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Cruise Ship Operations

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This document provides safe operation guidance to cruise ship operators during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and safety of crew and passengers must be assured. Hazards related to COVID-19 are described as well as the measures required to control them. The information will also be useful for crew members, entertainment and leisure workers, and passengers.

Refer to guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Transport Canada:

For general COVID-19 prevention practices, refer to these Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) documents:

Consider the Risks

COVID-19 spreads from infected individuals to others through respiratory particles. Workers and passengers can be exposed when they have close contact with a person who has COVID-19 or by touching surfaces or items contaminated with the COVID-19 virus.

A COVID-19 outbreak onboard puts all passengers, crew, and people on land at risk. The conditions onboard a cruise ship that promote COVID-19 spread include:

  • Large number of people from different households in a small area
  • Frequent close contact between passengers and crew
  • Confined spaces with poor ventilation
  • Possible introduction of COVID-19 onto the ship from passengers and crew visiting foreign ports

Even with strict controls and screening, a COVID-19 infected or asymptomatic person can board, which can start an outbreak.

The risk of COVID-19 transmission is increased when:

  • Person-to-person interactions are longer, frequent, close and with people from different households.
  • People are around others, especially in confined and crowded spaces with poor ventilation, who are breathing heavily during exercise, talking, shouting, singing, coughing, or sneezing.
  • People do not perform proper hand hygiene after contacting contaminated high-touch surfaces, or do not follow proper respiratory etiquette when coughing and sneezing.
  • High-touch surfaces are not cleaned and disinfected frequently.
  • There is a high number of COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations in the passengers or port community.
  • COVID-19 vaccination rates among workers, their families, or the local community are low.

Risk of transmission increases when any of these risk factors occur at the same time. People on cruise ships are frequently exposed to many of the above risks.

Operators must assess the risks of COVID-19 spread in their fleets and implement appropriate hazard controls according to local public health authority requirements and hierarchy of controls principles (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, personal protective equipment). Apply controls in a layered approach to provide the most protection. Train workers on how to protect themselves and others by practicing preventative measures for individuals. Make sure that new controls do not create new hazards or compromise the safety of crew and passengers.

When implementing health measures operators should consider the following:

  • Have you implemented all the jurisdictional requirements to resume operation?
  • Have you purchased the appropriate equipment and properly trained your crews to use this equipment?
  • Are you able to assess if a person may be sick or has been exposed, and rapidly take appropriate actions?
  • Have you identified the activities or areas with the greatest risk of exposure?
  • Are you following the most recent public health guidance?
  • Are indoor spaces properly ventilated? Have ventilation systems been properly maintained?
  • How many close interactions will the crew have with others? How long are the interactions?
  • Are control measures working?
  • Do crew members interact with frequently touched surfaces or objects? How can this contact be avoided or reduced?
  • Is mask wearing required?

Control Measures

In all cases, follow the guidance and advisories from Transport Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) when operating cruise ships in Canadian waters and ports. Comply with the laws and regulations of each jurisdiction that ships operate in. Operators must also comply with international maritime law when in international waters.

Passengers may also wish to consult current travel advisories.

Operators must obtain approval from Transport Canada, local port, and public health authorities before resuming cruise ship operations in Canadian waters. Submissions must be made in advance of the intended date of resumption. Be prepared to implement changes, if requested by the authorities. Comply with Canadian cruise industry regulator guidance for safe operation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Implement a COVID-19 Management Plan for all ships that will be conducting operation in Canadian waters and ports. This plan will outline health measures, practices, and ship modifications designed to keep crew, passengers, and the Canadian public safe and minimize the chance of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Cruise Ship Guidance

