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Periodic Operational Sanitation Inspections

Why does the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) conduct operational sanitation inspections?

VSP inspectors conduct operational sanitation inspections to determine how well ships are operating and maintaining sanitation standards in accordance with the VSP 2011 Operations Manual [PDF - 2.9 MB].

Inspectors provide public health guidance to cruise ship staff when standards are out of compliance. At the end of inspections, inspectors write a report describing inspection findings and recommendations.

Inspections are conducted while a ship is in a U.S. port.

What do VSP inspectors look at during a periodic sanitation inspection?

Depending on the size of the ship, one to four inspectors will examine a ship to determine if it complies with the public health standards found in the VSP 2011 Operations Manual [PDF - 2.9 MB].

The major areas VSP inspects include the following parts of the ship:

Major Areas VSP Inspects on a Ship Inspectors Look At
Medical facilities Documentation for gastrointestinal illness surveillance
Medical logs
Potable water systems Procedures from water source to storage until use
Water distribution
Protection and any cross-connections
Disinfection process
Swimming pools and whirlpool spas Filtration
General maintenance
Galleys and dining rooms Food protection during sourcing, provisioning, storage, preparation, and service
Employee health and personal hygiene
Facility equipment maintenance and dishwashing
Child activity centers Properly equipped diaper changing stations, toilets, and handwashing stations
Facility disinfection
Infection control for ill children
Hotel accommodations Routine cleaning sequences and infection control procedures during outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness, including the use of appropriate disinfectants and outbreak policies
Ventilation systems System maintenance
System cleaning
Common areas of the ship Integrated pest management strategies
General cleanliness

At the end each inspection, VSP inspectors meet with ship management to discuss inspection violations and give them a draft inspection report. Within 2 weeks of the inspection, VSP sends a final copy of the inspection report to the ship's cruise line.

How often are ships inspected?

Cruise ships under VSP’s jurisdiction are subject to two inspections each year. If a ship sails outside of the United States for an extended period of time, it may not be inspected twice a year, but it will be inspected again when it returns to the United States.

Do ships know when the inspection will occur?

No. The twice-yearly inspections are unannounced.

How are cruise ships scored?

Cruise ships are scored on a 100-point scale. Inspection criteria are defined in the VSP 2011 Operations Manual [PDF - 2.9 MB]. These criteria are assigned a point value; when the criteria are violated, inspection points are deducted from the score.

Points are deducted from that score based on public health significance. An 85 or below is considered a failing score. All scores are posted on the VSP website.

Are ships required to correct violations found during inspections?

Yes. Although ships are responsible for correcting all violations, some critical violations must be corrected immediately. Each ship must submit a Corrective Action Statement that states how the violations were corrected.

Some violations can be corrected during the inspection; others may take longer to correct.

What happens if a ship fails an inspection?

Ships that fail inspections are reinspected within a reasonable time period.

If a ship fails an inspection because of an imminent public health risk, VSP may recommend that the ship not sail. Imminent public health risks include the following violations:

  • Inability to properly chlorinate potable (drinking) water.
  • Inability to keep food within safe temperatures.
  • Inadequate facilities for cleaning and sanitizing equipment.
  • Inability to properly dispose of solid or liquid waste.
  • An infectious disease outbreak where continuing normal operations may subject newly arriving passengers to disease.

Where can I find inspection scores and reports?

Inspection reports and scores as well as corrective action statements are available on the VSP website.

How much do inspections cost?

Cruise ship owners pay a fee based on the ship’s size for operational inspections and reinspections.


Schedule, October 1, 2016-September 30, 2017

Fee Schedule for Each Vessel Size

Vessel Size (GRT1) Inspection Fee
Extra Small (<3,000 GRT) US$1,495
Small (3,001-15,000 GRT) US$2,990
Medium (15,001-30,000 GRT) US$5,980
Large (30,001-60,000 GRT) US$8,970
Extra Large (60,001-120,000 GRT) US$11,960
Mega (>120,001 GRT) US$17,940

1Gross register tonnage in cubic feet, as shown in Lloyd's Register of Shipping.

The fee schedule is also posted in the Federal Register.

Consultation for Construction and Renovation

What's involved in the construction and renovation process?

At the request of the cruise industry, VSP provides consultation during the construction and renovation of cruise ships. We conduct plan reviews to analyze the ship’s design to eliminate environmental health risks and to incorporate modifications that create healthy environments.

VSP involvement may include

  • review of construction/renovation plans and
  • technical support through emails and phone calls.

Construction plan reviews are based on the VSP 2011 Construction Guidelines [PDF - 2.9 MB]. General areas that CDC focuses on include the following:

General Areas What VSP Looks At
Equipment and facilities Standards, parts, and placements and hygiene requirements
Food areas Buffet lines, galleys, provision rooms, refrigerators, bar areas, and dining rooms
Warewashing and waste management Proper setup and handling
Swimming pools and spas Drains, pumps, filters, safety, and disinfection
Water systems Bunkering, storage, distribution, disinfection, and cross-connections/backflow prevention

During the plan review process, we may recommend that the ship

  • Include more handwashing stations,
  • Change the location of these stations, or
  • Install backflow prevention devices on hairwashing stations connected to the potable water line in the ship’s salon.

At the end of each review, VSP gives the cruise line and/or construction company a report that indicates recommended changes to the ship’s design.

How much do construction/renovation plan reviews cost?

VSP does not charge a fee for plan reviews or consultations related to renovations or new cruise ships.

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