Board of Trade and Lifeboats


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Bill DeSena

Guest
Hi Mates,

I was looking through an old copy of Janes Merchant Vessels 1911, I think it was the other day and happened to notice that most passenger liners didn't seem to carry enough lifeboats back then for the passengers compliment they could carry.

I thought that was interesting and was wondering if any other company besides White Star came under attack for not enough lifeboats. How long did it take for the rest of the industry to privide ample boats and did they ever fully comply? Was any agency other than the Board of Trade overseeing compliance?

The researchers on the board will probably have an answer to my my questions so thanks in advance.

Cheers
Bill
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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Actually, Bill, many ships' architects may have been concerned with adding more lifeboats as the size of boats increased. Thomas Andrews and his boss took advantage of the new Welin davits to design Titanic to carry up to 64 lifeboats, but were voted down in a brief meeting. However, Titanic did indeed carry more lifeboats than legally required. Still, even with this added "safety measure" there was not enough time to execute all the boats. (This was also true in the case of the Lusitania.) As a direct result of the inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic following the Titanic disaster (probably highlighted by the fact that so many wealthy and powerful men of industry and finance were lost) several measures went into law, including adding enough lifeboats to carry every person aboard a ship, the creation of the ice patrol and I believe the Coast Guard as well. All of Titanic's recovered lifeboats were loaded onto other WSL ships and the Olympic had to be refitted immediately for extra lifeboats. Brittanic was outfitted with lifeboats for everyone aboard which greatly reduced the number of lives lost when that ship was fatally damaged. In addition, captains had to study how to better control the large ships in emergencies and to prevent emergencies.

All the best,
Kyrila
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The lifeboat question has never been as simple as the public perceives it to be. Just putting lifeboats on a passenger liner does not automatically insure 100% survival of passengers and crew. This was a well-known and accepted fact in 1912. We have become considerably less knowledgable over the years since. Sadly, most of today's public believes that if there are enough lifeboats, everyone will survive a major casualty at sea. Life is not that forgiving.

Titanic was probably the only time in recorded history in which a major passenger vessl sank in dead calm water. And, to my knowledge, it is the only passenger liner that remained bolt upright (or nearly so) during the entire time of foundering. The reality--known in 1912 and accepted as such--was that in an emergency it is unlikely that more than half of the lifeboats in conventional davits will be useful. For proof, look at photos of Andrea Doria sinking with all of its port side boats still in their stowed positions.

As I pointed out in "Last Log," the crew of Titanic did a fantastic job of launching boats in the dark with great rapidity. Even so, they did not have enough time to launch all 24 lifeboats available. Two of the collapsibles floated free. Additional boats, had they been carried, would not have been launched simply because Titanic would have foundered before those boats could have been rigged and swung out for loading.

The 100% lifeboat requirement was (and is) mostly a sop to the passengers. It's feel good stuff designed to calm the fears of the faint at heart. The truth of the matter in 1912 is the same as in 2002 -- death is certain when a major ship sinks. Lifeboats do not assure that everyone has a front-row seat to the foundering.

Lifeboats have only been successful in saving large numbers of lives when the boats have been used as transfer craft, moving people from the foundering vessel to the rescue ship (or ships). Requirements for 100% lifeboat capacity increase safety only in-so-far as the increased number of boats means that a larger number of lifeboats will be available for transferring people. In any maritime casualty, it must be assumed that some large percentage of conventional lifeboats will be rendered useless.

Of far more concern to the public should be the subdivision and stability of the passenger vessel. And, just as in Titanic's case, both are sacrificed on the altar of public convenience. We know that no ship can be 100% unsinkable. That is not the goal of subdivision. Rather, the purpose is to delay foundering long enough for the rescue of the passengers and crew. The design of Andrea Doria allowed for that eventuality--the ship sank, but slowly enough for nearly everyone to be rescued. Titanic, failed in this vital aspect of safety.

