Gun laws vary by state. And each gun owner carries one for a different reason. This leads to an abundance of laws surrounding when and where you can carry. But what about when you take a cruise vacation?
Most major cruise lines do not allow passengers to bring firearms on board. This prohibition is a safety measure. Taking a gun on a cruise may also violate maritime law as well as the laws in the ports you visit.
In most cases, carrying a gun on a cruise ship is not allowed. In this article, we’ll take a look at the reasons why this is the case. We’ll also take a look at some of the legal ramifications of carrying a gun on a cruise.
Why Do Cruise Lines Ban Firearms?
As a general point, cruise lines make efforts to ban all kinds of weapons. Of course, firearms are among the weapons about which they are most concerned. Some other weapons that commonly appear on lists of prohibited items include:
- Pepper spray
- Tear gas
The obvious reason for banning weapons is safety. A cruise line cannot assume that every weapon owner will act responsibly. When weapons are present, there is always the potential for accidental injury. As a preventative measure, cruise ships take the simple approach of prohibiting weapons of all forms. In their mind, this contributes to the overall security of their guests.
Firearms are particularly dangerous in this regard. Statistics support this idea. For instance, over a decade, there were more than 6,500 deaths from accidental shootings in the United States. Cruise ships want to avoid liability at all costs. That’s why they are so strict regarding what weapons you can carry onboard.
What About Concealed Carry Permits?
It is safe to assume that you can’t bring a gun on a cruise regardless of what permit you have. There are many different firearm laws in the United States. But cruise ships do not care about these laws. Instead of dealing with the details of each one, they take a blanket approach.
You may not find this to be fair, but it is the case. Depending on where you live, you may be allowed to carry a concealed weapon anywhere you go in your home state. You may even be allowed to open carry.
None of this matters to a cruise ship company. What you might see as a violation of rights, they see as a necessary precaution. So, don’t expect them to make exceptions based on the local laws in your state.
How Cruise Ships Deal with Safety Concerns
One of the primary reasons that people own guns is for protection. With proper training, an individual can defend themselves very effectively with a firearm. This desire for self-preservation often motivates people to carry a weapon everywhere they go.
If you are one of those people, the lack of guns on a cruise might make you feel unsafe. Without your gun, your main line of defense is lost. Thankfully, cruise ships are worried about your protection as well.
Though unlikely, hijackers or pirates may try to take control of a ship. Cruise companies see the risk of this kind of terrorism. In response, many cruise companies place armed security on each of their ships. These trained professionals are ready to defend the passengers on board.
The Consequences of Bringing a Firearm on a Cruise
Common cruise ship firearm restrictions will disappoint gun enthusiasts. But they are meant to contribute to the safety of all cruise ship passengers. Still, some may reject this idea and try to bring a firearm on a cruise anyway. This is a bad idea for several reasons.
Bringing a gun on a cruise ship is a serious offense. It is an infraction that can come with punishment. This punishment can come from a few different sources. That’s because bringing a firearm on a cruise will likely violate:
- Cruise ship guidelines
- Maritime Law
- Local port laws
Here’s why sneaking a firearm on a cruise ship is not worth the risk.
Cruise Line Punishments
As you board your cruise, the crew will screen your luggage. In this process, they are looking for any items that might pose a safety risk. They also look for other items that they ban specifically. Comprehensive lists of these items are available on cruise line websites. Some of the most common are:
- Illegal drugs
You can be confident that weapons will also appear on these lists. Most cruise lines have a zero-tolerance policy for banned items. Since their rules are clearly stated, you are expected to know and follow them before arrival. However, breaking these rules is not likely to have significant legal ramifications.
Instead, the cruise line will usually confiscate any banned items they find. What they do after confiscation is up to them. It will usually depend on the item. Sometimes they will hold the banned item and return it to you after the cruise. Other times they will discard the item and offer no compensation.
