Best Way to Avoid Collision


Andrew McNeal

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Is there anything they could have done to prevent the ship from sinking or from sinking as quickly as it did? I think if they had slowed down enough to gently go by the iceberg, even if they had hit it, it might not have caused enough damage to sink the ship.
 
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Wayne Keen

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I encourage you bump around here a bit, there have been a number of discussions in this area code.

A general observation:

There is a great deal of unclarity about the orders given to the engine room, but there does appear to be a shortness of time to have reversed the engines and slowed meaningfully before contacting the ice.

Wayne
 

George Heiss

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Andrew, more likely if they were going slower they would have missed the iceberg entirely. Keep in mind the iceberg is moving too and from what I gather it was moving almost directly in the opposing direction of the Titanic. Now granted the Iceberg was maybe moving very slowly with the current...but it was still moving. The Titanic weighed about 46,000 tons...the iceberg was easily 6 times this weight, if not more. So even if the Titanic was at a standstill, this iceberg would still have caused serious damage.

Now the question does come up time and again in regards to how the ship was manuevered during the event. Supposedly, "the generally accepted" course of action of trying to turn the ship with both engines in reverse theoretically undermined what the crew was trying to do and that was to turn the ship to port. This was one of the greatest 'what if' scenarios I run in my mind. Having some knowledge of how a fixed two prop boat/ship with a rudder works, it would have been more effective to not even bother putting the engines in reverse as doing such renders the rudder almost useless. Also keep in mind the Titanic had a third prop that was turbine driven and that only worked in the forward direction. That too would have assisted the rudder. Another thing that came to mind through an experiment I personally conducted is that the Titanic could have even had greater turning action if the port engine only was reversed or even stopped.

Now of course I was basing this on the knowledge I had at the time based on the commands of that night on the Titanic. However, recently I have been reading up on the fact that due to the slow nature of the Telegraph communication system, there probably was not enough time to complete the reverse engine command before the berg hit. Moreover, I have been reading about inconsistancies in the commands to begin with. As I realized what is normally accepted in the history books, novels and movies may not be what exactly did happen. So what is the truth? Well I still have yet to come to that conclusion, BUT I found that this site has an incredible amount of information for you to look through...as Wayne pointed out. Really what you have to do is set an entire day asside and just look at what is here. You will be amazed!!

Enjoy!

Geo
 
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Wayne Keen

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"due to the slow nature of the Telegraph communication system, there probably was not enough time to complete the reverse engine command before the berg hit"

Actually, the telegraph was not really the longest pole in the tent. To reverse engines took the coordinated actions of a number of men, who had to be at the right place at the right time. In the middle of the Atlantic (ok , not the middle middle ;) ), they simply were not.

This is another reason why relying on the stopping tests done in the sea trials can lead to down some deceptive paths.

As George said, take some time and bump around. Many members of this board are serious historians and folks of the sea.

Wayne
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Slowing down is something of a two edged sword in this instance. The upside is that it may have bought them some time to see the iceberg and avoid it. The downside is that going slower robs the rudder of effectiveness because of the lower hydrodynamic flow across the rudder. It might have lessened the severity of the impact damage, or for reasons unknown, might have led to an even worse accident.

The trouble is that plodding along was just not the way business was done on the North Atlantic run. The prctice was to maintain course and speed in all conditions short of poor visibility, and sometimes, not even then. They had a schedule to keep and a failure to do so could lead to some unpleasant questions of the captains from management. Liners typically ran past the Nantucket Lightship in what can charitably be described as some very frightening near misses without slowing down, and one year, the Olympic didn't miss at all!

When you get right down to it, the best way to avoid a collision on the open ocean is to not be somewhere or operating in a manner where it's likely to happen in the first place.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Our friendly curmudgeon is correct. The name of the game in seamanship is avoiding situations where problems like collisions are likely to occur. As the old saying goes, "A collision at sea can ruin your whole day."

With that in mind, the proper action for Captain Smith to have taken was to divert the 60-odd miles southward as Mauritania did that April to avoid the ice. Such a diversion...if made early enough to be a shallow course change...would have added only a few minutes to the overall duration of the trip and have been within the fuel supply. However, hindsight is 100%--always 20/20. We know Titanic found an iceberg. It is temprocentric for us to think that Captain Smith had that knowledge prior to the accident. The truth is that he did not know what we have always known. Thus, we cannot and must not judge his actions upon our knowledge which was hidden in the future from E.J. Smith's point of view.

