Why they’re being banned on some ships

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In This Post, we look at the confusion over the use of Power Strips or Extension cables on cruise ships including:
Reasons for the Power strip Ban on Some Ships
The Technical reasons for the Ban
Alternatives to Power Strips on Cruises

A question that keeps being asked is “Can I use a power strip or extension cable in my cruise ship cabin”?

There is a lot of confusion about what is and what isn’t allowed these days.  It’s a moving target and the rules seem to change all the time not being helped by a lack of consistency from the cruise lines as to what is allowed.

If like us when we go on a cruise, we travel with numerous battery-powered devices that need to be kept charged.  There is nothing worse to find your camera is dead when you are about to capture that crucial moment. Or your Phone is on 1% battery when you need to make a call. We have all been there.

The trouble is that many cruise ship cabins, particularly on older ships, don’t have as many power outlets (or sockets) or USB outlets as we would like. We have become hungry for USB and Power outlets and so load ourselves up with chargers and power strips.

Mains Power Strips or extension cables, particularly ones with surge suppression and a length of cable are being banned by a growing number of cruise lines for safety reasons. In some situations, they have been shown to cause fires on ships and the cruise lines are responding to a Safety Alert issued by the US Coastguard. You can read the Marine Safety Alert here.

The technical reasons for this safety alert are complicated but it is all to do with the difference between maritime electrical systems and domestic land-based systems.

So for us cruisers, the issue is that there aren’t any specific cruise ship power strips. But the good news is that but there are alternatives which we will detail later in this article.

At the time of writing, the cruise lines seem to have varying policies ranging from cautionary notices to outright bans!

Examples of banned items may include Power Strips with Extension Cords and Power Strips with Surge Protectors. Always worth checking with your cruise line.

Mobile devices are hungry for power

Warnings from Cruise Lines include:

“Electrical devices such as small fans, power strips, multi-plug box outlets/adaptors, and extension cords without surge protectors are allowed on board when used with proper caution.  However, if such devices are determined to pose a hazard they will be confiscated.”

“Cruise line policy forbids power strips with extension cords”.

We highly recommend you check with your cruise line before you travel.

THE TECHNICAL REASONS WHY

Fire is the greatest danger at sea, and standard domestic devices may not prevent faults like they would at home. Domestic power strips will certainly work on a cruise ship, but they aren’t necessarily safe for a rather ironic reason. The fuse or circuit breaker that is supposed to protect you from fire due to short-circuits or overloads may not work correctly on a ship.

These breakers generally rely on disconnecting the live or ‘hot’ wire in your AC circuit, leaving only the neutral and ground wires connected. Because a ship generates electricity in a different way and has a different method of grounding, there is a chance that if the circuit became overloaded, then the power strip’s built-in breaker would work. But this would not necessarily stop the flow of electricity.

Ship Wiring is Different

Normal domestic house wiring is asymmetric, having one line at 120V (or 220-240 in Europe), and the other shorted to ground at the mains distribution panel. The neutral side is, in theory, close to ground and therefore not likely to cause a shock. The live side is, in practice, dangerous.

Ship wiring is symmetric, having two lines, each at 60V and 180 degrees out of phase which produce a 120V AC voltage.

On the domestic system, a grounded neutral is used. Any ground fault (hard or instantaneous) will cause breakers to trip or fuses to open. At worst, your lights go out.

At sea, a loss of power whilst the ship is navigating through narrows or a channel may cause a dangerous situation so an insulated neutral is used. A single ground fault (hard or instantaneous) will energize the hull, but much like birds sitting on uninsulated wires, the crew is not at immediate risk, but the ground fault must be cleared because:

  • if a crew member makes contact with a second power line, they may be shocked.
  • and a second ground fault will interrupt the flow of power, possibly blacking out the ship.
  • and cathodic corrosion protection which protects the hull from rusting may be impacted.
  • and specifically may cause a fire because current greater than the capacity of the wires flows, this causes heat, melt/burn insulation and  could cause a fire

 What are the Alternatves to Power Strips

USB Power Charging Ports can be a handy accessory at home, but in a cabin, with limited electrical outlets, they are a must-have accessory. We use the Anker 5 Port USB Hub. It not only has five standard USB ports (USB A) but it also has a USB C port which supports USB power delivery. This means you can charge phones that use USB C, but also laptops such as certain model Macs, the Dell XPS series laptops, and others. There are cheaper options available and Amazon is a good source for such gadgets, but this is a good choice.

European Power Outlet Adapters are another accessory you may need on a cruise ship.  There are cheap ones out there so it will not break the bank to have several of these devices. Most cruise ships supply both 110VAC and 220VAC power to cabins and public areas. In North America 110VAC is used and these are the outlets you likely have in your cabin. There are normally at least one or two 220VAC outlets (Type F, as used in most of Europe).

Our GoTo Travel Adapter is the CleverTrips™ Worldwide Travel Adapter Universal Power Adaptor Plug International Wall Charger with USB Fast Charge 3.0A AC Plug. This has a flexible arrangement for selecting which power outlet you have and also 4 USB Charging Ports. It is not the cheapest adapter but in our opinion this is the best option for cruising.