Do Cruise Ships Have Jails? (What is a Brig?)



Marcello De Lio

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.
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Passenger safety and security are serious matters for cruise lines. Minimizing passenger disturbances and handling crime are just a few of the responsibilities of operating cruise ships.

If you’ve sailed on a cruise ship, you may be wondering, do cruise ships have jails?

Yes, cruise ships have a small jail onboard to hold passengers who commit a crime, cause a disturbance to passengers, or individuals who present a danger to themselves or the other passengers.

Keep reading to learn more about cruise ship jail and how cruise lines handle crimes at sea.

Two hand of woman in jail

Do Cruise Ships Have Jails?

Yes. Cruise ships have a small jail onboard called the “brig.” The jail serves to hold passengers who break the law or those who pose a danger to other passengers or themselves.

Although cruise lines have jails on their ships, their intention isn’t to hold people for long periods of time. Cruise lines only use the jail as a last resort.

The decision to jail or disembark a passenger usually rests with the captain.

Although most modern cruise ships have jails onboard, many older vessels do not.

Other security methods may involve cabin arrest, where the offender must remain in their stateroom and have a security guard posted outside their door.

Why Are Cruise Ship Jails Called Brigs?

According to, “a brig is a prison, especially a naval or military prison. This meaning comes from the fact that two-masted warships known as brigs were historically used as floating prisons.”

The word brig comes from the term “brigantine.” A brigantine is a small, two-masted ship with large, square sails. Brigantines were extremely common until the late 1800s, when steamships became widely available.

A brigantine is a small, two-masted ship with large, square sails.

Today, the term brig is most commonly used to describe the jails on a military ship. If a Navy or Coast Guard sailor breaks the law, they will be “thrown in the brig.”

The term brig is not commonly used in the cruising industry. I will use the terms “jail” and “brig” interchangeably for this post.

What Does a Cruise Ship Jail Look Like?

As you might expect, a cruise ship jail is pretty basic. They’re usually a small room with a bed, toilet, and maybe a shower.

The design of a cruise ship jail is similar to modern jail cells.

When most people think of a brig, they expect steel rooms with iron bars – but this is far from accurate.

Why Would a Guest be Placed in The Jail of a Cruise Ship?

View from the pool deck of the Norwegian Cruise ship Pearl with live dj in the background

There are a few reasons that may get a guest “thrown in the brig.”

If a guest is suspected of committing a serious crime, they may be placed in the brig. Serious onboard crimes may include assault or murder. Fortunately, these are very rare circumstances.

If a guest commits a serious crime or is suspected of committing a crime, the cruise line would hold the passenger in the brig until the next port of call. Once the ship reaches port, the local authorities take over the investigation and handling of the passenger.

Another reason a guest may find themselves in jail is if they present a danger to themselves or other passengers.

If a guest makes threats against others or threatens to harm themselves, they may be placed in jail for safety. Cruise lines try to avoid placing passengers in jail but must take precautions to protect the guests and crew members.

Drunk and disorderly guests may be put in jail or confined to cabin arrest for safety. Once they sober up, they may be asked to sign a contract that forbids them from drinking for the duration of the cruise.

Security guard watching video monitoring surveillance security system

One crazy reason the cruise line may put someone in jail is if they get caught trying to scam the cruise line. Amazingly, some people will go on a cruise and fake a “slip and fall” incident to try and claim money from the cruise line.

Fortunately, cruise lines have dozens of security cameras across the ship to protect them from would-be scam artists.

For the most part, scammers are typically handled without using the onboard jail unless they commit a severe offense in pursuit of their scam.

Which Crimes Happen Most Often at Sea?

Most security issues onboard cruise ships involve minor cases of public intoxication, which rarely involve criminal prosecution.

Cruise lines provide training to all crew members to manage incidents, prevent escalation and minimize the effect on other passengers.

Of course, free-flowing alcohol and subsequent intoxication can cause more severe crimes.

Who Investigates Cruise Ship Crime?

Captain and crew of a cruise ship looking out for icebergs in Greenland

Cruise ship security personnel act as first responders in most cases. Their primary role is to ensure the continued safety of all passengers until they can hand serious matters over to law enforcement.

Complicating cruise ship security is a matter of jurisdiction. Local authorities have clear jurisdiction if the ship is at a port when the incident occurs. The same is true if the vessel is within a countries waters.

However, if the ship is in international waters during the incident, the jurisdiction typically falls to the laws of the ship’s registered country. For example, if a vessel is registered in the Bahamas, crimes committed in international water would fall under Bamaian law.

In all instances when a US citizen commits a crime on a ship or is the victim of a severe crime, the FBI makes every attempt to investigate. When serious crimes are suspected or confirmed, the FBI uses its global network to secure the safety of passengers on the ship and then secure and preserve the crime scene for further investigation.

The handling of serious crimes often involves negotiations between the US government, officials from the registered country of the ship, and the authorities in foreign ports.

What Security Measures Are in Place on Cruise Ships?

Cruise lines have several security measures in place to ensure the safety of guests and crew members, including:

  • 24/7 security team
  • All crew members receive basic training in what to do if a crime is comitted and the handling and reporting of crimes and disturbances
  • Prohibited items: Drugs, weapons, firearms, ammunition, knives, explosives, flammable substances, and in some cases drones.
  • Cruise ships report crimes to relevant authorities when it is required

Do Cruise Ships Have An Onboard Team?

Security staff with the walkie-talkie from the back patrolling cruise ship Pacific Princess

All cruise ships have a security team that consists of security guards, supervisors, guest security supervisors, and a ship security officer. Ships are legally required to have a security officer responsible for the overall safety of the vessel.

Additionally, all crew members receive basic training in handling crimes and disturbances.

What is a Ship Security Officer on a Cruise Ship?

According to the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), all ships have a legal requirement to have a security officer on board.

The security officer is responsible for the safety and security of the ship.

Their responsibilities include implementing and maintaining a ship security plan, conducting security inspections, ensuring the ship’s crew are appropriately trained, reporting incidents to the ship’s captain, and enhancing awareness and vigilance. They work closely with the cruise line’s company security officer and the port facility security officer.

The roles and responsibilities of the ship security officer may be different from ship to ship, but the core duties listed above remain the same.

What is the Responsibility of a Cruise Ship Security Guard?

Security Guards on the gangway

Security guards must be on constant alert and be prepared to respond to unusual incidents at all times of day and night. When security guards respond, they must report all incidents to the ship’s security officer.

Their daily duties include conducting safety rounds, maintaining gangway security, and responding to incidents and disturbances.

On a cruise ship, a security guard acts as the first response when necessary to ensure the safety of guests, crew, and the ship.

Final Thoughts

Cruise ships do have jails onboard. The jail on a cruise ship is used as a last resort to ensure the ongoing safety of guests, crew, and the cruise ship.

Cruise lines use a wide range of security protocols to keep guests and crew safe at sea. The ship’s security team consists of highly trained individuals who are prepared to respond to unusual incidents at any time.

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About the author

Marcello De Lio

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

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