9 Code Words You Never Want to Hear on Cruise Ships

Stay in the know the next time you take to the sea—these six code words will clue you into what's gone overboard.

Common things you might have on your list of items when getting ready to go on a cruise are toiletries and sunscreen, along with these other things you should pack for a cruise. One thing you probably haven’t thought about? Researching cruise ship code words. But, to ensure guests have the most relaxing atmosphere possible, most major cruise lines have come up with a variety of internal code words to use during an emergency or other situation.

Certain codes are commonly used among different cruise lines to signal true emergencies, said Janet Semenova, an independent affiliate of Palm Coast Travel & Signature Travel Network. These code words are used by crew members to discreetly communicate with each other when things go overboard. Before anyone steps foot on the ship, cruise personnel and captains receive intensive training. These drills show a certain level of competency that is mandated across all cruise lines, Semenova said. Here are just a few examples of code words used on a cruise.

PVI and 30-30

Not all stomachs are made for the sea. One of the most common phrases heard on cruises is “PVI,” code for public vomiting, Semenova said. All other general messes are communicated with the simple “30-30.” A little vomit doesn’t hurt anyone, but here are 13 of the craziest things cruise personnel have encountered.

Kilo and Bravo

If you see cruise personnel rushing to a certain area on the ship all at once, don’t be alarmed. They have pre-determined emergency posts to report to during an urgent situation, Semenova said. To signal this, the word “Kilo” must be said. This next word doesn’t mean what we all think it means—”Bravo” signifies a fire onboard the ship, she added.

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie

It seems that the more serious the threat, the sillier the name. “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie” is used when the captain wants to alert the crew that there is a security threat. Don’t fret though, because cruise personnel and the captain receive ongoing training.

Alpha or Sierra, and Operation Bright Star or Rising Star

Like all living things, humans have bodies that sometimes break down. Medical emergencies on cruises don’t happen frequently, but when they do, there’s a host of code words to communicate the issue. General medical emergencies use “Alpha” or “Sierra” when a stretcher is required, Semenova noted. A severe medical emergency or a death on the ship may be signified with “Operation Bright Star” or “Operation Rising Star.” Ship deaths happen rather frequently, Semenova said, and these words alert the crew to discreetly take care of the deceased. Surprised by these code words and their meanings? Read on for other secrets cruise lines won’t tell you before you set sail on your next trip.

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Isabelle Tavares
Isabelle Tavares is a journalism graduate student at the Newhouse School of Syracuse University and former ASME intern for RD.com, where she wrote for the knowledge, travel, culture and health sections. Her work has been published in MSN, The Family Handyman, INSIDER, among others. Follow her on Twitter @isabelletava.