Like any employee, crew members are not immune from being terminated. But termination on a cruise ship is a bit different from being fired at a regular job. It’s like being fired and kicked out of your apartment all at once.

Better known as the "6 AM knock," crew members wake up to the ship’s security officers, banging at their cabin door, and delivering the news that the crew member must leave the vessel immediately.

Within about an hour, the terminated crew member must gather all of his or her personal belongings, hand in the ship cards, pay-off any shipboard debts, and walk off the gangway.  In most cases the crew Crew Member Rights - Cruise Shipsmember is are not given any explanation as to why she is being instructed to leave. A meeting is not set up with their superiors or the captain discussing the grounds for termination. Worst of all, the fired crew member doesn’t even know what legal rights she has in this kind of situation (that’s assuming there are any rights at all).

Typically once a crew member “rocks the boat," the cruise line finds a way to dispose of the problem immediately. All it really takes is aggravating the right people or protesting unfair treatment. Alcohol and drug tests are a good tool cruise lines use to make a case to fire a crew member. Most cruise lines have an alcohol and drug policy that allows them to conduct random tests. Security knocks on the crew member’s door, and hands the employee a little plastic bottle for urine testing.  

This is all done while the security officers wait outside the bathroom located in the crew member’s cabin. If this isn’t invasive enough, the bathroom door must remain open just a crack to ensure that the crew member doesn’t taint the sample. Can you feel the trust?

Interestingly, the results of these tests are never given to the crew member. It is not even clear where the sample goes once handed to the security officers. It is important to point out that I am writing from personal experience here. I have also spoken to several other crew members who were terminated and their stories are pretty much on par with my experience.

On any given night a hundred crew members could fail such a test, but the tests are often reserved for those who are vocal in criticizing procedures or who complain about sexual harassment or unlawful conduct.

What happens once the crew member walks off the gangway? Cruise lines tend to terminate a crew Crew Gangway - Cruise Shipsmember when the ship is docked in a non-U.S. port. Although the flight is arranged and paid for by the cruise line, the crew member is rushed off the ship and sometimes has to board the flight in less than 2 hours. Once the crew member is off the gangway, they are no longer the cruise line’s responsibility. If the crew member misses her flight, she has to pay out-of-pocket for a new ticket. 

Employment on cruise ships is considered "at will" employment, meaning at the will of the employer. There is a saying in the cruise industry that a crew member can be terminated for good cause, bad cause or no cause. Maritime legal rights are virtually non-existent when the crew member is terminated.

Cruise lines don’t like problems. They don’t want crew members who will “make waves.” As soon as a crew member is labeled as a “problem,” they can expect a knock on the door around 6:00 AM.    


Cruise Law Miami FloridaThis blog was written by Danielle Gauer who worked as a dancer for several years on cruise ships prior to embarking on her university studies. She is currently completing her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and will be sitting for the Ontario, Canada Bar admission examinations this June. 

Prior to law school, Danielle (middle, with Jonathan Aronson left, and Jim Walker right) was the recipient of the Ryerson University Gold Medal and H.H. Kerr Memorial Scholarship for high academic standing.

You can read Danielle’s prior guest blogs below:

So You Want to Dance on the High Seas?

Life Below Deck 4: What Passengers Don’t Know & the Cruise Lines Won’t Tell Them

Cruising, "Eh!" to Z! What Canadians Should Know Before Getting On-Board . . .

  • Josh

    great article, with all thats going on nowadays in the cruise industry, it’s great to read about what happens behind the scenes.

    keep up the great blogs!!

  • Andie

    Great article Danielle! You provide some really great insight into this specific, yet interesting area of maritime law.

  • Cynthia Rios-Tonc

    This is a very interesting article, this happened to my husband, he was an officer on board NCL for 4 years, his immediate supervisor was quite abusive, shouting and treating rest of the crew in a very disrespectful way, they had they differences, but his last contract on NCL this supervisor disrespected him in such a way that my husband went to complain to his supervisor chief and then to human resources on board the ship,human resources was quite “helpful”, getting him not Rehired,without any explanation, the captain called him to the bridge, telling him he is no more suitable for the job, amazing ah? All of the sudden my husband was the bad of the movie, he got the worst evaluation, when he previous one six months earlier was good, i worked my self on cruise ships for over 7 years, and i have seen it all. Oh by the way i love Cruise Law News.

  • Crazy Monkey

    Hi Jim

    OK I have to laugh because I am sure you knew I would respond to this article)))))), but I don’t need to because your article is SPOT ON.

    The 6am Knock – Let’s see who can guess first why cruise companies does it at 6am on the day you leave.

    Jim would love to be the one who does a follow up article on this 

  • Denise

    Great article Danielle!!!!!!!

    The reason why Ships will give you the Six O clock knock, is because they don’t want a crew/staff member “being fired” to “lose it” and start bashing holes in the walls or go “crazy”

  • Tamara

    Another great read about life behind the scenes on a cruise ship. Passengers would never even think about this, let alone see it taking place.

    Please keep these blogs coming!

  • Crazy Monkey


    1. Crew member can earn one more day of salary to pay for his/her own ticket
    2. Crew member does not cause any damage to the ship – You correct here Denise
    3. Crew member does not cause guest complaint by going around telling the guest they got unfairly dismissed
    4. Number 1 reason the crew member does not have the time to call the ITF (International Transport Workers Federation) for unfair dismissal.

    Who can guess why cruise companies have an on-board Human Resource Department?

    Just want to make one correction to the article, the company will only pay for the ticket if the crew member does not have enough money.

