We’ve all seen The Poseidon Adventure… so could that happen in real life
The short answer is no. Well, almost definitely no.
For tsunamis specifically, they are generally caused by undersea earthquakes. They then move through the water at great depth, rather than on top of it. That means a cruise ship sailing on the open sea may barely notice a tsunami roll far beneath it. Rogue waves are much more dangerous. They arise seemingly out of nowhere, are much steeper than a regular wave and can reach up to 25 metres tall. That’s literally a wall of water coming straight at you.
But take heart – you still won’t flip. Modern cruise ships are big. Really, really big. The average cruise ship is around 300 metres long and weighs over 100,000 tonnes. The largest ships on the water reach up to 360 metres and 225,000 tonnes. Essentially, the larger a ship is the more stable it will be in the face of huge waves. Modern cruise ships also have high tech stabilisers in place that allow them to counteract the movement of the ocean. They are the reason you can rarely even feel the ship moving underneath you as you travel. When faced with a rogue wave, the stabilisers will ensure the ship stays upright. The crew are also trained to steer straight into the wave rather than being broadsided by it, which is why the Poseidon went down.
There’s precedent for cruise ships dealing with huge waves. In 1998 Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth was hit by a wave almost 30 metres high. The captain detected the wave on radar and was able to turn the ship to face the wave and little damage occurs. Smaller vessels and container ships have been destroyed by similar waves.
All of this isn’t to say that damage can’t occur. There are plenty of videos available on YouTube that show huge rogue waves slamming into cruise ships, breaking windows, destroying outdoor fittings and making furniture slide around the deck. In rare occasions, passengers have even been killed, most recently in 2014.
Image credit: The Poseidon Adventure