In 1912 the state of seafaring was to approach danger until it could be ascertained, and then to take appropriate action. This was the only possible approach to danger prior to the development of radio, radar, satellite imagery, etc. Sailors were forced to go and see for themselves, then do whatever was necessary.

In that regard, Titanic was being operated well within the ordinary practice of seamen for 1912. To condemn Smith or his officers because they did not act in a modern manner is, frankly, stupid. Even the vaunted Captain Rostron used the same "go and look" approach to the ice that night. He was successful, probably because of plain ol' dumb luck and the fact that he did not penetrate as far into the ice as he claimed. As Captain Erik would point out, any damned fool captain who would repeat Rostrons run today would probably be cashiered out of the service for taking such a foolhardy risk with his passengers.

The point is that Rostron used exactly the same approach to the ice danger as Smith. If you want to blame Smith for the loss of Titanic, you must paint Rostron with the same brush of shame.

The underlying problem that allowed the accident was not foolhardiness. Rather, it was a threefold creature. The first was the usual and ordinary practice of seamen to steam up to danger and then find a way to avoid it. That worked fine at 11 or 15 knots. However, at 22 knots the time available to make decisions had grown too short for the old methods. Not many seaman had experienced speeds above 15 knots, however, and the 1912 body of knowledge did not extend the the new problems created by the higher speeds of the new "ocean greyhounds" as they were known.

The second factor which allowed the accident to take place was the abysmal system of internal communications aboard Titanic. Today, we speak of "bridge team management." The layout of Titanic prevented there being any team to manage. The quartermaster and his supervisor (Hichens and Moody) were separated in a wooden box from the actual command bridge. The officer of the watch had no access to the telephones, to the quartermaster, or to the navigator in the chartroom. All of the jobs necessary for the conduct of a voyage were being done, but in such a compartmentalized way as to prevent anyone...OOW, Captain, or 1st class passenger...from knowing the "big picture."

Thirdly, there was the loss of situational awareness created by both factors above as well as others. This was probably the ultimate reason for the accident, as I detailed in a recent issue of Professional Mariner.

Now, as to the actual accident--I am of the opinion that none of the traditional story is even close to reality. There was no "hard a-starboard" followed within a half minute by a rumbling of steel on ice. The "port around" maneuver never existed. Murdoch did not try to drive a "button hook" around the deadly ice. We have all been deceived for nearly a century by repetition of what amounts to a "big lie."

First of all, if Murdoch did yell "hard a-starboard" only 35 to 45 seconds ahead of the accident, then we have to accept that he was a complete dunderhead of a ship driver. The reason--the accident took place on the starboard bow during a turn to port. This is de facto proof that Murdoch turned left to avoid an object that lay to his port. DOH! You couldn't get that man drunk enough to make such an idiotic mistake.

If Murdoch didn't yell "hard a-starboard" just seconds before the accident, what did happen? That is more difficult, if not impossible to prove. There was a left turn under starboard helm. That was confirmed by Boxhall, Hichens, and Groves. But, when did it happen? How long before the accident?

Look at the testimony of seaman Scarrott. He gives up to 8 minutes between the 3-strike warning on the crow's nest bell and impact on the iceberg. That would put the warning at between 11:32 and 11:35 p.m. Let us take an average of 11:34 p.m. as the basis for a mini-chronology of events.

If Murdoch took his proper time to assess the situation, and then issue an order, it would have been 11:34 p.m.

Add at least another minute for Hichens to make the turn and steady the ship on the new course which was (per Hichens' testimony) two points to the left of the original course. That makes the time 11:35 p.m.

We know that Olliver was on the compass platform and Boxhall was going out of the officers quarters when the bell warning sounded. Why were these men in those positions? The answer is the every-half-hour compass evolution required by IMM/White Star regulations, and the usual and customary practice of seamen. Every 30 minutes Titanic was steadied by standard compass and the accuracy of the steering compass checked. Tonight, however, there was the matter of the guttering oil lamps. Olliver had to trim and re-light them. Add a minute to reach 11:36 p.m.

The process of the compass evolution would probably have taken no more than 2 minutes in the hands of practiced officers like Boxhall and Moody. It would now be 11:38 p.m.

The walk from the compass platform to the forebridge has been estimated (by Camron on his movie set) at 45 seconds. Boxhall was just arriving forward at the time when Murdoch operated the engine telegraphs. That would have been about 11:39 p.m.

