Confusing safety pictogram: muster station

An essential IMO standard safety sign on ferries is not understood by most of the passengers. How come? How to improve?
muster station, assembly point, icon, emergency, ferry, International Maritime Organization
What is the meaning of this sign?
This sign you can find on a ferry.
Which one would be better?


1 One sign, 11 interpretations

When passengers are asked what this sign means
the following answers are given:
  • maximum of three passengers per cabin
  • this way to three berth cabins
  • promenade for groups
  • meeting point -assembly point for families
  • in case of emergency, disperse
  • no entry for the public
  • safety capsule.
  • emergency exit
  • main corridor
  • man overboard
  • car deck

  • 2 This sign means:

    This sign indicates passengers assemble here in the event of an emergency. Muster stations are found in all rooms that are open to the public. There are two kinds of emergencies.
  • The first is when it is a matter of life and death like when, for example, there is a fire on a particular deck and the passengers have to be evacuated immediately.

  • The second type of emergency might occur if there has been a minor collision and the captain decides to prepare for a possible abandon ship, just as a precaution.

    How many passengers understand this sign?

    Muster station on ferries
    ( IMO standard)
    Assembly point
    Common practice inland
    21 %
    10 s

    31 %
    9 s
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    3 How to communicate this meaning?

    The fact that few of our subjects understood the meaning of this emergency pictogram is quite alarming. Ferry passengers can be given a lifeboat drill that includes an explanation of the pictogram. Unfortunately, this is not practicable for hundreds of ferry passengers who are sometimes only on board for a short time. In addition, in time,
    Another way is to build a ship in such a way that all routes on the ship will automatically lead to a muster station. In this case the exit signs would lead to both the exit and the muster station.Today that is current practice for some ferry boat builders. For existing ships this is not a solution and a sign is needed.
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    4 How to improve this pictogram

    Several persons in our investigation thought the figures in the pictogram were a family; probably this is caused by Only when type of person is relevant this should be in the picture (e.g. in the case of a picture for toilet). If type of person is not relevant, than all persons should be of the same type.muster station, assembly point, icon, emergency, amusement park
    In the first picture, dark green and white are both used for the persons and the background in different signs. Seven persons are dark green and three other persons are white as are five arrows. In addition, some persons act as both figure and background, i.e. the four arrows and the three tall persons. Finally, with some persons there is a change in foreground and background luminosity; the three tall persons have a white body but a dark green head.    This large amount of graphical differences do not reflect any difference in content. All persons should be presented having the same luminance. Opposite luminance for foreground figures impairs understanding as is shown in the right-hand side picture.     muster station sign franceThis French assembly point sign might be understood as a wheel with spokes or a propeller.
    The fact that before abandoning ship the passengers have to be gathered from all corners to this point, is essential to the crew but not to the passengers. Therefore, there is no need to emphasize the aspect of assembly in the sign as it is in the sign now. A sign which depicts a lifeboat will probably be understood better by the passengers as being a muster station. If it is still desirable to emphasize the aspect of assembly a pictogram representing a number of people lining up to board a lifeboat could be shown. ski line up in rows of 8Skiers must line up in rows of 8.
    Text might be better and could be included anyway as in the right-hand side picture. muster station, assembly point, icon, emergencyIn that case I would prefer the more international word assembly and not muster that only will be understood by sailors and native English readers. In case of emergency, communication is essential. Each station should have an identifier, as in the picture on the right-hand side.muster station, assembly point, icon, emergency
    Human cognitive performance decreases dramatically in case of an emergency. It is hard to understand that the International Maritime Organization accepted this sign as a worldwide standard for ferries.   The first version of this article was published 32 years ago. Two major ferry accidents (Harold of Free Enterprise and Estonia) made clear that emergency control on ferries was not as it should be. The muster station sign is the standard still.
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