  • Implement and adjust the COVID-19 management plan and cruise itineraries according to worldwide pandemic conditions.
  • Consider designating a representative to develop the plan for all ships that enter Canadian waters. This individual should also be the contact person who communicates the plan, including any updates and changes, to Canadian authorities.
  • Make sure to have adequate staffing levels to properly implement the COVID-19 Management Plan.
  • Implement flexible cancellation policies to allow passengers to reschedule travel plans without penalty if they become sick, have been determined to be close contacts, or have knowingly been exposed.
  • Adjust capacity in response pandemic trends or sail orders. For example, lower cruise ship capacity (e.g., 50% of maximum capacity).
  • Determine if any amenities should be closed such as bars, gyms, and other group settings as recommended by public health experts.
  • Install clear physical barriers wherever crew members are expecting to have frequent, close face-to-face interactions with passengers (e.g., information counters).
  • Post maximum occupancy notices where people congregate such as pools, casinos, cafeterias, restaurants, theaters, public washrooms, waiting areas, attractions, etc.
  • Provide hand sanitizer dispensers (with minimum 60% alcohol content) in high traffic areas. Keep them well stocked.
  • Install disposable mask dispensers at key locations.
  • Discourage all physical contact (e.g., handshakes, hugs, high fives) between people from different households including crew and passengers. Encourage non-contact interactions.
  • Modify meal services to facilitate physical distancing (e.g., reconfigure seating in dining rooms, stagger mealtimes, offer and encourage in-cabin meals).
  • Eliminate buffet style self-serve options (e.g., salad or dessert bars).
  • Provide single-occupancy cabins with private bathrooms to all crew members, if possible.
  • Discourage shore leave for crew. When taking leave, require crew members to take precautions to reduce their chance of exposure to COVID-19 (e.g., wearing a mask, physical distancing, frequent hand hygiene).
  • Implement onboard COVID-19 testing for rapid confirmation of suspected COVID-19 cases. Follow case management guidance below if tests confirm COVID-19 infection.
  • Submit all COVID-19 monitoring and preparedness reports to the appropriate authorities, as required.
  • Increase the onboard medical capabilities:
    • Purchase onboard medical equipment and supplies (if required).
    • Hire additional medical staff.
    • Make sure medical staff understand cruise ship procedures and how to use equipment.
    • Have onshore dedicated medical teams available for consultation.
    • Maintain or improve telehealth capabilities of ships.
    • Provide additional mental health resources and have mental health first aid trained crew members.
  • Be prepared to assist in outbreak investigation conducted by public health officials.

Communication and Training

  • Communicate to passengers and crew all new practices, procedures, and policies that will affect their experience. Share information on posters, websites, during the booking process, and by email.
  • Make sure that passengers and crew understand and agree to new health measures.
  • Train all crew members about COVID-19, including:
    • What COVID-19 is and the common symptoms.
    • How the virus spreads.
    • What to do if sick or exposed and how to get tested for COVID-19.
    • How and when to report COVID-19 illness.
    • Preventive practices for individuals.
    • Information on vaccines and options for vaccination.
    • How to properly wear, handle, and care for masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).
    • Safe use of cleaning and disinfection chemicals.
    • How to stay informed about COVID-19 (using reputable sources).
    • New and updated work practices and policies (e.g., sick leave, mask wearing, vaccination).
    • How to handle conflict. Individuals may react aggressively to public health and workplace control measures.
  • Conduct team meetings, training sessions and orientations virtually or in small physically distanced groups, preferably outdoors or in large well-ventilated rooms.
  • Inform crew and passengers of the Government of Canada’s requirements for entry into Canada, including the use of the ArriveCAN website or mobile app.
  • Train medical staff on:
    • COVID-19 sample collection procedures.
    • Measures to reduce spread of COVID-19.
    • The use of all medical equipment.
    • Handling and disposal of biohazardous waste.
  • Maintain surveillance logs for respiratory illnesses and other records pertaining to COVID-19 testing, quarantine, isolation, and contact tracing for 90 days. Provide them to Canadian public health officials upon request.


  • Follow the current Canadian federal vaccination requirements for passengers and crew. Which may include being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 fourteen days before boarding the ship (unless exempt).
  • Verify the vaccination status of passengers and crew. Documents provided must be made available to public health official upon request.
  • Inform crew and passengers that:
    • Fully vaccinated people can still spread and become sick with COVID-19.
    • It is important to continue to follow public health measures when required onboard and at ports, such as wearing masks or maintaining physical distance from people from other households, even when vaccinated.
  • Operators should maintain their COVID-19 controls, even if most passengers and crew are vaccinated, until travel health restrictions are eased.
  • For additional information on the vaccines, refer to:

Booking and Embarkation Process

  • Encourage pre-booking of attractions and events to avoid queues at cruise ship service counters.
  • Manage boarding queues to maintain physical distancing of all passengers in all directions.
  • Stagger boarding times to prevent crowding in loading areas.
  • Implement contactless check-in processes, if possible.

