11 Tips for Cruising with Oxygen

safe oxygen levels
Thanks to advances in medical technology, travel opportunities for people needing supplemental oxygen have increased exponentially. Not only can oxygen-dependent passengers carry their own portable oxygen concentrators that meet FAA requirements on board all flights[1], but most major cruise lines are happy to accommodate passengers with disabilities who are cruising with oxygen. Although cruise ships don’t provide supplemental oxygen to passengers except in emergencies, travelers can rent or bring their own portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) or have oxygen delivered to almost any cruise ship at most departure ports worldwide.

Cruising with oxygen takes a lot of preparation. If you’re planning to take a cruise in the near future, consider the following tips to help you prepare:

  1. Make an appointment with your doctor to ensure you’re healthy enough to travel.[2] Be sure to discuss your oxygen therapy needs and whether you’re able to use a pulse-dose oxygen delivery system or continuous flow. Bring any required special needs forms with you so your doctor can complete them and return them to you in plenty of time.
  2. Notify the cruise line’s Special Needs or Access Department that you’ll be traveling with supplemental oxygen at least 30 days before you plan to travel. Ask about policies and procedures that pertain to using oxygen on board and what medical documents you’ll need from your doctor. Inquire about any special forms that may need to be completed and the fax number or email address to which you should send them.
  3. Consider purchasing travel insurance.[3] Should you experience an emergency while on board the ship, travel insurance should cover your medical expenses, airfare home and trip interruption expenses.
  4. Plan ahead. If you’re not using a POC, arrange to have enough oxygen and equipment delivered to the ship to last the duration of the cruise. Note that some cruise lines don’t allow liquid oxygen on board so make sure check with your cruise line in advance and, if necessary, choose with your doctor an alternate oxygen delivery system if you usually use liquid oxygen prior to your travel date.
  5. Because seaport security may want to inspect your portable oxygen equipment prior to boarding the ship, it’s best to arrive as early as possible to prevent travel delays.
  6. Every oxygen-dependent passenger is responsible for managing their own oxygen equipment before, during and after the cruise. It’s a good idea to bring a companion who knows how to operate your oxygen equipment in case you become ill or incapacitated.
  7. When dining or using the recreational areas of the ship, plug your portable oxygen unit into an electrical outlet to conserve battery power. You may even want to make a reservation in advance with the ship’s maître d’ to ensure you get a table in close proximity to an electrical outlet.
  8. Shore excursions require battery power. Be sure to have a fully charged battery and enough extra batteries to last the duration of your shore activities.
  9. Delays in arrival or departure while traveling are common. Pack ample amounts of medication to ensure you don’t run out. Keep your medications with you, including your rescue inhaler if you use one. Avoid packing them in with your checked luggage.
  10. Altitude differences, increased activity and other factors tend to affect your oxygen saturation.[4] Keep a pulse oximeter handy so you can keep track of your oxygen levels while traveling.
  11. Conserve battery power by using a pulse-dose setting as prescribed by your doctor whenever possible, especially while sitting or resting. Doing so increases your battery life compared to continuous flow.

If you’re ready to book your cruise, the following table lists the most common cruise lines, a link to the special needs section of their websites wherever applicable and their phone numbers:

Carnival Cruise Line 1-800-764-7419
Costa Cruise Line 1-800-247-7320
Crystal Cruise Line 1-888-722-0021
Cunard Cruise Line 1-877-915-7569
Disney Cruise Line 1-800-951-3532
Holland America 1-877-932-4259
Norwegian Cruise Line 1-866-234-7350
Princess Cruise Line 1-800-774-6237
Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line 1-844-473-4368
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line 1-866-562-7625
Windstar Cruise Line 1-877-575-9742

[1] Federal Aviation Administration. FAA Approved Portable Oxygen Concentrators: Positive Testing Results. Updated October 7, 2015.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. See a Doctor before You Travel. Last reviewed January 13, 2011.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Travel Insurance, Travel Health Insurance, & Medical Evacuation Insurance. Last updated June 8, 2015.

[4] American Thoracic Society. Pulse Oximetry. Online version updated December, 2013.

2 thoughts on “11 Tips for Cruising with Oxygen”

  1. B rasnake says:

    A script is a good thing to carry anytime you travel,to let
    Others know how much oxy you use

    1. Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN says:

      Good idea. We will have to add that in at some point.

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