The last section covered how cruise lines are likely to treat your items. But these actions are relatively harmless to you compared to legal action. Cruise lines are not law enforcement agencies. So they don’t have the authority to prosecute you. However, there are plenty of domestic and international laws regarding what is legal at sea.
The laws over what you can and cannot do at sea are called Maritime Law.
Maritime Law began as a set of rules created by the United Nations. Now, these laws apply to cruise ships as well as any other ships on the ocean and are the standard for legality on the ocean.
When sailing in international waters, the laws will vary based on your vessel. Generally, the laws in international waters are the same as those in the country where the ship is registered. That means that if the ship you are on is registered in the United States, US federal law will apply.
For cruisers, this technicality won’t matter. The rules of the cruise ship will prevent you from taking a firearm on board. But at least you can know that you may not be in violation of Maritime Law. Of course, as we mentioned, that all depends on where the cruise ship is registered. Odds are Maritime Law will not be leveraged against you. But that does not mean that you are free from all law enforcement.
Local Port Laws
Let’s imagine a scenario where someone manages to get a firearm past cruise security. That person is far from safe in terms of legal action. Along with cruise ship guidelines, each port you visit will have an individual set of laws. Since cruise ships travel between multiple nations, it is difficult to predict the details of those laws.
Some ports may have very stringent laws surrounding firearms. When you are under their jurisdiction, they have full right to use those laws against you. It does not matter if you are a legal gun owner in your home state. The laws of the country you visit will always take precedence.
This is not a hypothetical threat either. Local authorities may detain you, which can lead to formal charges as well.
In 2019, one cruiser found that out first hand. A woman from Wisconsin took a cruise to the Cayman Islands. Once there, authorities found a gun and ammunition in her luggage. That cruiser now faces up to ten years in prison in the Cayman Islands.
This is just one example of a cruiser facing the law after failing to abide by firearm restrictions. It is also strong evidence that trying to bring a gun on a cruise is not a smart decision.
Are There Any Exceptions?
So far, we have seen that it is essentially a guarantee that you can’t bring a firearm on a cruise. This is not just a violation of cruise rules. It can also be a violation of the law. Those legal consequences are enough to deter most. Yet, still, some wonder if there are any exceptions to these rules. In the following sections, we will look at some situations where people might expect an exception for carrying firearms on cruises.
There may be some confusion surrounding law enforcement on cruise ships. Many people assume that those in law enforcement should be allowed to bring their firearms on cruise ships. Since law enforcement officers are trained and have a duty to protect the public, this assumption makes some sense.
To further add to the confusion, there is something called the Law Enforcement Safety Act. This act mainly dictates that current and retired law enforcement officers can carry firearms in any state or US jurisdiction. This act came into existence in 2004. Since then, its provisions have expanded multiple times. While this act grants plenty of freedom for officers to carry weapons, there are many restrictions:
- The officer must undergo annual firearm training.
- Retired officers must have left service in good standing.
- Officers must have no mental health issues.
- Officers must refrain from abusing alcohol.
- The act does not allow officers to carry firearms on planes or cruise ships.
At first glance, this act seems to allow law enforcement to carry firearms on cruises. But the details of the act prove otherwise. Under the Law Enforcement Safety Act, officers cannot carry firearms on cruise ships. The same is true for both planes and trains.
Sport Shooting Onboard
By this point, you know that cruise lines are very strict about firearms. So, you might be shocked to hear this next potential exception.
Although it seems outlandish, skeet shooting was once a popular activity on cruise ships. Cruisers would take aim at clay pigeons that sailed over the ocean. An officer would supervise as people fired shotguns into the open sea. For multiple reasons, this practice is now nonexistent.
The first reason is fairly obvious. Having cruise-goers handling shotguns onboard is a safety hazard. At the time, there was likely minimal screening for those who wanted to take part. This opens the door for plenty of dangerous scenarios.