Why the focus on lifeboats? Because they are a quick, cheap "fix." Adding higher bulkheads is time consuming and expensive. Also, the public does not want to go up and down ladders (marine stairways) when moving about the ship. Adding boats made the public feel better after Titanic, but it did not materially improve the safety of passengers.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Bill DeSena

Guest
Thanks to both of you for answering in your own way my questions with this thread,...but, if you read the original post I was asking something quite different.

Being a former navy man myself I am to familiar with the perils of the sea. I am aware that quantity of boats isn't a guarantee of having "a front row seat to the foundering," (I like that line :)). The question was what agency enforced those increase the number of boats, and did any of the other lines get censured for not having enough boats to load all hands regardless of practicality.

I'm interested because it would appear as though the german liners were just as lacking in this respect as the british and made the most noise against there rivals in scoring public opinion hits after the sinking.

Lusitania was torpedoed which caused her to sink in 14 minutes? and Britannic hit a mine, not exactly the best comparison to a steamer running over an iceberg in flat calm.

Cheers
Bill
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The British Board of Trade both promulgated and enforced lifeboat regulations in 1912. Titanic exceeded the then-existing requirements. In other words, it had "excess capacity" in its lifeboats.

I believe the Germans had just issued 100% carriage rules and the Americans were either about to do the same or had made such a ruling. It was expected that the British Board of Trade would follow suite shortly. For that reason, the Welin davits on Olympic and Titanic were capable of handling more than one lifeboat. Ads placed by the Welin Davit Company point out this aspect of the chosen equipment.

--David G. Brown
 
Sep 20, 2000
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The British Board of Trade both promulgated and enforced lifeboat regulations in 1912. Titanic exceeded the then-existing requirements. In other words, it had "excess capacity" in its lifeboats.

Of course it's crucial to note here that the Board of Trade's regulations were woefully inadequate to the state of the art in 1912, effectively covering ships only up to around 10,000 tons! So to suggest that the Titanic, at about 45,000 tons, had "excess capacity" in lifeboats because it exceeded those hopelessly antiquated regulations is a massive oversimplification.

From the British Report, p. 48:

"... Under this (Merchant Shipping) Act (1894), a table showing the minimum number of boats to be placed under davits and their minimum cubic contents was issued by the Board. ... This table was based on the gross tonnage of the vessels to which it was to apply, and not upon the numbers carried, and provided that the number of boats and their capacity should increase as the tonnage increased. The table, however, stopped short at the point were the gross tonnage of the vessels reached “10,000 and upwards.”￾ As to all such vessels, whatever their size might be, the minimum number of boats under davits was fixed by the table at 16, with a total minimum capacity of 5,500 cubic feet.

"But as regarded emigrant steamships there was a rule which provided that if the boats under davits required by the table did not furnish sufficient accommodation for all on board, then additional boats of approved description (whether under davits or not) or approved life rafts should be carried, and that these additional boats or rafts should be of at least such carrying capacity that they and the boats required by the table should provide together in vessels of 5,000 tons and upwards three-fourths more than the minimum cubic contents required by the table, so that in the case of an emigrant ship such as the Titanic the requirements under the rules and table together exacted a provision of 9,625 cubic feet of lifeboat and raft accommodation (5,500 feet in boats under davits with three-fourths, namely, 4,125, added). Taken at 10 cubic feet per person, this would be equivalent to a provision for 962 persons. No doubt at the time these rules were made and this table was drawn up it was thought that, having regard to the size of vessels then built and building, it was unnecessary to carry the table further. The largest emigrant steamer than afloat was the Lucania, of 12,952 tons." (emphasis mine)

On page 18 of that report, it's noted that Titanic's volume capacity, as represented by its 20 lifeboats, was "a total of 11327.9 cubic ft. for 1,178 persons." The surplus cubic footage is actually just shy of 18% over what the law required. The *human* capacity of the 2 emergency boats and 4 Englehardt collapsibles, however, was based on only 8 cubic feet per person, not 10, which is why the total survivor occupancy stated escalates to 22% above "required".

(In essence, the Titanic only marginally exceeded its legally mandated requirement with its 16 wooden boats. The 4 Englehardt collapsibles were the only true "excess" -- 376.6 cubic feet each, designed to hold 47 persons each, and two of them stowed in a hopelessly impractical location.)

