The steak or the mahi-mahi for dinner? This is usually the most stressful choice we are faced with while on vacation — everything else is, well, at bay.

Recently during a cruise, passengers were snapped out of their vacation mode when the captain made an abrupt stop. After changing course, everyone onboard was less concerned about what was on the menu and more worried about what was in the water…

Passengers boarded the Pacific Princess cruise ship ready to start their vacation and float away from their responsibilities. With their problems behind them and the open ocean in front of them, they expected smooth sailing for the duration of their trip.

The boat sailed the North Sea and stopped in the British Isles during the 8-day-long excursion. The 670 guests on board the vessel were nearing the end of their trip as they sailed back to port in Dover, England.

As you can imagine, passengers were confused and startled when all of a sudden the cruise ship changed course while they were winding down from the day and enjoying dinner.

Normally, cruise ships have a set course and don’t deviate from it. If they do, because of a storm or rough seas, it is carefully planned out and executed. So, this sudden change could only mean one thing… and that’s danger.


The captain of the Pacific Princess made a gut decision to change course immediately after seeing something alarming in the sky — a burst of light! He notified his crew members and set his new destination toward the bright light he’d seen. 

Joe Kafka

As the boat drew closer to the location of the strange light, it became clear that the captain was correct in trusting his gut. This wasn’t an optical illusion, someone in need of help had lit a flare!

Colleen Mason

The captain knew that whoever lit it must be in desperate need of help, but was unsure just how badly off they were. There was no mayday signal heard over the radio, and there were no other vessels for as far as the eye could see. It was ominous, to say the least, but the captain kept up his speed all the same. 

Normally the coast guard would handle a search mission like this, but the captain knew his vessel was closest to the scene. He feared that the people in need would soon get even more lost at sea, and he couldn’t let that happen on his watch. 

U.S. Coast Guard

Not long after the captain changed course he spotted something floating in the ocean. He wasn’t sure what it was at first and there was nothing else around it, could this just be a piece of floating refuse?

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

At this point, the passengers on the ship began to crowd the railings on every deck and balcony that the cruise ship had. They were curious, fearful, and anxious to see what had caused the captain to abruptly change course…

Mary Evans

As they got closer, the captain realized that there was a life raft floating adrift on the open sea! He could see some movement inside and instantly felt the hope that had been dwindling in his chest.

Daily Mail

There were three men floating aboard and all three of them were alive! The men poked there heads out, relieved to see another ship. They had been floating for hours just hoping there was a soul out there who saw their flare.


Rather than wait hours for the coast guard to arrive on the scene, the captain wanted to attempt a rescue mission so that the men didn’t have to suffer anymore. The logistics of the rescue presented quite a challenge since a rescue vessel and cruise ship are designed very differently.

“Originally they didn’t think we were going to be able to rescue them,” Teena Dowd, a passenger on the Pacific Princess, said. “We were on the very top deck, and people were just sort of holding their breath, everybody was anxious.”

The cruise ship was able to get close enough to the stranded sailors to throw down a rope to them. Then, they were able to construct a ladder for them to climb up the side of the ship. However, this plan proved to be more complicated than they anticipated.


The first man attempted to climb up the ladder to safety but ended up slipping and plummeting back down towards the water! Luckily, the sailors were able to retrieve him and pull him back aboard the life raft.


The cruise workers went back to the drawing board and reconstructed a more sturdy ladder. It took over an hour, but eventually, they were able to successfully get all three guys out of the water and safely on the cruise ship. But the worst wasn’t over… 

“Everybody clapped when they came on the ship,” Teena explained. “But we didn’t know until a while later when the captain announced that there were actually two more and we were still searching for them.”

The cruise ship stayed in the area hoping to find the remaining two sailors while they waited for the coast guard to show up. An hour later, rescuers arrived on the scene to provide medical attention to the three men and to take over the search.

U.S. Coast Guard

The coast guard sent out helicopters, lifeboats, and multiple ships to scour the area. They had reason to believe that the missing men ended up in the water after their ship sank in a freak accident. 

They searched through the night until about 3:30 in the morning when they called off the search. They returned to the area at first light. Sadly, they discovered the bodies of two men who were later identified as the two missing sailors. 

Ministry of National Defense

Although this story had a bittersweet ending, if it wasn’t for the quick action of the Pacific Princess captain, the number of casualties might have been even greater. Three men got to go home to their families that night.

The Courier Mail

Passengers on the cruise ship praised their captain for his quick thinking and courage that day.

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