    There is only one company currently in the cruise industry that will give a crew member who got fired $50 if they have no money after the ticket has been paid, who can guess the company name 🙂 – not sure if they still do

  • marian

    hi, i’ve been fired by the captain without having any warning before, so then they (Princess Cruises) asked me for an appeal to do within 30 days from the dismissal , and I did my appeal and I sent it to the fleet personnel, they should answer me in 45 days but they didn’t. Now I don’t have the final decision of the company about me, i don’t know What to do and I can’t look for a new job because i’m still waiting for them.

    What can I do in this case.

    Thank you.

  • Danielle

    Hi Marian.

    I advise speaking with a lawyer to ensure you understand your rights. Jim Walker has a wealth of experience and would be of great assistance. Good luck!

  • Miro

    Hello i would like to ask one thing. I was working for celebrity cruises one contract and i get fired after 5months and 11 day, and the reason was only for one coffee and one of my co-workers reported about that. So, my question is is there any black lists where now the other cruise companies can read that i am not welcomed person to work onboard. I have already do a five interviews for a five different companies and i didn’t pass it. After the interview there is a no company gives me a result about my result from the interview??? Please help

  • Danielle Gauer

    Hi Miro,
    I wouldn’t say there are “black lists” per se. But like any industry, people talk. This you can’t control. Did you speak with an attorney after you were terminated?

  • Elena

    My boyfriend,after working with Carnival for 2years,was suspended early in the morning just because he skipped the safety training,he had no warnings or any reprimands before!After he was sent home with security i was searching for answers;I went to Staff Captain Bruno Palomba and HR Director Karen,i sent some e-mails to office and even hotline!!! Hotline answered that our case is under consideration and that’s it.For me it was 2 weeks of nightmare,complete disrespectful attitude from Shipboard Management. I was even called for a random alcohol test one day before my sigh off day.Later on I resigned and was terminated on top of that after 4 years with carnival.I was sent home with security as well 2 weeks after my boyfriend.I’d like to know who i can talk to about these cases. Why does Carnival break our rights as employees? Why do we have to stay without any pay now? Thanks a lot.

  • I was terminated from Eclipse March 28 2014,for correcting time card on a crew member.I did’t make any correction on the time card,I explained that It’s not me. First my Manager give me to sign warning from HR,I refuse to sign.Next day coll me to the Captain Office,all management was deer,told me that I am terminated for correcting crew member time card in the office on deck 3.I was asking to tell me were I was in the moment when was the time card corrected,the answer was that I am on 4 floor.So it’s not me the one who correct the time card,some one did the correction and was using my ID. Captain answer was only because was your ID used you are terminated.Tell me please what I can do for this case.

  • Jimmy cole

    I have a question about signing on procedures on carnival cruise line . On the day of signing on is it protocol that you are subject to a drug or alcohol test ?
    Because if I were drinking heavily the night before it would not be fair.

  • Jagsea

    Would love to know which cruise lines this is as during my time on board I was in my position made to attend a number of disciplinary hearings. The crew member was present and their supervisor and they were allowed to bring someone for support. I have NEVER heard of ANYONE getting a knock on their door! Urine tests are always carried out with an open door and this also occurs with sportspeople to prevent samples being swapped.

  • bet

    My son was dismissed because another crew member reported that he had threatened to jump off the ship, my son explained this was a joke relating to back room banter and not a serious threat, the RCL medically discharged him for a psychiatric assessment, when he was signed fit for duty they held a masters in his absence and sacked him for making self destructive threats. His appeal was ignored. Can he repply to work for them again?

  • Mihai

    About 2 weeks a go being in my vacation I joined the newest p&o UK ship for a 2 weeks cruise as a travel partner my girlfriend working on board. We’ve been accommodateed in a passenger cabin. In the very last day of the cruise about 2-3 a.m. I had a massive argument with my girlfriend ending up screaming one at each other which made our neighbors to make a complain. Next day in the morning I left the ship without any problems. I went home waiting the rest of my vacation to finish and join the new vessel I was already assigned for (I’m working for Carnival), couple of days later I received an e-mail from Miami head office being a DNR (do not rehire) letter and no other details. Therefore I ringed the Miami office asking for some explanations. The lady I spoke with, is telling me that she have no idea why I got fired for but what she can tell me is that is something related with an incident which took place while I was on board a cruise ship as a passenger. I think this is not fair and is not legal either, how can I get fired without doing anything…this is outrageous and I don’t know what to do about. Do u have any advices? Thank you!

  • mhe

    My husband finish his first time contract in NCL but when he returned his trying to stay away with his family although his telling that he was responsible for all the needs of our children. Because of I cannot understand his case, I pushed him for me to know the really reason why he suddenly like that. I found out that he was planning to runaway in ship after his 2nd contract and live by his own happy living there in New York. Through his Auntie and Because his happy with his money and willing to forget his family for the sake of that opportunities with highest salary. And because he has a relative there and willing to help him to scape. Is there anything I can do to hold his contract since this was not accepted in cruise policy? Need information with regards of this matter. Thank you

  • Jovan Ivanisevic

    I got fired directly from hotel director for no good reason.He just told me pick up your things tomorrow you are going home..!.I worked on NCL as a Junior Stateroom Steward and from the beginning they put me in the section from someone who has a more than 10 years of experience and who is Stateroom Steward by the way they have a much better salary.I am very dissappointed and now I know that I can not back to work to NCL.I wonder if there,s a way and who can complain about that?
    Thank you very much,,best regards!

  • Kateryna

    Can anybody help me – how to submit an appeal?
    In which written form it should be, how to write this,which things and words exactly I should put into this appeal, etc.?
    Princess Cruises Company.
    Thank You in advance.