So, Titanic did surpass its "legal" obligation -- according to those outdated regulations -- by roughly 20%. But the ship itself exceeded the tonnage of the Lucania by about 300%! In spite of the fact that Titanic was almost *4 times* the "size" of the largest steamer known in 1894, it was under no obligation to provide any greater lifeboat capacity. (Had that table been periodically updated in the spirit of the law, it's pretty easy to see that Titanic's expected capacity would have been about 64 boats based on tonnage; instead she carried just twenty. It may have been the existing law, but the short-sightedness of those 1894 requirements was a tragedy.)

"Lifeboats for all" may not INSURE safety at sea, but there's certainly no better way to GUARANTEE a tragically unnecessary death toll under *optimal* circumstances than to provide LESS than sufficient lifeboats. Even if half the boats *might* be rendered unusable if a ship lists while sinking, that still leaves at least lifeboats for *half* -- maybe enough in a transfer situation. (One thing's for sure -- that particular contingency would never make a convincing argument for FEWER lifeboats.) ;^)

Cheers,
John
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Funny you should mention that half capacity left over for transfer as that was exactly what happened with the Andrea Doria! The ship took on a 22 degree list to starboard almost at once rendering the lifeboats on the port side useless. Further, loading the usable lifeboats was a dangerous process.

The boats that ended up being used to transfer the passengers and crew were the boats that the Andrea Doria managed to launch, and whatever other ships brought to the party. Notably the Ile De France.

It still took four and a half hours to get the job done.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Hi John,

If I have read and understood what you quote from the Regulations, then Titanic only needed to have 16 boats capable of taking 550 persons (that is an average of only 34.375 persons per boat); with additional raft accommodation for a further 412 persons. If that is so then Titanic far exceeded what she needed to carry by way of lifeboats. It is just that her wooden (or davited) lifeboat capacity was only 28 above what she was required for her total lifeboat and raft capacity?

Lester
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Lester:

I'm afraid I'm not following you. OK, Titanic was required by those outdated BOT regs to have a minimum 16 boats under davits with a minimum 5500 cubic feet total capacity, *plus* an additional 75% (since she was an emigrant steamer for whom those 16 boats did not provide full accomodation for all persons).

The Mersey Report stipulated that the "magic number" for Titanic was thus 9625 cubic feet. She marginally exceeded this with the wooden boats under davits -- (14 X 655.2) + 326.6 + 322.1 = 9821.5 total cubic feet in those 16 boats. That's only 2% above the requirement -- pretty marginal, right?

The Englehardts were 376.6 cubic feet apiece, so that provided an excess of 1506.4 cubic feet in the Collapsible boats (in addition to the 196.5 cubic feet slight excess already found in the wooden boats). So the total cubic footage in boats and collapsibles was 11327.9 cubic feet, as specified in the British Report. This translates to 17.6% over the legally required capacity in boats and rafts -- room for 1133 people by the BOT's 10-cubic foot method, although Titanic's numbers cited room for 1178 via the "design" capacity of the cutters and collapsibles. (But it appears that the "designed for" capacity has no bearing on satisfying the Board of Trade regulations, which require so many cubic feet, plain and simple. Thus Titanic only actually had *20* person's worth of cubic foot excess in the wooden boats according to the BOT's standards, though she also carried the four Englehardt collapsibles.)

So I'm not sure where we might disagree. When I say that 18% extra space (above the BOT's rules) is really not much, it's because the Titanic was about four times the size of the BOT's table cut-off. Even Mersey's report pointed out that the *intention* of the law was to have that requirement increase proportional to increasing size. (Yes, legally they were within the guidelines, but the guidelines themselves were totally inadequate for a ship of that size.)

Cheers,
John
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Hopefully this is somewhat relevant to Bill's question, although it doesn't answer his query about compliance with the regulations.

The Merchant Shipping Act, Sections 427-431 dealt with Life-Saving Appliances. My copy of the 1913 Shipmaster's Handbook to the Merchant Shipping Acts contains the following:

Originally sections 427-431 applied only to British ships, but by section 4 of Act of 1906 they apply to all foreign ships while they are within any port in the United Kingdom. Compliance with Foreign Rules is sufficient if they have been recognised by Order in Council as being as effective as ours.

