14 Code Words You Never Want to Hear on Cruise Ships

Updated: Jun. 25, 2024

Cruise ship code words like "Bravo, Bravo, Bravo" are semisecret in the industry. See how many you can remember before your next cruise.

Cruises are back in full force. Whether you want to journey to tropical destinations on family-friendly vessels or meander along coastal Europe aboard an adult-only cruise, you’ll want to do some research before booking your next trip. That means doing more than discovering the things you can’t do on cruises anymore or learning how cruise ships have adapted since the pandemic. It’s wise to learn some of the code words major cruise lines employ during emergencies and other delicate situations. Hearing “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” on a ship can, after all, point to a serious issue.

Of course, not all code words indicate an emergency. Cruise lines use others for smaller concerns. The goal is to avoid alarming guests, ensuring passengers on the cruise lines have the most relaxing atmosphere possible. So before anyone steps foot on the ship, cruise personnel receive intensive training that often includes learning their own lingo and special code words. These drills show a certain level of competency that is mandated across all cruise ships, says travel advisor Janet Semenova.

Like the hidden cruise features most passengers are unaware of, these code words aren’t on most travelers’ radar. But if you want to be in the know, don’t worry. We’ve got the scoop on all the code words you might hear, from “Alpha” to “Zulu.” (Yup, even including the ominous “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” on a ship.)

Cruise ship code words

These are just a few of the code words Semenova says you might hear on a ship. Whether you’re taking a themed cruise, singles cruise or all-inclusive trip, listen for these terms the next time you hit the high seas.

  • Alpha: There’s a medical emergency on the ship.
  • Bravo, Bravo, Bravo: There’s a fire on the ship.
  • Charlie, Charlie, Charlie: There’s an onboard security threat.
  • Delta, Delta, Delta: There’s a possible biohazard onboard.
  • Echo: The ship is starting to drift. That’s not something you want to hear, whether you are on a transcontinental cruise or a shorter mini-vacation.
  • Kilo: Cruise personnel should go to their assigned station for their predetermined emergency post.
  • Operation Rising Star: A death or very serious medical emergency has occurred on the ship.
  • Oscar, Oscar, Oscar: The cruise line may not tell you immediately when there’s a man overboard, but this code will let you know when it happens.
  • Purell, Purell, Purell: Cleanup is needed in a public area. Let this be your reminder to add hand sanitizer to your suitcase when packing for a cruise.
  • PVI: Someone has vomited in a public area.
  • Red Party: There’s a fire at sea.
  • Sierra: There is a medical emergency in which someone needs a stretcher.
  • Star Code, Star Code, Star Code: There’s a medical emergency on the ship.
  • Zulu, Zulu, Zulu: There is a fight aboard the ship.

With those terms memorized, hearing “code Alpha,” “code Oscar” or “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” on a ship won’t cause confusion. Now it’s time to sit back, relax and hope you don’t hear them as crew members pass by your lounge chair. And if you’re still looking for a ship to sail on, browse the best cruises as selected by a traveler who’s taken more than 145 of them.


  • Janet Semenova, travel advisor
  • Chicago Tribune: “Secret codes, subliminal messaging behind world’s biggest cruise
  • U.S. Coast Guard: “Report of Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Fire Aboard Royal Caribbean International Passenger Vessel”
  • Bloomberg: “9 Things I Never Knew About Cruises Until I Ran the World’s Largest Ship”
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ecomm Via Royalcaribbean Instagramvia @royalcaribbean/instagram

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