Your rights when travelling in the EU by ship
When you are travelling by ship in the EU and things go wrong, you have a number of rights. These cover delays, cancellations, lost luggage and injury to passengers.
Under EU legislation, travel operators have some basic obligations. They have to:
- Provide information and assistance
- Ensure all passengers are treated fairly and equally
- Resolve issues caused by delays or cancellations
Travel operators include transport companies (which run ferries and cruise ships) and also companies that operate terminals such as ferry ports.
COVID-19 and travel disruptions
Travelling by ferry or cruise ship
Companies operating ships have to follow EU rules that protect passengers. These rules apply to most ferries and cruise ships on the sea and on inland waterways (rivers, lakes and canals). They cover you if you:
- Sail from an EU port
- Sail from outside the EU but arrive at a port in the EU on a service run by an EU transport company
- Sail from an EU port on a recreational cruise which offers onboard accommodation of 2 or more nights, together with other facilities such as meals and refreshments, bathrooms, and seating
The rules do not cover you for travel on:
- Ships certified to carry up to 12 passengers
- Ships with a crew of 3 or less
- Excursion and sightseeing tours (except for cruises)
- Passenger services where the distance is less than 500 metres one way
- Ships not propelled by mechanical means
- Historical passenger ships certified to carry up to 36 passengers
When a cruise is part of a package holiday, the rules only apply if the package was cancelled or delayed because of issues with the cruise itself. They do not apply if it was cancelled or delayed for other reasons, such as a significant change in package price.
You can read more in our document about your package holiday rights.
What am I entitled to?
If the departure of the ship is delayed or cancelled, you are entitled to:
- Re-routing or refund
- Care and assistance
Information - The transport or terminal company must tell you about the situation within 30 minutes of the time the ship was due to leave. As soon as they know, they must also tell you:
- What time the ship is now due to leave and arrive
- Alternative connections you can get if you miss a connecting transport service because of the delay or cancellation of the sailing
Re-routing or refund – If there is a cancellation, or a delay of more than 90 minutes, you must be offered 2 choices:
- Re-routing: Take a different route to your final destination as soon as possible and at no extra cost
- Refund: Get a refund of the ticket price (within 7 days) and, where relevant, get a free trip back to your first point of departure as soon as possible (for example, if you have already begun your journey but the disruption means that the rest of your travel plans are no longer possible, you can request a return journey)
Care and assistance – If there is a cancellation, or a delay of more than 90 minutes, you must be offered free snacks, meals or refreshments (for example, teas, coffees and non-alcoholic beverages) that are suitable for the length of waiting time. You must also be offered accommodation for up to 3 nights (limited to €80 a night), where this is necessary.
Compensation – You can claim compensation of 25% of the ticket price if you get to your final destination at least:
- 1 hour late, on a journey of up to 4 hours
- 2 hours late, on a journey of between 4 and 8 hours
- 3 hours late, on a journey of between 8 and 24 hours
- 6 hours late, on a journey of more than 24 hours
If the delay is more than double the times listed above, you can claim 50% of the ticket price. The company must pay this compensation within 1 month of getting your claim.
In certain situations, you cannot get assistance or compensation for cancellations or delays:
- You cannot get accommodation or get any money back if the cancellation or delay was caused by weather that would make it unsafe to sail, or by extraordinary circumstances (for example, a natural disaster).
- You cannot get any help (re-routing, a refund, assistance, accommodation or compensation) if you are travelling on an open ticket that does not state the time of departure.
- You cannot get any assistance or compensation if you were told about the delay or cancellation before you bought the ticket, or if your own actions caused the delay or cancellation.
Travel operators must make information on the rights of passengers easily available on board ships and in port terminals.
Death or personal injury
If a transport operator (such as a ferry company or cruise ship company) is found responsible for the death of a passenger or for personal injury to a passenger, they must pay compensation. The carrier is strictly liable to pay compensation of about €310,000. However, if the value of the loss or damage is more than this, the carrier is further liable to pay up to about €495,000, unless the ship operator can prove it was not at fault.
If a shipping incident causes death or personal injury, the shipping company must pay you up to €21,000 within 15 days. The exact amount depends on the damages suffered. Shipping incidents include shipwreck, capsizing, collision, stranding of the ship, explosion or fire in the ship, or a defect in the ship. This advance payment does not mean the company admits it is liable or responsible for the death or injury.