The Rules now in force under the Act are given below. They are they outcome of the Parliamentary discussions and of the inquiries by Committees following upon the Titanic disaster. They came into operation on the 1st March 1913, but such requirements as involve structural alterations to the ship are postponed until 1st November, 1913 or later (see General Rule 15). In connection with the application of the Rules of the Board of Trade take various dispensing powers.


For the purposes of the Rules laid out under the legislation, vessels were divided into either Foreign-Going or Home Trade, and were further broken down into classes within these groups. All foreign-going passenger steamers were required to carry lifeboats sufficient to accommodate the total number of persons carried, or which the ship was certified to carry, and a lifejacket for every person on board. Davits were not to be fitted in the bows, but stowage of boats in the after-part of the ship was allowed, providing the boats were not brought into potentially dangerous proximity to a propellor when lowered.

There was a provision for the BoT to accept any life-saving appliance in lieu of those required by the Rules, subject to conditions they imposed, if they were satisfied that it would be as effective as the appliance required by the Rules.

Apologies for brevity - later for work as per usual!

~ Inger
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Hi John,

In your initial post you said: "The table, however, stopped short at the point were the gross tonnage of the vessels reached “10,000 and upwards.”￾ As to all such vessels, whatever their size might be, the minimum number of boats under davits was fixed by the table at 16, with a total minimum capacity of 5,500 cubic feet."

You also said: "....Titanic the requirements under the rules and table together exacted a provision of 9,625 cubic feet of lifeboat and raft accommodation (5,500 feet in boats under davits with three-fourths, namely, 4,125, added)."

I am reading that as 16 davited boats for 550; plus rafts for a further 412; making a total with boats and rafts of 962.

Are you in fact saying that the Regulations required 16 davited boats for 962?

If the 16 boats were only required to carry 550 persons then at an average of of only 34.375 persons each they would have been very small.

Was the extra 75% required as davited lifeboats or as rafts?

Lester
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Lester:

Actually, most of that was a 2-paragraph excerpt straight from the British Report. But I think I understand what you're saying.

My reading of that piece suggests that anything above the basic minimum of 16 boats (supplying a minimum of 5500 cubic feet) under davits -- to bring Titanic up to *her* required 9652 cubic feet -- could be accomplished by employing larger boats, additional boats, or rafts -- whatever would bring the total minimum capacity to 9652 cubic feet. As it stands, the Titanic slightly exceeded that "quota" with those 16 large boats under davits alone, then threw in the 4 collapsibles as well.

Still, not a major excess for a 45,000+ ton ship! True?

Cheers,
John
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Hi John,

My thanks for your added thoughts as to how the extra 412 could have been provided for. I note that you accept that the 412 could have been by way of rafts. So Titanic could have sailed with boats for only 550 plus rafts for an additional 412.

If so then Titanic's 16 davited boats were well above her legal davited quota. That is the point I was making.

Regards,
Lester
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The great irony of Titanic is that the ship had both "excess" capacity and not enough lifeboats. That irony was compounded by the conditions that night -- calm seas and an upright ship. Had Titanic gone down on a typical North Atlantic night, the question of lifeboat capacity would probably never have arisen.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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A Captain once told me that lifeboats where not meant to save anyone (In a general sense not related to Titanic). But rather to give comfort and should the need arise to actully use them they become a temporary haven.

I have never understood that frame of mind. But I like what Dave had to say about Irony that is a really good point.

Erik
 

Mark Ling

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Apr 12, 2005
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Question: There has been much criticism of outdated B.O.T regulations concerning provision of lifeboats on the Titanic. Although the 1894 act is now (in hindsight) regarded as woefully inadequate it is only fair to compare it with other shipping bodies of the day. Does anyone know what US provisions covered ships is US waters prior to the Titanic disaster ? Were US requirements any more stringent than the British ?
 