The other main reason is ecological. Sending countless clay pigeons and rounds of ammunition into the ocean is unsanitary. The practice goes against all we know today about littering and protecting natural habitats. Thankfully, onboard skeet shooting has not been common for a few decades.
Skeet shooting onboard a cruise ship is inconceivable by today’s standards. But what is more reasonable is the idea of a skeet shooting shore excursion. There are many activities to partake in when you visit different ports on your cruise. At times, sport shooting is among them.
These shooting opportunities are not the most common type of excursion. But some cruise lines still offer the chance to fire a gun when you get off the ship. To your benefit, this takes place in a controlled environment. Those running the activity are well trained. They will usually have multiple certifications for safe firearm use.
If you are interested in sport shooting, these excursions will likely catch your eye. You might also see them as a chance to bring your gun on board. But, again, this is not the case.
A skeet shooting shore excursion does not require you to bring your own gun. In fact, they will probably prohibit it. Instead, those running the excursion will provide you with a gun and ammunition. This ensures safety so that all passengers can enjoy a secure shooting experience.
Buying a Firearm at a Port of Call
Here is another situation in which you might think there is an exception to cruise ship firearm rules. However, this one is quite unlikely to happen. Some people use firearms solely as a form of protection. Others, however, take their love of firearms beyond the functional aspect. These gun owners see guns as collector items.
As such, they may find the idea of buying a gun from a foreign country alluring. Though not common, there may be a chance to purchase a firearm or another weapon at a port of call. However, what some consider to be a valuable addition to a gun collection, the cruise ship will see as a liability.
As you return to your ship, you will need to go through security. In this process, the cruise workers may find and confiscate the weapon you purchased. Again, depending on the item, they may store it and give it to you at the end of the cruise. They may also dispose of it.
In some cases, items may go undetected in this security screening. The high volumes of people returning to the ship leave room for error. But even if you get a weapon past cruise security, you will have bigger problems later on. Let’s explore the details of those problems right now.
Bringing a Firearm Through US Customs
By nature, a cruise will take you outside of the United States. As a result, you will need to pass through US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon your return. This is an important step in your travels that officials take very seriously.
Customs is the means by which the United States controls what enters the country. The following items are among those that are restricted in some way or entirely prohibited:
- Cultural artifacts
- Drug paraphernalia
- Food products
Each of these comes with a detailed set of rules. To know what to expect regarding these and more, just visit the CBP online resources. You’ll find some rules to be stringent while others come with only a few restrictions.
The rules surrounding firearms are particularly strict. Let’s go through what you can expect to unfold if you attempt to bring a firearm into the country.
What Happens When You Get Off Your Cruise?
We’ll start with a general description of what it is like to return to the country from a cruise. The process is somewhat more complex than what you might imagine.
You cannot simply step off the ship and call a cab. Instead, you must pass through a multi-layered disembarkation process. Typically, this process is fairly uniform and will include these steps:
- Closing out all onboard purchases
- Exiting the ship in groups according to a preset schedule
- Claiming luggage
- Going through Customs
- Connecting to other modes of transportation
You should expect this process to take a few hours. This is partially due to the number of travelers attempting to disembark. It also has to do with the safety and security measures that must be in place. Only after going through this in-depth process can you proceed to travel home. As it relates to firearms, going through customs is the most critical part of this process.
How Customs Treats Firearms
When you go through customs, an officer will ask you if you have anything to declare. This is your opportunity to be forthcoming regarding the items you are transporting. As a high priority item, a firearm is something you should always declare when you reach customs.
Recall the hypothetical earlier in which a cruiser buys a firearm at a port. They may get their firearm past cruise security. But getting through customs is an entirely different challenge.
To bring a firearm into the United States, you need to have a permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Considering the cruiser in our hypothetical situation bought their gun at a port of call, it is unlikely they will receive this permit. Additionally, it often takes several months to be granted a permit.
