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Do Cruise Ships Have Jails

Given the number of people on board and the abundant presence of alcohol, it should be no surprise that sometimes bad behavior takes place on cruise ships. Crime is not common or rampant on cruise ships (when compared to crime on land), but it does happen.

So what happens to those bad actors when you’re on the ship in the middle of the ocean? Do cruise ships have jails? Yes, they do! But the ship’s ability to handle bad behavior isn’t limited to having a jail cell. Keep reading to get the full story.

Do Cruise Ships Have Jails For Passengers?

Because of the sheer number of passengers and guests on the cruise ships, jail cells – otherwise known as brigs – are a necessary requirement onboard for security reasons. However, these facilities are not managed by law enforcement. They are managed by the cruise ship’s security team and guests cannot access this area unless moved there.

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Because of this, it’s no surprise that some people do not know that the brig is even there. These small jails are on board for the most serious incidents that might occur onboard the ship by passengers who are suspected of breaking the law or causing a dangerous problem.

Where would you find the cruise ship jail? There are typically areas of the ship that are off-limits to passengers, and it’s where the ship houses facilities best kept out of sight, like a jail or the ship’s morgue.

These jails are an absolute last resort and the crew would prefer not to use them at all. However, if they must be used – the crew can hold the person or persons for a short or long period of time, depending on the need.

The crew would prefer to employ a cabin arrest arrangement, where if a passenger was being a nuisance but not a danger, for example, being very drunk, they might be confined to their cabin until further notice as to when they can come back out. In such circumstances, a guard might be posted outside the cabin to make sure the passenger stays put.

Although in theory, someone could be confined to a jail or cabin for the remainder of the cruise, it’s more likely that the passenger will be forcibly disembarked at the next port and turned over to local authorities.

Having said this, there are still some ships, albeit much older ships, that do not have a brig on board.

Why Are The Jails On The Ship Called Brigs?

The word brig comes from the longer word brigantine, which means a small, two-masted ship. Normally with square and large sails. These ships were incredibly common until the late 19th century, with the introduction of steamship technology.

On modern ships, the brig just refers to the jails which are used for temporary custody. No ship will ever use the term “jail” but you will hear them speak of a brig.

Lockedroom in a cruise ship

Do Cruise Ships Have Other Security Measures?

In order for cruise ships to remain safe and maintain law and order, a cruise ship will typically have many people charged with managing ship security. While the cruise ship captain is ultimately in charge of all ship security, a ship will also have dedicated security personnel. The cruise ship crew are trained on safety and security measures to keep the ship running as smoothly as possible.

You can expect the following things to occur:

  • When boarding the cruise ship, guests will have all of their belongings scanned. This is to ensure that they are not smuggling or bringing onboard items that they should not bring with them. If a prohibited item is found through this scan, the guest might be refused on board and potentially law enforcement will be contacted.

Prohibited items might include drugs, guns, other weapons, flammable or explosive items and possibly alcohol and drone technology, but the latter depends on the cruise ship.

  • A security team is trained extensively and will be employed on board through the duration of the cruise. They will know what to do and how to act in the event of an emergency or criminal activity. They will be available 24 hours a day.
  • Some ships will have security officers in plain clothes strolling around the ship and monitoring activities. Also, some security officers may have cameras as well.
  • In some instances, a passenger may be handcuffed before being confined.

The security team on board is a legal requirement for all cruise ships. The team will include guards, supervisors, guest officers, and ship officers. The ship officers are the ones responsible for the safety of the entire ship, whereas guest officers are responsible for the guests.

Along with this though, there will be other crew members with some security responsibilities and will also have been trained in specific measures.

What Exactly Do These Roles Do?

A guest security officer or supervisor will be in charge of the entry to the ship with the guests initially. They will also do the rounds (security checks) around the ship and inspect the cabins of the crew and other guests.

A ship security officer however will have created a security plan, a staff rotation and maintenance check plans. Depending on the kind of ship, the plans for security and the type of roles they conduct will alter. It’s all about the needs of the ship.

Why Might A Guest End Up In The Brig?

Sometimes, even with it being the very last resort, there are times when a guest has to be detained in the brig. With millions of people going on cruise ships each year, it probably comes as no surprise. The reasons might be:

A Guest Has Committed A Serious Crime

When it comes to a serious crime, we are really referring to something like murder or terrorism. In this instance, the guest will be detained in the brig until the nearest law enforcement can take over matters.

If the crime at issue took place in international waters and involves a U.S. citizen, the FBI will be notified. The ship will also notify the country where the ship is registered.

The Guest Is A Threat

If a guest has threatened to kill another guest or crew member, threatened to hijack the ship or threatened to kill themselves or jump off the ship – they might be detained until they can be assessed in the nearest place with professionals.

The Guest Is Trying To Commit A Scam

There have been times where passengers have staged an accident in order to get a free cruise or money from the cruise line. If they are caught doing this, the brig can be an option.

Sometimes, guests might even try to do this in restricted areas. However, with so many CCTV cameras now, guests rarely get away with it.


Cruise ships do indeed have jails, but they are known as brigs and are only used in extreme circumstances or as a last resort.

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