What Law Applies on a Cruise Ship?

By Robert Palmer

The law that applies on a cruise ship is complex and often depends on the flag of the vessel, the location of the voyage, and other factors. Cruise ships are governed by a combination of international maritime conventions, admiralty laws, and the laws of the country in which they are registered.

The Convention on the Law Applicable to Contractual Obligations (also known as Rome I) is an international treaty which sets out the rules for determining what national law should apply to contracts concluded by parties from different countries. Generally speaking, this treaty provides that a contract between two parties will be governed by the law of their common choice or, if none is chosen, by the law of their habitual residence. This convention applies to contracts made on board cruise ships.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is an international treaty which sets out minimum safety standards for merchant vessels operating in international waters. SOLAS requires that all vessels be equipped with certain safety equipment and have adequately trained personnel on board. This convention applies to all cruise ships regardless of their flag or location.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is an intergovernmental organization responsible for regulating shipping safety and security worldwide. The IMO has adopted a number of conventions which set out minimum standards for vessels operating in international waters, including cruise ships.

These include conventions on pollution prevention, safety at sea and collision avoidance. These conventions apply to all vessels regardless of their flag or location.

In addition to these general international regulations governing cruise ships, each country has its own specific laws which may apply to vessels registered in its ports or operating in its waters. For example, U.S.-flagged cruise ships are subject to both federal and state laws while those registered in other countries may be subject to different national laws.


Overall, there are a variety of international maritime regulations and national laws that apply to cruise ships depending on their flag and location at any given time. It is important for passengers and crew members alike to familiarize themselves with these laws before embarking on any voyage.