical team and ship’s Captain determine that an at-sea medevac is necessary, that has a lot of factors and considerations.

At-sea hoists are extremely complicated, can be very dangerous, and are rarely done. They are the sole purview of highly skilled, at-sea certified rescue teams, which is typically the local Coast Guard. Execution is highly dependent on several factors: who’s waters you’re in, current weather and sea conditions, what type of ship you’re on (is there helicopter landing capability? Would an at-sea hoist be safe? Is it a smaller ship so you will need to go by boat?), etc.

Getting Transported to a Hospital at Home

Once you reach the nearest appropriate shoreside hospital and have been stabilized, you may require continued inpatient hospitalization. This is where Medjet would come in. A good travel insurance policy will have covered getting you to that local hospital, and paying for your treatment there, but will not cover moving you to a hospital at home unless you can prove that the move is “medically necessary”. Medical repatriation flights (air ambulance transfers) can be very expensive (up to $200,000) so they only want to approve one if it’s absolutely necessary.

If you do require continued hospitalization, once you are stable for an air transport, Medjet gets you moved to the hospital of your choice at home, just because you prefer to continue treatment there. It’s the primary differentiator between travel insurance medevac benefits and what Medjet does: no “medical necessity” clause and no “adequate facility” clause.

We get asked a lot "does Medjet cover cruises". Yes, Medjet benefits apply if you are sick or hurt on a cruise and become hospitalized ashore. But Medjet will not perform an at-sea medevac... no private entity can promise that, only certified Coast Guard or other local Rescue Services can perform that.

In Summary

A medical emergency while traveling, be it on a cruise or a trip by plane, can be a scary experience. Making sure you have adequate travel insurance to cover the costs of getting to the hospital, and treatment at a hospital is important, but also make sure you understand what the process is and what is covered. If you have pre-existing medical conditions, we highly suggest that you call the cruise line and ask very specific questions about their onboard capabilities and protocols for emergencies.

And don’t forget about the ability to get home. Nobody wants to be stuck in a foreign hospital, so don’t forget to enroll in Medjet before you go!