Pre-Boarding Screening at Canadian Ports

  • Screen all crew and passengers before they board the ship, as required by local public health, port authorities, sail order or company policy.
  • Before boarding, if passengers and crew must present the result of a covid-19 test, be sure it:
    • Is the appropriate type and valid according Canadian requirements.
    • Is negative
    • For molecular test, was taken within 72 hours of the scheduled boarding time, or
    • For antigen test, was taken within 24 hours of the scheduled boarding time.
  • Screening should include checking the health status of crew and passengers. Do not allow people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or reporting possible exposure to board and isolate them from other passengers and crew.
  • Consider having a secondary screening area to allow retesting of people with symptoms and their close contacts by medical personnel.
  • For additional information refer to:

COVID-19 Management and Response Plans

  • Create a written COVID-19 response management plan. Make sure the plans comply with all the requirements of jurisdictional authorities. Communicate plans to public health and port authorities before commencing cruise voyages.
  • The plans should designate one person (or committee) to execute the plans. A medical or public health officer should also be designated to manage the infectious disease prevention and control portions of the plans.
  • The plan should include the ability to care for serious COVID-19 cases onboard, as shore side medical care may not immediately be available.
  • Make sure medical and cleaning supplies are well stocked before departure. Supplies may include COVID-19 test kits, PPE, thermometers, medications, bleach, disinfectant, paper towels, etc.
  • Require crew members and passengers to immediately report all illnesses and COVID-19 symptoms to medical staff. Highlight this requirement to all people onboard by poster, intercom, and informational displays.
  • If COVID-19 symptoms are reported, immediately implement the response and management plan.
  • Symptomatic people and all close contacts should immediately put on a respirator (or if not available, a well-fitting medical mask), perform hand hygiene, and isolate or quarantine in their cabins (mask may be removed while in isolation or quarantine). Symptomatic people, if possible, should isolate in a separate space away from asymptomatic close contacts to reduce further exposure.
  • Test all exposed asymptomatic people for COVID-19 and ask them to continue quarantining until results are known. Follow quarantine requirements recommended by public health authorities or cruise ship operator policy.
  • People in isolation should closely monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Medical team members should regularly check in with people in isolation. Provide medical assistance as required.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces that the symptomatic person may have come into contact with.
  • If test results come back positive, report them to Transport Canada, PHAC, local public health and port authorities.
  • Continue isolation protocols as directed by medical personnel and on shore authorities.
  • If emergency medical transportation of a crew member or passenger is required, it should be requested through Canadian authorities. Prepare a procedure for the disembarking of crew members and passengers that require medical care beyond onboard capabilities. Focus on mask wearing, PPE, clearing passageways during patient transit, and cleaning and disinfections after transit.

Outbreak Preparedness

  • Create a COVID-19 outbreak plan. Activate it when confirmed cases exceed a pre-determined limits.
  • Consider implementing a ship wide quarantine requiring all non-essential crew members and passengers to stay in their cabins (with scheduled times for fresh air on deck). Communicate updates frequently to crew and passengers to reduce anxiety.
  • Cruise ships should attempt to return to their homeport to manage COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • Crew should understand their roles and responsibilities during an outbreak.