Impact came some seconds, perhaps up to a minute later. It was during this period of time that Fleet and Lee noted Titanic was heading straight at the "dark mass" dead ahead. We are now "in the ballpark" of 11:40 p.m. and history is about to be made

-- David G. Brown
 

George Heiss

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Hello Wayne, that is what I meant about the 'telegraph system'. From the time the order is given to the time it is actually fully carried out to completion. I didn't blame the telegphraph system alone from a mechanical point of view, but rather the whole command system in general, perhaps I should have worded it differently. As you pointed out...during the sea trials more then likely everyone was basically waiting and watching for the orders, so they ready and were at peak efficiency to carry out the orders. That night, out at open sea the situation caught everyone off guard and probably very few were at their stations in the engine room. I generalized the 'telegraph system' in my other post, because of the inherit nature of the system. The bridge has to give the order, the crew down below has to muster up and acknowlege the order, communicate this to the bridge by setting it's telegraph to the correct order position and then carry out the order. But true it is only one element of the puzzle. Then comes the time it takes to reverse a ship of that size (see below).

Mike, I was thinking that as well. If the ship was slower, it could definately affect the rudder's effectiveness as well and still not cleared the berg in time.

The thing I am sitting on right now was if the engines were still moving forward at the time or near the time of the collision. If so, then there probably was little chance of them escaping the collision.

David, thank you for your explanation above. It does open up some new things to think about. One thing though, so what you are saying is that there was as much as 8 minutes that passed from the siting of the berg to the collision? But you mentioned that Murdoch reversed the engines approximately 1 minute before the collision. So what was done in the 5 minutes after he ordered the ship to be turned? From the way it sounds as per your explanation that he had the helm turned within 1 minute of siting but then waited 5 minutes to reverse the engines??

Which brings up another point. How long did it really take to stop the engines from full bore forward, to engaging the reverse and then get back up to full speed again?

Geo
 
Mar 22, 2003
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"That night, out at open sea the situation caught everyone off guard ..."

Not quite everyone. The captain and deck officers in charge fully expected to reach the ice region. There were no real surprises here. What surprised them was that they misjudged how far in advance they could see an iceberg on a clear moonless night. They relied on three pairs of eyes only, the OOW and two guys up in the nest.

As far as reversal of engines, this point has been covered many times in various threads here.
In summary, with everyone on station awaiting maneuvers (which was not the case with Titanic) the time from when orders received to the start of the engines backing is between 10 to 20 seconds. The time until the engines would be backing hard is between 50 to 60 seconds after receiving the orders.

This data comes from trials on USS Delaware that had reciprocating engines similar to Titanic's at running at 21 knots ahead. On Olympic trials it took over 3 minutes to get the ship dead in the water from full ahead in about 3000 ft.
 
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Wayne Keen

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In "The Night Lives On", Walter Lord makes a point that most of the bergs that the Carpathia saw and avoided on the way were spotted from the bridge.

Wayne
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Even the vaunted Captain Rostron used the same "go and look" approach to the ice that night. He was successful, probably because of plain ol' dumb luck and the fact that he did not penetrate as far into the ice as he claimed.<<

I think in this case, the Carpathia being a slower ship tended to work in her favour if only because it gave them more time to react. She was still moving with her pedal to the metal, so rudder effectiveness being robbed by stomping on the brakes was not an issue. However, as David pointed out, Titanic was a much faster ship and this changed the dynamics to the extent that the Titanic found herself on the bottom of the learning curve and paying a dear price for getting it wrong.

As lessons went, it was a tough one to learn.
 
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Wayne Keen

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And probably had wireless working to get ice reports.

I remember the account in Lords book of a lookout spotting a berg from the Carpathia by the reflected light of a star.

Wayne
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>And probably had wireless working to get ice reports.<<

That particular night during the rescue operation itself, I don't think they did. There wasn't the sort of continuous real time monitoring of the ice situation that we take for granted today. A ship would go about her business, and if they saw ice, she would get the word out on the wireless if so equipped. If not, then there may be an entry in the log but it would end there.

Be that as it may, Rostron was well aware of the presence of ice. Given the route he was taking east to more southernly lattitudes, it wasn't a major concern, but he acted on that knowladge by posting the lookouts when he turned North towards the Titanic.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Granted, Rostron did a better job of being foolish than Smith. But, foolishness is still foolishness whether the perpetrator lives or dies. Rostron had no legal or moral right to take the lives entrusted to his safety into a known ice field at high speed on a dark night. Neither did E.J. Smith. One man was luckier than the other, but both did exactly the same thing on the night of April 14-15, 1912. Smith is no more guilty of being foolish because his ship sank than Rostron is less guilty because his ship did not sink.