Dec 4, 2000
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During the years prior to WW-I the maritime nations were all moving toward 100% capacity for lifeboat carriage. These requirements had to be matched with the ability of ships to carry a full complement of boats. The smaller ships of the previous era really did not have enough open deck space to make that possible.

The movement toward 100% coverage is what motivated the 64 boat concept for the Olympic class of ships. I believe the Germans were pushing this issue the hardest, although U.S. regulations were changing along with the rest of the world.

I have always been struck by the falseness of this issue, however. The existance of 100% seating in the lifeboats does not insure suvival of everyone aboard. The formula for safety at sea is much more complex than that.

As far as I can determine, Titanic is the single example of a passenger ship that sank with decks level. It was probably the only time in history when lifeboats could be launched from both sides simultaneously. The Andrea Doria sinking is a more typical event. In that case, half of the lifeboats were rendered useless by the cant of the decks. Given the testimony that Titanic was "lolling" as it foundered (listing from side to side), it is highly probable that carrying sufficient lifeboats would have raised the center of gravity sufficiently to have caused a permanent list early in the evening. In other words, the weight of those extra boats might have created a situation in which they could not have been used, anyway.

And, it is conveniently overlooked that from the moment when launching boats became necessary until the moment when it became impossible was not long enough to launch the 24 boats the ship carried. If it had carried more boats, they could not have been filled and launched properly. This is not to say that some people might not have used the un-launched boats to survive--just to point out that more lifeboats was not the answer to saving everyone aboard Titanic.

The only way to save everyone on any passenger ship is to not let it sink. That's the key, not lifeboats.

White Star and the British Board of Trade had an embarassing situation on their hands. They had lost the world's largest ship...not to mention some 1,500 irreplaceable souls. They needed an issue to divert public attention from the real problems behind Titanic's foundering. For instance the lack of lookout, the speed, and the fact that the ship was already well into the ice when it struck. Why wasn't the conduct of the voyage changed at 10:00 p.m. instead of after the accident? Or, what was wrong with the design of the ship that allowed damage to the bow to ultimately claim the whole ship? These issues go to the heart of the matter, but public attention was easily diverted by the lifeboat issue. It was a diversion that worked so well that the lack of lifeboats has become almost the only safety issue ever discussed.

I find it curious that even today, 90 years after the tragedy, there is a refusal to look at the failings in design that led to the sinking. Why didn't the double bottom protect the bilge forward of bulkhead D? Why wasn't there an automatic watertight door in the firemen's tunnel in way of bulkhead C? Why did the firemen's stairway pierce bulkhead B?

There are more curiosities: Why was the ship still making 22+ knots more than an hour after it encountered ice? Why was it necessary to compare the compasses at 11:30 p.m. while the ship was in danger from ice? Where were the extra lookouts? These are hard questions, the answers to which will seriously embarass Captain Smith, First Officer Murdoch and every other professional mariner. Conditions on the bridge were pretty slack that night. Why?

Concern over saving lives AFTER an accident is always the poorest way to go about the job of safety. From the moment Titanic first touched on the ice people were going to die that night--even with 100% lifeboat seating. Prevention is always the way to go. My motto "Dull voyages are good voyages." When things get exciting at sea, the captain and crew have screwed up.

Lifeboats? Yeah, there should have been more on Titanic, but that should not be a major topic of discussion. The real question should be, "Why did the accident happen in the first place?"

-- David G. Brown
 

Mark Ling

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Apr 12, 2005
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David, I agree that prevention is always the best cure. Man made disasters usually occur when technological advancements exceed the relative pace of safety. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so I am keen to know whether the B.O.T safety was any less stringent than other shipping nations at that time.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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To add to David's comments, can anyone show me even one example of a casualty at sea involving a liner where the ship actually sank on a more or less even keel? There's probably one out there, but I have yet to hear of it.

Lifeboats are nice, but their only as useful as a given situation allows. (The boats on the Atlantic might as well have not even been there for all the good they did.)

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Pat Cook

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Apr 27, 2000
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This won't add to anything - just wanted to welcome Mark to the list!

Splendid chap! We had a grand time together, eh, in Southampton!

Warmest regards,
Cook
 

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