Cruise ship sailing through the water with wake.

How Fast Do Cruise Ships Go?

Ready to go full speed ahead and hit the open sea? If you’ve ever been aboard a large ship, it may feel like you’re not moving quickly. So how fast do cruise ships go?

These workers didn’t build these massive engineering marvels for speed. However, they may move faster than you think.

Today, we’ll answer this question and share some insights into items that affect a ship’s speed.

Let’s dive in and get started!

What Are Knots for Ships?

The term “knot,” when used in maritime navigation, refers to a ship,  boat, or other watercraft’s speed. It is the equivalent of one nautical mile per hour. It’s often abbreviated as “kn” or “kts.” 

Unfortunately, understanding this means you must also understand the “nautical mile.” This distance term is the equivalent of one minute of latitude, which helps ensure consistency in navigation calculations. It is slightly longer than a statute mile, the 5,280 feet many of us are accustomed to.

Why Do Boats Use Knots for Speed?

Boats and vessels use knots for consistency. Because it is a constant and standardized measurement, it makes communicating speed information for vessels, nautical charts, and weather reports easier.

The term originates from the 17th century as mariners used a “common log.” These were devices with knots in them that they would throw into the water. They would then count the number of knots that passed through their hands over a specific time.

Despite improved technologies and modern advancements, some still use knots because of tradition and culture. It’s part of the heritage of mariners and is standard practice.

Marine rope in a slip knot over marine maps.

How Fast is 25 Knots on a Boat?

One knot is approximately 1.15 miles per hour. So if you do the math (1.15 x 25), you discover 25 knots is about 28.8 mph.

Now the next time you’re on a cruise ship, you can quickly and easily calculate how fast the boat travels if you hear it in knots.

How Fast Do Cruise Ships Go?

Cruise ships weren’t built for speed but for comfort and luxury. However, they can still get going pretty fast. Typically they cruise between 20 and 30 knots. This means they’re 23 and 34.5 mph.

So while it may sound slow, you must remember that the largest ships are more than 250,000 tons. That’s moving fast!

35 mph speed limit sign with blue sky background.

Things that Affect a Cruise Ship’s Speed

Just like you don’t drive at top speed when you’re behind the wheel, cruise ships don’t either. Here are several things that can affect a cruise ship’s speed.

First time taking a cruise? Be sure to read Best First Time Cruise Lines for Newbies before making your final decision on which one you choose.

Size and Design

The larger the ship, the larger and more powerful the engines. However, you must also consider that larger vessels will be heavier and more robust. A larger ship may have the potential to go faster, but it will likely take longer to get there.

If you’ve ever been behind a semi in traffic, you know it takes time for them to get up to speed. In this way, ships and semis are similar. It takes time for a ship to get up to speed.

Engine Power and Type

Again, just because a boat has bigger or more powerful engines doesn’t always mean it will go faster. Many cruise ships use diesel engines because they’re reliable, fuel-efficient, and can generate tremendous torque.

Additionally, newer ships often have newer technologies and improved features. This can allow them to go faster and be more efficient when creating power. It’s the same with passenger vehicles. Newer models often enjoy beefier engines that are more efficient. This allows them to travel faster and enjoy more acceleration.

Ocean Current and Weather

Cruise ships will adjust their speeds to accommodate the conditions of the ocean and weather. Going full steam ahead in rough waters can be disastrous for a vessel.

It’s the same logical reasoning why you don’t drive the same speed on a gravel road as on the interstate. It’s essential to be responsible, whether behind a car’s wheel or a ship’s helm.

Passenger Comfort

When it comes to the speed of a cruise ship, captains also have to consider passenger comfort. Again, cruises are supposed to be luxury experiences.

If passengers spend their entire trip seasick, they won’t want to sail again. Slowing down can provide a smoother and more comfortable experience for all onboard the ship.

Passengers relaxing on a cruise ship in lounge chairs on the deck.


The final factor that could determine the speed of a ship is the itinerary. There’s no need to go full speed ahead if it’s not necessary.

Some cruise lines will go seemingly to a crawl if they have a short distance to cover to the next port of call. This allows them to time their arrival at each port to make it as convenient as possible.

Cruise ships often have a certain amount of time they can spend at the port. As a result, they may need to go very slowly to arrive at a specific time. In addition, they may need to speed things up to return to the original port of call.

Do You Want the Ship to Go Full Steam Ahead?

Just because a ship can go faster doesn’t always mean it should. Being a responsible captain for a cruise ship means considering safety, comfort, and the itinerary.

Sometimes they must make do with the situation and make the best of rough waters. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that they can control.

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