On another thread there is a discussion of the alleged dark or non-reflective qualities of the fatal berg. If for a moment we assume that Titanic's fatal berg did present a dark, non-relfective side to the ship...and that this was a primary factor in the accident...then, it follows logically that Rostron succeeded only because he didn't happen to run over the many dark pieces of ice that he and his lookouts did not see that night.

One test of the absurdity of blaming Smith for being foolish and praising Rostron for his wisdom is to reverse the argument. Instead of starting with Smith, let's start with the statement that Rostron proved it was not foolish to steam at maximum speed into a known field of deadly (he knew Titanic's probable fate) ice. If Rostron proved that such an act was not foolish, then it follows that Captain Smith was guilty of nothing more than bad luck. If so, then all of the money spent on the International Ice Patrol was wasted because ice is only dangerous to unlucky sailors.

Obviously, the above notion drifts beyond absurdity. Foolish is always foolish no matter what the outcome.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Wayne Keen

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I understand what you are saying, but don't forget, the Carpathia was not the Titanic. It was much slower and smaller.

Much of the popular literature I have read tends to compare Rostran to Lord, action to inaction, hero to goat. It is simplistic, but then again much about the way we interpret the story is simplistic.

Wayne
 
Dec 6, 2000
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There is one BIG difference between Smith and Rostron running their ship into the area of ice that night.

Smith did not have definite data on the ice field ahead of him.

Rostron KNEW the Titanic had hit ice and went down. He knew for a fact that by heading toward the Titanic, he was heading toward a place with at least one berg in a known position just hours before.

Though I'm sure Smith was aware of ice ahead, ina general way, I am sure Rostron was quite a bit more watchful, due to the knowledge of the sinking.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Let's talk about be foolish. If by a fool it is meant "a person lacking in judgment or prudence," then in my opinion one was a fool and the other was not. Both Rostron and Smith knew what was ahead of them and the dangers that went with it. They both were taking a risk with the lives of those on board. But there is big difference between taking a risk and being a fool.

Smith was taking a risk because he didn't want to throw his schedule off if he could get away with it. Rostron was taking a risk in order to save lives.

Both expected that they should be able to to see and avoid the danger of ice that was ahead of them. It is probable that neither of them realized that on a clear moonless night the true distance that a berg could be spotted was much less than what they thought. That in itself does NOT make them fools. But Rostron took extra measures to minimize the risk by posting extra lookouts and personally staying out on the bridge himself. Smith took no such extra measures at all, leaving it to the eyes of just one OOW and the two men in the nest to keep the ship out of trouble. He also could also have diverted his ship more to the south but did not do so, again to keep to schedule in violation of his own company's Sailing Order #4 which was posted in the chart room.

Rostron increased steam pressure to get his ship to go as fast as possible in a race to save lives. Smith allowed 2 to 3 extra boilers to be put on line at 7 PM to increase the speed of his ship in a race to beat Olympic's maiden voyage crossing time.

So who is the fool here?
 
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Wayne Keen

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In a rescue situation, the Captain has to make the choice about hazarding his vessel to potentially save lives.

I have seen a program a few times in which they were interviewing Bernie Cooper from the Arthur Anderson. He discussed his reluctance to go back out into the storm to search for survivors from the Edmund Fitzgerald when the Coast Guard was asking ships at Whitefish to go out.

In the end, only the Anderson and the Ford went back out into that awful November night. They risked their lives and their ship and crew to help.

Taking that risk, for that reason does not make them fools to me - it makes them heroes. Even if, in the case of the Anderson, noone is saved.

Wayne
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Taking that risk, for that reason does not make them fools to me - it makes them heroes. Even if, in the case of the Anderson, noone is saved<<

Well, there is a crucial difference here. The crews of the Anderson and the Ford knew what they were getting into and understood the risks when they signed on. None of the passengers on the Carpathia or the Titanic did. All they wanted to do was get to the other side of the ocean in safety and reasonable comfort. I won't argue whether or not either Smith or Rostron were fools in the gambles they took since everybody else has already covered the pros and cons of that one. However, there's no real question that both took risks that the passengers didn't sign on for.

Make of that what you will.
 

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