Isolation and Quarantine

  • Create an isolation and quarantine procedure.
  • Make sure people understand how to isolate or quarantine from others.
  • People in isolation or quarantine should have no direct contact with others except for designated medical staff wearing appropriate PPE.
  • If possible, provide single occupancy cabins, with the door closed and with private bathrooms, for symptomatic people in isolation.
  • Close contacts should quarantine in their cabins and monitor their symptoms.
  • If available, cabins chosen for isolation should:
    • Be close to medical facility and gangways (for easy patient transport during disembarkment)
    • Located in low-traffic part of the ship (preventing the unintentional exposure of others)
    • Have unoccupied cabins on either side, if possible
    • Not be part of interconnected cabin networks (i.e., people walk through cabin to get to other cabins)
    • Have balconies to provide access to an outdoor space for psychological wellness, if possible.
    • Have negative air pressure (making it less likely for cabin air to escape into the ship)
  • Isolated or quarantined crew members will be responsible for the cleaning and disinfection of their cabins. Provide training and supplies including cleaning products, disinfectants, paper towels and linens. For passengers, cleaning and disinfection should be scheduled after the cabin is vacated.
  • Meals for those in isolation are provided in disposable packaging with single-use dining ware and cutlery. Delivery should be contactless.
  • All waste should be collected and bagged by the isolated person and placed outside the cabin at designated times. Bagged waste shall be handled carefully while in transit to the waste handling facility.
  • Place soiled laundry outside the cabin at designated times for transport to the laundry facility. If possible, laundry should be bagged in water-soluble laundry bags (to avoid the potential exposure of laundry staff to coronavirus).
  • Refer to guidance on quarantine and isolation from PHAC for additional information.

Disembarkation after a Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 Case is Reported

  • All crew and passengers must stay on board until a risk assessment has been conducted by a designated quarantine officer.
  • Before beginning the disembarking process, coordinate with onshore health authorities, follow their instructions, and obtain approval for planned:
    • Port of disembarkation, and
    • Onshore quarantine location(s) and duration, if required
  • Confirm that onshore personnel are prepared and:
    • Have notified their staff of the disembarkment
    • Have deployed appropriate supplies and equipment
    • Informed personnel on precautions to prevent exposure to COVID-19
  • Ship operators are responsible to facilitate the communications between the ship pilots, ground transportation or crews, and onshore authorities.
  • The ship operator is responsible for the wellbeing of the crew and passengers (i.e., medical, accommodations, meals, garbage collection, and laundry services) during any quarantine.
  • Continue periodic COVID-19 testing for all people in quarantine. Segregate all positive individuals from others and monitor symptoms. If symptoms become life-threatening, consider medical evacuation of all severely ill individuals.
  • Follow on shore authorities’ requirements for all people who disembark, which may include isolation or quarantine.

Repatriation of Persons

  • The plan should include provisions for the repatriation of ill passengers (and their dependants) and crew to their home communities, should the need arise.
  • Ship operators are responsible for safely repatriating all individuals who become ill while on board.

Physical Distancing

  • Create and enforce an indoor and outdoor physical distance policy. Communicate these requirements to all crew and passengers.
  • Remind crew to minimize non-essential in-person interactions with others. Close interactions should be kept as few, brief, and at the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres).
  • Crew should always maintain the greatest distance possible from other people.
  • Prepare for exceptions to distancing guidance such as for anyone rescuing a distressed person, providing first aid, or performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Ventilation and Filtration

  • Maintain ship ventilation systems in good working condition.
  • Consult with ship ventilation manufacturers to explore ways to:
    • Maximize fresh air supply.
    • Upgrade filters to the highest efficiency compatible with the system, preferably to MERV 13.
    • Minimize unfiltered and recirculated air.
  • Ensure that air circulation vents are not directing air flow from person to person.
  • Consider the use of High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration units in areas with poor ventilation, in addition to the other ventilation strategies. Make sure the units are properly maintained and appropriately sized for the space.
  • For additional information on indoor ventilation, refer to:

Hygiene Measures

  • Promote good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene to everyone onboard.
  • Make supplies and facilities available so passengers and crew can perform proper hand hygiene.
  • Hand hygiene by:
    • hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if not possible,
    • using a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol
  • Advise passengers and crew to avoid touching eyes, nose, mouth, and mask with unwashed hands.
  • Require crew members to wash hands or sanitize after touching shared items (e.g., checklists, clipboards, pens, tablets, trays, or carts).
  • Remind crew members to clean and disinfect personal devices such as radios at the start of each shift.
  • Discourage the sharing of personal items (e.g., cigarettes, cellphones) between crew members.
  • Require crew members to wear freshly cleaned uniforms or clothes for each shift. Clothing should be bagged for transport and washed after each shift.

