19 Secret Codes on Cruise Ships That You Need to Know

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A large luxury cruise ship sailing in the Mediterranean

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Ever wondered what those strange—and sometimes downright funny—codes that a cruise ship captain uses to communicate with crew members mean? Maybe you’ve heard the crew saying weird things that didn’t make sense.

Well, we were pretty curious ourselves—plus, no one likes to be kept in the dark!

So, we decided to research the meanings of 19 secret codes on cruise ships, and we’re ready to share our discovery with you. Are you ready to clear up some confusion?

Note: This post looks at the official secret codes used by cruise lines. For a fun secret code passengers use, check out the meaning of an upside-down pineapple.

1. Alpha

First aid kit near the pool on a cruise shipPin

“Code Alpha” or “Alpha, Alpha, Alpha” is one of the most common secret codes you’ll hear the broadcast on a cruise ship.

You’ve probably already heard it in a movie or two!

Typically, using that call means that there’s a medical emergency on the ship. The Code Alpha lets crew members know that someone needs medical help without causing panic.

Usually, most cruise ship companies only use a single “Alpha.” Though some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean repeat “Alpha” three times.

Some other cruise companies have their own version of “Alpha,” and an example is Oceania Cruises. The cruise line uses “Code Mike” instead for a medical emergency.

On the other hand, Celebrity Cruises goes for “Star Code, Star Code, Star Code.”

2. Bravo

This is another secret code that a cruise ship staff uses to discreetly communicate to each other that there’s some form of emergency going on that requires their action.

Unlike the previous code, a “Code Bravo” alerts crew members to a fire on the ship. Again, this subtle signal’s main purpose is to save passengers from freaking out while the professionals handle the situation from behind the scenes!

3. Charlie

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

It seems like cruise companies have a huge vocabulary to indicate different sorts of alarms and emergencies, and it’s understandable! Repeating “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie” is also one of those.

If you hear crew members calling out that secret code, it usually means that there’s a security threat onboard.

As a passenger, keep calm and wait patiently to see if there are announcements or instructions you’ll need to follow for your safety.

4. Delta

“Delta, Delta, Delta” is often used by crew members as a secret alert that there’s been an accident that caused damage to the ship. It may indicate physical damage to the ship’s hull or pollution.

Norwegian Cruise Line mostly uses “Code Delta” for pollution emergencies.

5. Echo

A large luxury cruise ship sailing in the MediterraneanPin

If you hear “Code Echo” or “Echo, Echo, Echo” on a cruise ship, it alerts the ship’s staff that the vessel is drifting, often because of high winds.

As soon as they hear this, the crew will take action to correct the ship’s direction, especially if there’s a risk of collision. Such action includes maneuvering the ship to safety to dodge an accident.

6. Kilo

If you’ve been on a Royal Caribbean cruise, you might’ve heard the captain say, “Kilo, Kilo, Kilo,” followed by crew members will rush seemingly everywhere. What does that mean?

Whether it’s said once or three times, “Code Kilo” requests that all crew members head over to their emergency posts. Usually, this happens if there’s been an incident on the ship requiring the organized action of the entire personnel.

7. Oscar

A life preserver on a cruise liner used when someone falls overboardPin

Most cruise ship companies, especially Royal Caribbean, use “Oscar” to communicate that a person has fallen overboard. Some cruise lines use the code “Mr. Mob” in this situation instead, which stands for “Man overboard.”

This is one of the more serious codes out there. A “code oscar” may be accompanied by sounding the horn three times. Doing this lets any nearby ships know that there’s someone in the water so that they’ll stay away.

8. Sierra

Another code that might sound strange is “Code Sierra” because it gives no clue what’s happening. Well, now we know that it refers to a type of medical emergency that requires a stretcher.

Sometimes, it’ll go hand-in-hand with other codes that indicate a medical emergency. This secret code alerts the medical staff that a stretcher is required to treat the injured person.

9. Zulu

Want to know what happens if two people get into a fight while on a cruise ship? That’s right; you’ll hear, “Zulu, Zulu, Zulu!”

Then, cruise ship security is dispatched to deal with whoever’s fighting. The security team is quick to break up fights, and may place the offending passengers in the cruise ship jail.

After a short period of time, everything will go back to being peaceful and laid-back as it should be on a cruise.

10. Charlie Alpha

A young woman in the cruise ship medical center getting her blood pressure checked by a cruise ship doctorPin

Can you hear a combination of two secret codes on a cruise ship? Well, it seems like you can, although it might be rare.

“Charlie Alpha” combines the meanings of those two individual codes. It refers to the existence of a security threat caused by a medical emergency.

Again, if you happen to hear it on your cruise vacation, the best course of action is to keep your composure and listen for any important instructions.

11. Papa

A cruise ship funnel emitting a lot of black smoke pollutionPin

Despite how funny it sounds, hearing “Papa” on a cruise ship isn’t a good sign. It means that there’s been a form of pollution onboard.

More often than not, companies will use this secret code to alert their crew about an oil spill.

12. Code Blue

This is another code for a medical emergency on a cruise ship.

When the captain or a crew member says it, it’s like an announcement for other crew members to take the right measurements to help whoever’s in trouble.

13. Code Red

As with anything related to the color red, this secret cruise ship code sounds like danger, and its meaning reflects that. When “Code Red” goes off, it means there’s been a spread or an outbreak of a disease on the ship.

Soon enough, that announcement will be followed by confining all the affected passengers to their quarters to keep the illness from spreading further.

Then, you can expect the cleaning crew to religiously scrub every inch of the ship!

However, there’s also “Code Yellow,” which is often used when there’s a spread of illness on the ship, but it isn’t as serious.

14. Code Red Parties

This code has nothing to do with illnesses but rather fires. If you hear it repeated three times, there’s likely a fire onboard.

Other times, it can be an indicator that there’s a fire at sea.

15. Code Purple

Code purple relates to bomb threats. It may also be used in instances of chemical or biological threats.

If you hear “Code Purple” on the overhead speakers, don’t panic. Cruise ship security is highly trained to deal with all kinds of emergencies.

16. PVI

Wet floor sign on the board of the cruise shipPin

“PVI” is short for “Public Vomiting Incident.” As you might have guessed, this secret code relates to incidents requiring quick clean-up, usually when someone has thrown up.

Still, not all cruise lines use that code. Sometimes, you’ll hear “Purel” or “Code V,” which is short for “Code Vomit.”

It’s one of the less serious announcements on a cruise ship since it isn’t an emergency. However, other passengers who had already been there when that incident happened may disagree.

17. Victoria

This code may not be used across many cruise lines to indicate an extreme flooding incident onboard.

If you hear this code, don’t panic. Though no one wants to hear that their ship is flooding, it’s more often related to a pipe burst than a ship accident.

18. Operation Bright Star

Whenever you hear “Operation Bright Star” on a cruise ship, just know that it’s a member of the medical team making the call.

Usually, this alarms other medical team members to let them know that they must assemble to aid a passenger having an urgent medical emergency. In most cases, it’ll be a stroke, seizure, heart attack, and the like.

19. Operation Fallen Star or Operation Rising Star

Those two secret codes are pretty ominous—they mean that someone has passed on the cruise ship.

Crew members will take care of the dead person’s body, which will be stored in the cruise ship’s morgue until the vessel reaches land.

Some cruise lines will use “Operation Bright Star” in this scenario.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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