This process will require a background check. It will also require the serial number of the firearms you are transporting. This can be tough to achieve depending on the firearm seller’s legitimacy at your port of call.
What Happens If I Fail to Declare a Firearm?
As mentioned above, Customs will ask you if you have anything to declare. This implies that the system relies on you to volunteer information. The insidious among us may attempt to skirt this responsibility. But doing so is not only ill-advised. It is completely illegal.
If you fail to declare an item at customs, they may seize that item with no intention of returning it to you. This can include further punishment, as well. For instance, you may have fines levied against you.
Crossing the border in any capacity is a serious endeavor. Be sure to follow all regulations to avoid getting into any legal trouble. For those hoping to bring firearms into the country, be very careful. Seek to transport firearms in full accordance with the law. Follow all orders from Customs officers and remain compliant with the clearly listed rules of the CBP.
Best Way to Transport a Gun
Not all gun enthusiasts are as willing to break the rules as the person in our hypothetical. In fact, the majority of owners respect the important laws surrounding firearms. So, how can a law-abiding person go about bringing a gun into the United States?
The first step is to acquire a permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. With a long turn around time, you should do this well before your trip. This lead time implies that you are a responsible buyer.
Knowing you will be buying a gun in advance means you probably know a reputable seller in the area you are visiting. This will mean the gun you buy is likely registered and has a serial number. If you are successful in getting a permit, you need to know how to safely transport your new gun once you are back in the country. Here are a few important guidelines:
- Ensure the firearm is unloaded
- Put the firearm in a case
- Lock the firearm in an inaccessible place like a trunk or checked luggage
- Know the specific laws of the states through which your gun will pass
Following these steps may help you bring a gun home legally. However, before you do this, conduct careful legal research to ensure you know and follow all relevant laws.
Other Banned Items
It is not a surprise that guns are banned on cruise ships when you consider the safety risk. But other banned items might surprise you. Some of these are weapons. Others are items that you might think are relatively harmless.
What is Considered a Weapon on a Cruise Ship?
The term weapon might have a different meaning to different people. Some might only consider firearms and other obvious items. Other people have a much longer list of what they consider to be dangerous.
Cruise lines fall into the second category. Along with firearms, there are a few other items of which cruise ships are wary. Some of these may seem harmless to you. But to a cruise ship prioritizing safety at all times, these are a risk:
- Archery equipment
- CBD and medical marijuana
- Diving spear guns
- Scissors longer than four inches
Some of these items seem to be ridiculous additions to the list. But these are not the only strange items you will find banned on cruise ships. Cruise lines set their own safety rules with little regard for what you think is reasonable. To further illustrate this, let’s look at one final item that is often, surprisingly, banned on many cruise ships.
Toy Guns on Cruise Ships
That’s right, even items that look like guns are not allowed on cruise ships. Although these items are clearly toys meant for children, cruise lines are not willing to take any chances.
In fairness, these days, toy guns can have a highly realistic appearance. This adds to the excitement of playing with them. However, it is this appearance that cruise ships don’t like. Cruise lines are worried that other guests will mistake a toy gun for a real one. Presumably, the issue is that this mistake will lead to fear among the guests. Even water guns are not allowed on many ships for this reason.
The surprising part about this is what appears to be a level of hypocrisy. The same ships that ban toy guns may have a gift shop with toy weapons. The ship has no issue with children playing with the toys they are selling. But they are unwilling to allow children to bring their own toy weapons.
But even if this seems unfair, there is no getting around this rule. Even if the reasoning seems flawed, the cruise line sets the rules.
The answer here is clear. In nearly every scenario, you cannot bring a firearm on a cruise. To do so would be a violation of cruise ship rules. It is a violation of the law in many cases as well.
The same is true for other weapons as well. So, next time you are going on a cruise, don’t bring a firearm. That way, you won’t be breaking any rules. You’ll be reducing the risk of dangerous accidents too.