If this is your first time cruising, you may not be sure what the security measures look like onboard a ship. The Transportation Security Administration holds the responsibility of keeping America's ports and transportation systems secure, enabling freedom of movement for people and commerce. Just like the extensive security checks performed at airports, cruise ship passengers also go through a screening process before boarding a U.S. vessel in domestic or foreign waters. The procedures are typically a collaboration between the TSA and the vessel operators.

Setting the Bar

The TSA works closely with maritime operators, including cruise companies, to implement extensive security techniques involving canine teams, explosives experts, advanced imaging technology machines and terrorist watch list matching. This ensures the security of everyone onboard as well as the safety of U.S. ports in general. Behind the scenes, you are protected by input from multiple agencies in addition to the Transportation Security Administration, including local law enforcement units; the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Prove Your Identity

Citizens or permanent residents of the United States are required to establish their identity with official government-issued photo identification. Some examples include a driver's license or other state photo identity card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles or its equivalent; a U.S. passport or passport card; and a U.S. military ID. When traveling to a foreign country, bring your U.S. passport, which satisfies requirements for entry to the destination as well as re-entry into U.S. ports when returning. Some nations require visas, permits or vaccinations, so always check with the cruise ship operator for information on a specific journey.

Clearing the Hurdles

Although the TSA sets standards for maritime security, each cruise line has specific procedures for passenger entry onto the vessel. Security personnel suggest you arrive at least two hours to check-in before the cruise departure time with your travel documents to ensure there are no problems or a long security line at the security checkpoint with security procedures. Embarkation and debarkation standards change periodically, so read up on a specific journey well in advance. Expect to go through security checks by security officers when re-entering the ship at each port of call. Procedures typically include carry-on luggage x-rays, full-body scanning in an x-ray machine, and digital photographs as you enter and exit. Alcohol, weapons and other banned items are confiscated and may – or may not – get returned to you at the journey's end. Know the rules ahead of time.

All Clear

Rest assured that everyone onboard the vessel at any time has been cleared for security purposes. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential requires that all employees and transportation-related vendors must pass background checks to access unsecured areas of the ship and associated maritime facilities. Those boarding without pre-established credentials must go through the same security checks as you and will only have access to secure areas. Upon coming back from ports and shore excursions, they will once against screen passengers. Guests once again must send their items through a metal detector, which you will then pick up, and walk through the machine to ensure no prohibited items are brought onboard and ensure continuous ship security. When you disembark at the end of the cruise to the cruise terminal, there is once again security screening by crew members to ensure nothing unsafe is getting off the ship.