Secret Cruise Ship Language Decoded

5 min read

Have you ever heard some weird announcements on a cruise ship PA system and wondered what the heck they were talking about? Chances are you’re not alone. That’s because cruise ships have a secret language only crew members can understand — until now. We’ve decoded this secret cruise ship language so you can be prepared before your next sea vacation.

Why Cruise Ships Have a Secret Code Language

Code Language
Source: Pixabay

Did you know that cruise ship captains and crew members communicate with each other using a secret code language? Yep, it’s true. That’s because there are certain things passengers shouldn’t be privy to in order to avoid mass hysteria. Using a secret code language helps to alert crew members to serious incidents on board without alarming the passengers. This language is also used to “protect the ship’s flawless image,” according to The Cheat Sheet. And, these codes are commonly used among different cruise lines, Janet Semenova, an independent affiliate of Palm Coast Travel & Signature Travel Network, says, according to an article published by MSN. Even though cruise lines don’t want you knowing about these codes, it’s important that you stay abreast of what’s going on. So, the next time you take to the sea, keep the following code words in mind.

What Those Codes are and What They Mean

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mr. Mob or Oscar, Oscar, Oscar — If you hear this, it means someone has jumped or fallen overboard.

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie — This means there’s a security threat on board. Don’t worry, cruise ships have a jail on board. And, depending on the crime that has been committed, the guilty party or parties can end up in a holding cell, a small padded room, or locked into bodily restraints.

Operation Bright Star or Operation Rising Star — You know what else a cruise ship has on board? A morgue — and body bags, too. So, when you hear these code words it means that there’s a severe medical emergency or someone on the ship has died. Believe it or not, deaths occur quite often on cruise ships.

Alpha or Sierra — These code words are used for medical emergencies requiring a stretcher. Other medical emergency codes include “Mr. Skylight,” “Alpha, Alpha, Alpha,” “Code Blue,” and “Star Code, Star Code, Star Code.”

Code Red — No, unfortunately this doesn’t mean they’ve got Mountain Dew on board. It means that there’s an outbreak of norovirus or illness and the ship must undergo deep cleaning. As a result, infected passengers are told they must stay in their rooms.

PVI — “PVI” simply means public vomiting incident.

It’s important to note that not all PVI codes result from seasickness. In fact, many times it’s because a passenger has had a little too much to drink. But, be warned: intoxication can get your SeaPass (onboard credit card) temporarily disabled. And, then you’ll be barred from all of the ship’s bars. And, don’t think you can outsmart the bartenders, either. Even if you do purchase the all-you-can-drink beverage package, you’ll be carefully monitored. Not only that, but all alcoholic beverages are poured with a jigger — i.e. a measuring device used to ensure they pour accurate amounts of alcohol into every drink.

30-30 — The code “30-30” means there’s a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

Red Parties — This code word may sound like tons of fun, but it’s anything but that. “Red Parties” actually means that there is a possible fire on board the ship. Following the code message will be details of where the fire is located on the vessel so the crew can find it and put it out. Other code words that mean possible fire on board include “Alpha Team, Alpha Team, Alpha Team” and “Priority 1.”

Bravo, Bravo, Bravo — So, how do you know when there’s a real fire on board? Listen for “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” over the PA system.

Kilo — This code tells all staff to report to their pre-determined emergency posts during an urgent situation.

Echo, Echo, Echo — This can mean one of three things: 1) the ship is starting to drift, 2) there has been a possible collision with another ship, or 3) there’s a warning of high winds.

Priority 2 — This means there’s a leak.

Delta — This means there’s damage to the ship.

Papa — This code word means there’s pollution or an oil spill.

Banana — Okay, so this isn’t a code word you’d hear over the PA system. It’s actually a term used to refer to passengers. So, anytime you hear a crew member call someone a “banana,” it means that that person is a particularly bad tipper.

FYI, your tips control how much the crew gets paid. In fact, tips and bonuses make up most of their wages, according to The Cheat Sheet. For that reason, many cruise lines will charge passengers a mandatory gratuity that gets divided up among the crew at the end of the trip.

Coning — Here’s another code word you won’t hear over the PA system. Basically, “coning” refers to sex between crew and passengers. Believe it or not, it’s “one of the main activities on board,” despite the fact that it’s against company policy, former senior officer Jay Herring revealed to the Daily Express. So, where did the term “coning” come from? According to Herring, passengers are referred to as “cones.” “Some say it’s because, during boat drill, the passengers look like the neon orange traffic cones, but others say it’s from the 1993 movie Coneheads where, just like the aliens in the movie, passengers ate everything in sight.”

What You Should Do When You Hear These Codes

Pa System
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Don’t panic. As we mentioned before, cruise lines use these codes to prevent passengers from getting worked up into a frenzy. That being said, a spokeswoman from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) told the Daily Express that cruise ship staff are well-trained in handling such emergencies on board. “The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires all ships, including cruise ships, to carry out emergency training and drills, and requires every crew member with assigned emergency duties to be familiar with these duties before the voyage begins. The captain and crew receive specialized training and demonstrate internationally mandated levels of competency. These are professional mariners who take passenger safety very seriously. Crew members participate in emergency drills such as fire, abandon ship and damage response on a recurring basis, and crew members with operational responsibilities receive even more, continuous training.”


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