I'm considering using ferries as part of my visit to South Korea, either to visit a Korean island, such as Jeju island, or to travel to or from Japan. Partially for the novelty, and partially because it's more flexible.

While looking up Jeju island on Wikivoyage, there was mention of a major ferry disaster with hundreds of lives lost.

How safe is ferry travel within or to and from Korea? Is it about as safe as air travel, riskier, or less risky? Does choosing the right company, or avoiding bad sea conditions help?

Related resource: List of South Korean ferry disasters

  • 4
    Just about any form of transportation is less safe than air travel, and accidents can happen anywhere in the world, so I'm not sure what you expect to see in an answer. "Pretty safe." "Safe enough." "0.73 International Safety Units." Going by the Wikipedia list, it doesn't look like South Korea is particularly prone to maritime incidents.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 6:18
  • Also, ferries are not all the same. Are ferries in the USA typified by the Staten Island Ferry or by the Cape May-Lewes Ferry? Perhaps we should use the Alaska Marine Highway System instead? Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 13:21

2 Answers 2


Asking if South Korean ferries are safe in light of the Sewol sinking is like asking if high rises in the UK are safe in light of the Grenfell fire or if air travel in the US is safe in light of the 9/11 terror attacks.

  • The Sewol disaster was horrendously abnormal event for South Korea
  • It is difficult to articulate the amount of public outrage that was generated in South Korea as a result of this disaster, though one could describe it as substantial.

Some of the factors in the Sewol sinking was poor enforcement in enforcing marine safety regulations, corruption of safety officials and the approval of dubious modifications to the Sewol. The public outrage caused by the event substantially reduced the extent to which these factors would be present in future accidents. As a result, one should expect the safety of sea travel in South Korea to be significantly improved as a result of this accident and one should expect marine travel in South Korea to be as safe as if not safer that marine travel in other developed countries.


After the Sewol disaster and the Itaewon disaster (2022), and the building collapses of the 1990's and 2021, it's safe to say that South Korea still has some major issues with dealing with a disaster. Hopefully there is less corruption in terms of ferries overloading themselves, but remember that, if the ship starts to sink, you need to get on deck and not remain below deck despite whatever the PA announcement says and you cannot rely on the coastguard or police to come and rescue you. You will have to be proactive in the event of an emergency because their public emergency services are not prepared to rescue large groups of people and with enforcing safety standards.


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