(10:50 a.m. EDT) -- A staple of cruising, the muster drill, is getting a makeover in the COVID-19 era, with individualized electronic technology developed by Royal Caribbean Group.
Muster 2.0 will replace the safety drill, where passengers generally gather in large groups at different points around the ship, with a process that cruisers can complete on their own time before the ship sails.
Known as eMuster, the process starts with passengers reviewing safety information either on their own mobile devices or on their in-stateroom interactive TVs. These electronic briefings include what to expect during and emergency and where to go, as well as the proper way to use life jackets.
People then visit their assigned assembly stations, where crew members verify that all steps have been completed and scan the passengers' keycard to complete the process.
All of the steps must be finished before the ship sets sail, to comply with international maritime safety laws. The law requires cruise lines to take a hard line with muster drill completion; every passenger must be checked off as having gone through the briefing before the ship is allowed to leave port.
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The technology solves a major crowding issue for the cruise lines in the COVID-19 era. Muster drills, which are very unpopular with passengers who are either unpacking or enjoying their first drinks onboard, can be fairly chaotic as people fill stairways and elevators to get to their stations. Crew members often have to compete with pre-vacation excitement and passenger noise to be heard.
"The new approach also enables everyone on board to maintain better spacing as guests move about the ship, and it allows guests to enjoy more of their vacation with no interruption," Royal Caribbean said in a release.
Muster 2.0 was first tested on Symphony of the Seas in January, well before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the cruise industry. "Guests who took part in the trial run indicated a strong preference for the new approach and reported better comprehension and retention of the safety information," the company said.
"The health and safety of our guests and crew are our number one priority, and the development of this new muster process is an elegant solution to an outdated, unpopular process," said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group. "The fact that this will also save guests time and allow the ship to operate without pause means that we can increase health, safety and guest satisfaction simultaneously."
Royal Caribbean has patented Muster 2.0 technology and it will be installed on all three of the company's lines -- Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara, as well as TUI Cruises, the company's German joint venture with Hapag-Lloyd.
Silversea, the luxury line owned by Royal Caribbean Group, already has enough space for social distancing across its fleet of spacious vessels to keep the existing safety drills, a spokesperson said. This typically involves meeting at a designated muster station before heading out to the ship's lifeboats for an in-person visit. The company will review the procedures to see if Muster 2.0 is a better option.
Royal Caribbean Group is also offering to waive patent licensing fees to other cruise lines during the pandemic which want to adopt Muster 2.0. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and its three lines -- Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas -- has already taken a patent license, as part of the Healthy Sails collaboration that the two major cruise corporations are collaborating on.
"I'd like to extend my congratulations to Royal Caribbean Group on this innovative milestone. It's exactly what our industry needs during these unprecedented times and we appreciate the generous offer to participate in this innovation," said Frank Del Rio, President and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. "In this industry, we all work cooperatively to enhance health and safety, and this is an example of that."