Royal Caribbean's Dangerous FlowRider: Is the Cruise Line Drafting a New Liability Waiver?

One of the most dangerous activities you can participate in during a cruise is found only on Royal Caribbean's cruise ships. It's the "FlowRider," a simulated surfing and water-boarding activity where a thin stream of water shoots up a sloped platform to create a wave-like flow of water.

Wipe-outs are expected. But what is not expected are the serious, life-altering injuries and, sometimes, even death.

You can see one such serious accident in the video below, where a young man falls on his neck. 

A considerable number of cruise passengers have been seriously injured on the Flowrider, which Royal Caribbean helped design and install on five of its cruise ships: one FlowRider on each of the Freedom class cruise ships (Freedom of the Seas, Independence of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas) and two on each of the Oasis class ships (Allure of he Seas and Oasis of the Seas).    

You will read absolutely no warnings about the dangers of the FlowRider on Royal Caribbean's website. Nor will you see any warnings whatsoever posted around the FlowRiders on any of the cruise ships. Even after a passenger was killed when he fell while trying to surf, the cruise line decided not to warn cruise passengers that the activity is, well, deadly

The cruise line's approach to the problem has been to require all passengers who participate in the activity to sign an electronic liability waiver. The process of scrolling through the electronic keypad in a long line is so quick that it's clear that no one reads the waiver. Moreover, the waiver is legally invalid. Earlier this year, the Eleventh Circuit Court of appeal struck down the Royal Caribbean waiver finding that it violated federal law (46 U.S.C 30509) which prohibits contract provisions that attempt to absolve a shipping company from its own negligence.  

At the moment, Royal Caribbean has an illegal waiver, and still no warnings on-line or warnings posted around the FlowRider.   

So what is the cruise line thinking? 

Some people think that Royal Caribbean may be going back to the drawing board to try and draft a new waiver.     

In a recent message thread on the website of the popular on-line cruise community Cruise Critic, there is discussion that the cruise line is working on creating a new and improved liability waiver - apparently for the purpose of trying to navigate around the statutory prohibition found in 46 U.S.C. 30509.  

If that's true, the new waiver will be struck down too. It's too bad that the cruise line won't post warning signs on its website or on the seven FlowRiders on its cruise ships. There are lots of people who don't understand just how dangerous this activity is.

If Royal Caribbean is going to be the only cruise line promoting this dangerous activity, it needs to spend less time drafting illegal waivers and more time drafting effective warnings before the next unsuspecting passenger steps on a surf board and breaks his neck.     


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Comments (8) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jeff - November 28, 2012 12:12 AM

While it does seem that it would make sense for them to make the dangers more well known, it's also not their fault that people don't take the time to read the waiver and find out exactly what they're agreeing to and what risks are involved. I don't put my signature on anything without knowing exactly what I'm signing. If people don't know because they couldn't be bothered to read the waiver, they're to blame for their own ignorance.

Astrogal - November 28, 2012 9:15 AM

Thanks for this article. We will be going on our first Royal Caribbean cruise next year on the Allure and were considering this activity as they hype it up to be safe and fun, but I always had my doubts anyway. Now we will definitely reconsider, or at least not try to stand up on it at all!

Astrogal - December 19, 2012 10:45 PM

I was wondering if there have ever been any incidents on the ship's "zip line"? Looks like fun but scary too, wouldn't want to take an unnecessary risk - what do you think?

Dennis Buchanan - February 14, 2013 6:41 PM

Won't stop me from using the Flowrider on my next RC cruise. It's one of the more fun activities on the ship. True that they should probably put more effort into letting people know about the hazards, but after my first wipeout I knew full well that, if I hit the back pad at the wrong angle, I could be seriously injured. But there are a lot of things that are dangerous, if you're not careful, or just unlucky.

On the cruise I was on, they were also *really* strict about not letting you do what the guy in the video did. Walking in the stream was a big no-no.

Anyways, it's far from the most dangerous activity I embarked upon on that vacation - climbing Dunn's River Falls, I kept thinking "Not in a million years would this be possible in Canada. Nobody would consider taking on the liability, and no insurance company would go near it."

Trevor Kennemer - August 19, 2013 10:38 PM

As someone who has been Flowboarding for many years it is appalling to me that some stupid lawyer thinks they know everything about a particular sport, even when he has never even participated in it a single day of his pathetic life. Due to the lawsuit from an incident that involved someone on the Flowrider, Royal Caribbean has banned almost all tricks from being performed on the wave simulation machine, which in effect renders it completely useless for its intended purpose. Furthur more there are inherent dangers in every sport and activity that you do in life, You could just as easily die walking out your front door as you can Flowboarding. I ride at my local Flowrider at least 4 hours a week and do many tricks that may seem to some as borderline suicidally dangerous, but the fact still remains that I have never been seriously injured even when involved in a major wipeout, and the flowrider is still one of the safest sports in the world. Now I do agree that Royal Caribbean could do a better job of informing people that the Flowrider can potentially cause injury, but if anybody is dumb enough to not realize that riding a sheet of water moving at a rate of 30,000 gallons of per minute, on a board, while attempting to do a trick could cause some harm, then that should be there own fault for being that stupid! Now that there is a ban on almost all tricks aboard Royal Caribbeans Flowriders it is really only punishing experienced and professional riders like myself who just want to enjoy the sport!

Aengus McMorrow - February 3, 2014 3:02 PM


I took on the liberty of the sea in 2008, while on the cruise I had a go of the flow rider and had a very bad fall, I certain I nearly broke my neck, I could lift my head off the pillow for over a week after the incident.

I go such a fright when it happened, and reaslise I'm extremely lucky to be not perminently injured.

I'd advise anyone going on a cruise with royal carribbean to avoid this death trap, even if your an experienced surfer, because just below 1inch of water there is a very hard surface.


A J Hurley - February 22, 2015 3:46 AM

It seems amazing that people claim to read waivers and refuse to sign them. The assumption that an activity is safe because the cruise line provides it seems to be common. I admit I sign waivers without reading them but some where in some point in time people and companies have stopped taking responsibility for their actions especially boat owners who don't watch where the hell they are going I have seen so many near misses from hoon skippers.

mike - March 24, 2015 5:24 PM

People fall walking down stairs and sometimes are seriously injured or killed so should they post warning signs on every staircase. I feel for the ones who have been injured but it is a sport and as we all know All sports are dangerous so play at your own risk

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