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.

  • Jeff

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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


    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

    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

    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

  • Cindy

    I am very thankful for this article. Those that say well you could fall on ice outside in the winter too—–are missing the point. Which is this is a sport that the majority of people have not done already. I’ve walked up and downstairs,on ice,driven my car,walked as a pedestrian thousands of times. But being from MN have never surfed. I would expect that a company this big would make sure of it’s safety—which in this situation sounds like a new design. Maybe also require protective gear for head or neck. And there’s NO Warning signs???? Walt Disney has them for many lower scale active rides—where you just sit.
    No–this is greed and irresponsibility. And if they do it here–then I imagine they cut corners elsewhere.

  • Rob

    Well…surprise surprise…flowriding is dangerous… Gosh, let me think for a moment!!
    I guess people must assume that because an activity takes place on a cruise it is safe and sanitized.Why? Getting off the ship and using a Segway on the streets round Lisbon, dodging cars, trucks and motorcycles… now that was dangerous, and there weren’t huge warnings about that!
    Life is about making educated choices and decisions – if you are nervous about injury, keep out of the water, don’t walk on a wet deck and never drink a cocktail with fruit in it, you might choke.

    If you wish to feel the thrill and excitement of attempting to surf, then accept the risks and give it a go – if you don’t or are not prepared to take the risk, then don’t – it is a free choice and no-one is forcing you to try it – in fact, if you choose not to, all the more time for me to try and learn to stand-up and not keep falling off.

    Sure I have hurt myself with cuts, bruises and twisted arms and fingers trying to surf, but I kinda expect that goes with the territory or learning something like this – and it is a whole lot better than being mashed against the rocks, the beach or being dragged out to sea in a rip-current.

    Get things in perspective – live in the real world and take some personal responsibility for the choices you make rather than expecting others to make everything controlled and safe for you so you don’t have to make any decisions or take any responsibility.

  • AB

    As fun and awesome as Flowboarding is, I wish I’d never found it. I was on a league for two years and LOVED it!! 2 months ago I found out I have a rather large and rare break on my sacrum that is not healing. I also have very uncomfortable autonomic nervous problems. My husband tried Flowboarding once and sustained completely numb arms and legs. He had continuous problems from injuries he sustained on the fake wave. I am a 49 year old woman who wishes she never experienced the Wave. I don’t think cruises should have them. Yes it’s a blast but at what cost?