Cleaning, Disinfection and Laundry

  • Clean and disinfect shared spaces (i.e., dining areas, boarding areas) on a routine schedule (e.g., at least daily), more often for high-touch surfaces such as doors, handles, handrails, public seating, elevators, and service counters.
  • Ensure public washrooms are kept clean, have running water, and are stocked with soap, paper towels and a plastic lined waste container.
  • Make sure crew know how to work safely with cleaning products, including the need for PPE and adequate ventilation.
  • Dispose of used tissues, wipes, gloves, and other cleaning materials in a plastic lined waste container.
  • Use disposable gloves when handling garbage. Wash hands properly, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling garbage.
  • Handheld devices, such as digital ordering devices, bill trays, self-serve beverage stations and touchscreen ordering kiosks must be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
  • Make sure that the dishwashing equipment is operating as designed. Chose sanitizing cycles or the highest temperature setpoints. Use appropriate detergents and sanitizers.
  • Keep dirty dishes separate from clean dishes to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Make sure that cabins have been adequately ventilated before cleaning and disinfecting cabins vacated by confirmed or suspect COVID-19 cases.
  • Have workers remove items from cabinet which cannot be cleaned and disinfected between guests. All other high-touch items should be cleaned and disinfected between guests.
  • Make sure workers do not shake dirty laundry. All laundry coming from isolating or quarantining cabins should be washed using detergent at the hottest appropriate water setting.
  • Trolley and carts designated for laundry or waste pick up should be cleaned and disinfected before and after each use.
  • Clean laundry should be dried thoroughly and kept separate from dirty laundry to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Refer to these resources for details:

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Continue to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for existing occupational health and safety hazards and emergencies as directed by applicable laws and company policies.
  • Additional PPE including eye protection (i.e., goggles or face shields) and disposable gloves may be required when cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Make sure adequate PPE is provided for workers who interact with the passengers or respond to emergencies. For example, an N95 respirator, a face shield, disposal gloves and a gown should be worn when in direct contact with another person (e.g., providing emergency medical attention). Require workers to follow appropriate procedures when putting on (donning) and removing (doffing) PPE.
  • Workers may also opt for eye protection (such as face shields) when in close physical contact with others.
  • Develop procedures and train staff on the selection, use, wearing, removal, disposal, cleaning, maintenance, and storage of PPE. Improper use of PPE can increase the risk of infection.
  • Clean hands before putting on and after removing PPE.

Mask Wearing

  • Implement a mask wearing policy. Communicate these requirements to all crew and passengers. Make sure the policy complies with all necessary public health authority recommendations of each port of call.
  • The policy should include when, where, and which type of mask is required to be worn.
  • When masks are required, train crew to properly wear well-constructed and well-fitting masks while at work. Masks should completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth, and chin without gaps and not allow air to escape from edges, fit securely to the head with ties, bands or ear loops and not require frequent adjustments.
  • The appropriate mask for your operation should be chosen according to company policy in consultation with medical or occupational health and safety professionals.
  • Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance.
  • Inform crew of the limitations of masks, including that improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
  • Update your heat-stress program, if your organization has one, as mask-wearing may increase physiological stress during high-exertion tasks.
  • Consider using masks with a transparent window or use written directions to communicate with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Train crew to:
    • Change their mask if it becomes wet or soiled (have extra masks on hand for this purpose)
    • Store soiled reusable masks in a clean container (launder reusable masks before re-use)
    • Avoid touching the outside of the mask while wearing and removing it (handle by straps only)
    • Wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or if not available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol) before and after putting their mask on or taking it off
    • Be aware of environmental conditions that can impact the health or mask wearers (e.g., masks rendered ineffective after getting soiled, or faster onset of heat stress in hot and humid spaces).
  • Ensure masks and filters are properly discarded in a garbage container or use a recycling program, if available.
  • Refer to these resources for details:

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Document last updated March 18, 2022