In "Why Ships Sink," NOVA looks at epic cruise disasters from the Titanic to the Costa Concordia, asking whether cruise ships are truly safe.

Meanwhile, twenty million vacationers take cruises every year--including David and Emily Singer, two friends of NOVA who were already booked on a cruise before the Costa Concordia accident. They volunteered to document their ship's safety features in this photo diary so that we could get a passenger's-eye view of safety on the seas. (Here's hoping they took some photos of their own as well!)

Muster drill: The drill is at 4:30 p.m. on day one, before we leave port. Crewmembers are outfitted in bright yellow vests and hold signs that point passengers in the right direction. The room key (which also serves as an onboard credit card and ID) has each passenger's muster station assignment clearly printed on it. Each passenger (including our infant niece) gets one; we are instructed to carry them everywhere.

Muster drill

Digital roll call at muster station: Arriving at our muster station, our room keys are scanned, checking us in. We're told to sit down in a particular location (a certain section of the small theater) and wait for further instruction. This is how it would happen in a real emergency. The staff are all knowledgeable and professional. A movie then plays (in English, but with instructions on how to obtain it in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and a few other languages) showing us how we will be alerted to an emergency, and how we should proceed. Also, a TV channel constantly showed the safety movie--in case there was nothing good on TV?

Digital roll call

Safety instructions are posted in every room: The boat is so large that it's easy to get lost, so the instructions are helpful. During the muster drill, crewmembers are all over the ship holding up signs and pointing passengers in the correct direction. Because there are so many passengers, our muster station isn't actually at our lifeboat, but rather a designated meeting place where we would await further instruction, and be guided to our lifeboat if necessary. We also don't have lifejackets in our stateroom--if needed, we would receive them at our muster station. Our stateroom was on Deck 10--pretty far above the surface of the water--so it would make sense not to have lifejackets in our rooms. Unless they came equipped with parachutes...

Safety instructions

Lifeboats: The lifeboats seat 370 people, and there are 18 of them on the ship. They even have bathrooms! If you do the math: 18 lifeboats x 370 passengers = 6,660 seats. Well, the ship holds more than 6000 passengers and 2500-plus crew, so the numbers don't quite add up.

Life boats

Good things come in small packages: The difference is made up by the expandable life rafts held inside these plastic cylinders. But getting into them is not for the faint of heart. Here's why.

Life rafts

Just slide down the esophagus: Officially it's called the VIKING Evacuation Dual Chute, but we call it "the esophagus." We think you'll see why when you look at the diagram below, which is posted near the expandable rafts. The entrance point is on Deck 4. The exit point is water level (Deck 1). We're quite relieved that we don't practice using these devices at any point, although I guess that some people would find it fun. Probably the same people who think that the zip-line across the back of the ship is fun. Unfortunately, they don't ask you if you are afraid of heights before assigning muster stations and life rafts.

Esophagus

The Esophagus: Here are diagrams showing the "esophagus" in action. It's important not to wear high heels in the esophagus. Could make the trip a bit shorter. (We're relieved to learn that our muster station has us assigned to a "real" lifeboat.)

Esophagus instructions

Crew drill: On the second day of our trip, there is a drill for the crew. Over the ship's PA system, we hear "Bravo Bravo Bravo" and a location. This is code for a fire drill. Crewmembers in full fire-fighting gear head off toward the location announced. The ship's many water-tight doors seal. When the drill is over, the crewmembers let us take their photo. Bravo (fire) team members have red tags on their IDs; EMS-type team members have blue tags. (Our waiter had a blue tag.) The full muster drill we went through is done prior to each sail. There is an all-hands drill once every 2 weeks. On the intervening weeks, the crew is split into half, with the halves alternating drill weeks. The Bravo team practices weekly.

Crew fire drill

NOVA's "Why Ships Sink" premieres Wednesday, April 18 at 9 p.m. ET on most PBS stations. Check your local listings to confirm when it will air near you. Special thanks to David and Emily Singer.

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