It’s often you hear of ships going into dry docks and being out of action for a few months at a time. Cruise ships take advantage of this time by replacing fixtures and fittings, repaired the ship or even undergoing mass refurbishments.

How does it work?

Much in the same way as a canal’s lock system, using a flood basin to float the ship into the dock and draining until it comes to rest on a dry platform. For obvious reasons, the dry dock will always be located close to the sea or body of water which the cruise ship usually occupies and will be flooded to the same level so the ship can be safely floated in and positioned on the platform.

Once the ship is safely in, the gates of the dry dock close and the water is let out, leaving the ship raised above the now dry floor of the dock, ready to be worked on.

What happens?

It depends. Even if a ship is not scheduled for a refurbishment, it will need to go into dry dock in order to undergo inspections by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

Newer ships only tend to dry dock every three to five years, while older ships are in need of a little more upkeep and enter dry dock every two years. During a scheduled maintenance dry dock, the ship’s hull is inspected, cleaned and sometimes repainted, while the vessel’s propellers and thrusters are also checked. If the vessel is scheduled for a makeover, it will stay in dry dock longer as more cosmetic work is done. During this time, ships can have all their public areas redecorated and be fitted out with all-new features and even stateroom configurations, during more intensive overhauls.

Carnival Vista - Cruise ship

What about the crew?

If you’re a crew member, it’s usually up to you what you do during a dry dock. Most cruise lines will allow you to disembark for the duration of the dock, but this will be at your own expense. As most routine dry docks last for around two weeks, this could work out OK if you want to turn it into a holiday. However, there’s also the option of staying aboard, albeit on a minimal salary, as many of the day-to-day tasks you’d usually undertake don’t apply when the ship’s in dry dock. Duties if you do decide to stay aboard include cleaning, fire duties and staffing the bar to service the contractors working on the ship. Speaking of contractors, there will be a lot of them about, so crew members staying aboard are usually restricted as to where they can be on-board during dry dock.

What if I’m sailing just before my ship goes into a dry dock?

If your cruise is scheduled just before the ship is due to enter a dry dock, there is no need to worry. If the ship is entering purely for maintenance, then you won’t encounter any issues during your cruise. However, if your ship is scheduled to to enter dry dock to fix a problem, such as a propulsion issue, then your itinerary may be amended accordingly and some parts of the deck may be closed off towards the end of your sailing.

If you’re longing for a seamless sailing, then we’d advise not to book a cruise just before the ship enters a dry dock to ensure your cruise isn’t disturbed. Cruise lines typically plan dry docks in advance and schedule itineraries around the break in sailings, unless the ship is called in for emergency, in which case some cruises may be cancelled to accommodate the ship’s needs. Should this happen, most cruise lines will either refund your deposit or offer you an alternative sailing.

Guests sunbathing on-board CMV

What if I’m sailing just after a dry dock?

Post-dry dock the ship should be sailing as per usual, however there can some instances where unexpected delays mean that contractors may still be on-board while you cruise. This may mean that construction noises can be heard and some parts of the ship may be temporarily closed off for some time. In rare instances, your cruise may be cancelled or shortened, in which case you should be issued a refund from the cruise line.

How to find out abut upcoming dry docks

Follow our news blog to keep up with the latest on which cruise ships are due to enter or emerge from dry docks or, when booking a cruise, if you notice any gaps in the cruise line’s sailing schedule then that may indicate an upcoming dry dock. It may even be best practice to contact the cruise line to confirm dates of upcoming dry docks.

Emma Smith
Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

One Response to “What happens during a dry dock?”

  1. Tex Hooper

    I didn’t know that there were different ways to dock a boat. I need to get a dock for my new house. It is on the lake and I want to get a boat to go with it.


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