Cruising Antarctica – Worth The Risk?

Cruising And The Drake Passage

Just within the past couple of weeks we’ve come across a few articles discussing heavy seas in Drake Passage and the problems encountered by cruise ships under way to Antarctica. It’s not really clear what the message being sent is attempting to convey but we’re left with the likely message being that some regions are just too dangerous for travel cruising. Is the Drake Passage crossings really too dangerous for cruise itineraries? Perhaps they are attempting to warn potential passengers that this is a cruise that shouldn’t be taken. Whatever the intent of the reporting it is misplaced.

It is true that the currents make for one of the world’s most treacherous cruise itineraries. The Drake Passage is the gap between the tip of South America and Antarctica where the currents circling Antarctica meet no resistance from any landmass until they are squeezed into the Drake Passage. The waves can often top 40 feet giving it the reputation as “the most powerful convergence of seas” on Earth.

The real question that needs to be answered is how serious can the waves be, how dangerous is the crossing and is the trip really worth the risks?

The memorial to lost mariners stands above the Drake Passage near to the End of the World lighthouse.

How Dangerous Is Cruising?

First, everyone should understand that the world is unpredictable and at times a dangerous place. Getting into your car or even staying at home come with a level of risk. Last year about 32,000 people died in automobile accidents in the United States alone. Another 9,500 people died in the their bathrooms (slip and fall in the shower or bath being the most common). Everyone needs to accept the fact that life does not come with any guarantees.

Recently, there have been about 200 annual deaths involving cruise ships at sea out of 30,000,000 yearly passengers. That equates to 1 death in 150,000 passengers and to put that into perspective, a large majority (72% to 77%) of onboard cruise deaths are actually from natural causes. Over the past five years an average of 244 people have died in airplane accidents per year and an average 25,000 Americans per year are taken to ER’s for amusement park accidents. Airplanes experience turbulence, road trips encounter dangerous weather, people have accidents in their homes and cruise ships at sea have fires break out, have collisions with piers and other ships, experience occasional heavy seas or are even hit by rogue waves.

In our lives we a faced by series of decisions regarding safety and how much risk we are willing to accept weighed against the potential benefit. Each of these choices is a personal one and everyone comes with their own set of things that make them nervous including heights, closed spaces, air travel, disease or being at sea. The biggest choice becomes how hard do we want to overcome a fear in order to have a desired experience? Some people have serious issues with seasickness or have a real fear of the ocean to the point that they won’t take any cruise. Others are nervous but occasionally take a cruise. While it seems that the farther you cruise from home, weather conditions, political unrest count on where you decide to cruise. It’s all risk versus reward.

Is Antarctica Worth The Risk Of High Seas?

On average there are about twenty four, large cruise ship itineraries into Antarctica each year with a much larger number of much smaller “expedition” ship itineraries so the opportunity is very limited. Our short answer is a resounding yes! While there is actually a chance of just gliding across a wave free Drake Passage, the likely situation is twenty to thirty foot seas. The crossing normally takes eight to twelve hours and most modern cruise ships are actually in very little danger. You may experience a period where the best policy is to sit or lay down but don’t let the risk prevent experiencing a day or two sailing through the waters of the frozen continent. Heck, bragging rights are worth taking the trip.

We have taken over sixty cruises on every one of the world’s major bodies of water and the cruise that sits at the top of our list is that cruise to Antarctica – period.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

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