Lost or damaged luggage and vehicles
If the shipping company is at fault for losing or damaging your cabin luggage, it will pay compensation of up to about €2,700 for each passenger.
If your vehicle is lost or damaged, maximum compensation is about €15,700 for each vehicle. This amount includes compensation for luggage carried in or on the vehicle. For other luggage, the limit is about €4,100 per passenger.
If you put valuable items (such as jewellery) in the ship’s safe and they are lost or damaged, the compensation limit is about €3,400 for each passenger. If you do not put them in the ship’s safe, the company is not responsible and will not pay compensation.
You can read more about your rights when travelling by sea or inland waterways in a guide from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on maritime passenger rights (pdf).
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) also has information about your rights when travelling by ferry.
Passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility
There are rules to ensure that all travel operators treat passengers with disabilities or with reduced mobility fairly and equally.
In general, you should be given information about your rights and the accessibility of the service. They must give you the appropriate help you need.
You also have the following rights:
Right to access and a ticket
You have the right to get a ticket, book a seat and use transport services in the same way as other passengers. You should not be discriminated against or charged extra. However, you may be refused travel if the service cannot be provided safely. For example, this could relate to the layout of the ferry, or the boarding points, or the type of seats or luggage racks.
In most cases, if the transport operator refuses you a ticket or a reservation, or requires you to bring a helper, they must immediately tell you why. If you request written confirmation, they must send it to you within 5 working days.
You have to give notice of the help you will need. The travel operator should then give the assistance free of charge. The following conditions generally apply to travel by ferry or cruise ship:
- You must give at least 48 hours’ notice to the ferry company or cruise ship company that you plan to travel
- You need to be at the port when they tell you (in writing)
- They cannot tell you to be there over 60 minutes before the scheduled embarkation (loading of passengers)
- If they do not give you an embarkation time, you must arrive at least 60 minutes before the departure time
- If you need someone to come with you to help you, they must be allowed to travel free of charge
- You should inform the travel operator, prior to travel, about your specific requirements
You may be entitled to a refund or re-routing if:
- You have a ticket or a reservation, and
- You have told the travel operator about your specific needs, and
- You are not allowed to travel because of your disability or reduced mobility
Loss or damage to mobility equipment
You are entitled to compensation if your mobility equipment (or other equipment) is lost or damaged and the fault lies with the travel operator. The travel operator should do their best to provide suitable temporary replacement equipment.
Your Europe has more information about rights for travellers with reduced mobility.
How to make a complaint
If you are not satisfied with how a travel operator has handled an issue, you can complain to them directly.
First, you will need to contact the travel operator to find out exactly how to make a complaint to them.
You should then make your complaint following their instructions and within certain time limits. For ferries and cruise ships, you must make the complaint within 2 months of the incident. You must receive a reply within 1 month, informing you that the complaint has been accepted or rejected or if it is still being considered.
If you are not satisfied with the response, you can take your complaint to the relevant national enforcement body (NEB). The body responsible for enforcing maritime passenger legislation in Ireland is the National Transport Authority (NTA).
Incidents at sea complaints
You must give written notice to the travel operator if your luggage is lost or damaged, and you find this out:
- Before, or at the time, you left the ship (for cabin luggage)
- Before, or at the time, it is delivered to you (for all other luggage)
If you do not find out about the damage or loss at those times, you must write to tell the operator within 15 days of leaving the ship. Failure to do this could mean you lose the right to compensation.
If you are taking the travel operator to court to claim compensation for death or personal injury, or for the loss of or damage to luggage, you must do so within 2 years of the incident.
If compensation is refused
If you cannot resolve your complaint or the travel operator refuses to pay
compensation, you can consider court action. If your claim for compensation is
not over €2,000, you can use the small
claims procedure. For cross-border disputes within the EU, if the amount
you are claiming is not over €5,000, you can use the European
small claims procedure.
You can find out more information about maritime passenger rights in Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010, which was brought into Irish legislation by the European Union (Rights of Passengers when Travelling by Sea and Inland Waterway) Regulations 2012.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) is responsible for enforcing maritime passenger legislation in Ireland. It is the National Enforcement Body (NEB) in Ireland.
The NTA has more information about your Maritime passenger rights.
Your Europe has more information about EU passenger rights.