Californian and Titanic and the use of Running Lights


Dec 2, 2000
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Posting on the thread regarding the lookouts seeing the Californian brought up another question.

What about running lights?

Okay, I am not a navigator or any sort of seaman, but isn't there some sort of rule about a stopped ship showing two red lights mid ships when stopped? And turning the running lights off because it is no longer running and turning on emergency lights when stopped?

If so, neither of these ships were running, so technically neither should have had a green light showing and should have had two red lights mid ship, one on top of the other so they could be seen from any angle to indicate that the ship was indeed stopped...right?

Anyone know why the green running lights were still lighted (if they still were)if these ships were stopped and why the red emergency lights were not lighted?

And if the running lights were extinguished then with all the references to green lights... who did the green lights belong to?

People have shown the engines to have been in specific positions, wonder if there is a running lights switch somewhere that could be looked into to see if the switch was on or off. Emergency lights on or off.

Any thoughts?

Maureen.
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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There are two rules which apply here.

Rule 23 under the International "Rules of the Road" requires the a vessel underway exhibit the two stern lights and side lights while underway.

Rule 27 under the International "Rules of the Road" requires the following:

1: "Two all round red lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen."

The day shapes which don't apply here are also listed.

This rule applies for vessels "Not Under Command" or "Restricted in their ability to Maneuver".

The later would apply to the Californian and the first to the Titanic.

These rules are fairly modern and I doubt they existed in there current form in 1912. If memory serves Titanic did not have the now required light configuartion because at the time it was not law. Only the masthead lights and running lights where a requirement.

Now a strong argument could be made that section B of Rule 27 (which also involves rule 30) applies to Californian that she was underway but not under power and was therefore required to show the masthead light and side lights in addtion to the other proper lights.

Once Titanic was damaged and the vessels commander ordered the vessel to be abandoned the ship was no longer under command and was restriced in the vessels ability to maneuver.

My basic answer is this law didn't exist in Titanic's day and therefore has no importance in the disaster.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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I think there is confusion between the concepts of "under way," "making way," and "not under command."

All vessels are under way when not made fast to shore, at anchor, or aground. As such, they must display running lights-- Masthead, sidelights, and sternlight.

A vessel that is "underway" may be either "making way," meaning that it is moving under its own propulsion, or "not making way," meaning that it is drifting. No change in the running lights is called for when transitioning from "making way" to "not making way." The only difference is a change in the fog signals.

Finally, there is the category of "not under command." This pertains to vessels which for some mechanical reason cannot comply with the Rules of the Road with specific regard to maneuvering to avoid collision with another vessel. When a ship becomes "not under command," it douses its masthead lights and replaces them with two all-round red lights. (Remember the memory aid, "Red over red, the captain is dead--not under command.")

To split nautical hairs, Californian was always "under way" but "not making way." As such it should have displayed sidelights, masthead, and stern light. I believe this ship also showed the optional second masthead light.

Titanic would probably have qualified as "not under command" as it sank. Technically, however, it remained just a powerdriven vessel "under way" but "not making way" unless it claimed that higher status of "not under command."

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Quoted from "The Regulations For Preventing Collisions At Sea," as printed in Nicholls's Seamanship and Viva Voce Guide, 4th Edition, London, August 1910 (in effect until superceded in June 1912):

(edited to include only those passages germaine to this discussion)

<font color="#000066">Lights For Steam Vessels

Art. 2. A steam vessel when under way shall carry --

(a.) On or in front of the foremast..., at a height above the hull of not less than 20 feet, and if the breadth of the vessel exceeds 20 feet, then at a height above the hull not less than such breadth, so, however, that the light need not be carried at a greater height above the hull than 40 feet, a bright white light, so constructed as to show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 20 points of the compass, so fixed as to throw the light 10 points on each side of the vessel, viz., from right ahead to 2 points abaft the beam on either side, and of such a character as to be visible at a distance of at least 5 miles.

(b.) On the starboard side a green light so constructed as to show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 10 points of the compass, so fixed as to throw the light from right ahead to 2 points abaft the beam on the starboard side, and of such a character as to be visible at a distance of at least 2 miles.

(c.) On the port side a red light so constructed as to show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 10 points of the compass, so fixed as to throw the light from right ahead to 2 points abaft the beam on the port side, and of such a character as to be visible at a distance of at least 2 miles.

(d.) The said green and red side lights shall be fitted with inboard screens projecting at least 3 feet forward from the light, so as to prevent these lights from being seen across the bow.

(e.) A steam vessel when under way may carry an additional white light similar in construction to the light mentioned in subdivision (a). These two lights shall be so placed in line with the keel that one shall be at least 15 feet higher than the other, and in such a position with reference to each other that the lower light shall be forward of the upper one. The vertical distance between these two lights shall be less than the horizontal distance.

Lights for Vessels Not Under Command

Art. 4

(a.) A vessel which from any accident is not under command, shall carry at the same height as the white light mentioned in Article 2 (a), where they can best be seen, and, if a steam vessel, in lieu of that light, two red lights, in a vertical line one over the other, not less than 6 feet apart, and of such a character as to be visible all round the horizon at a distance of at least 2 miles.


Notice that there is no provision in the Rules for a stern light for steam vessels. The only place where such a light can be found in the 1910 rules is:

<font color="#000066">Art. 10. A vessel which is being overtaken by another shall show from her stern to such last-mentioned vessel a white light or a flare-up light. The white light required to be shown by this Article may be fixed and carried in a lantern, but in such case the lantern shall be so constructed, fitted, and screened that it shall throw an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 12 points of the compass, viz., for 6 points from right aft on each side of the vessel, so as to be visible at a distance of at least 1 mile. Such light shall be carried as nearly as practicable on the same level as the side lights.

Anyone schooled in the Rules understands the significance of and the difference between the specific words "shall" and "may;" therefore, I have emphasised them for ease of understanding. In Article 2 (e), above, the "shall"s in that paragraph are to be observed if the optional additional light is employed (the "shall"s follow the "may").

Nicholls's Guide was the prescribed study guide "for each grade of the Board of Trade Examinations from Second Mate to Master."

Parks
 
Mar 3, 1998
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I do not mean to imply that since the Rules don't specify a stern light for steam vessels underway, that Titanic did not carry one. The photographic record seems to indicate that Titanic did, in fact, carry a stern light. Whether or not the light was illuminated during normal steaming at night is unknown. Likewise, the photographic record also shows that Titanic did not carry a second masthead light on her mainmast.

Parks
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Thanks so much Erik, David and Parks!

Parks, you provided 1912 information.

"Lights for Vessels Not Under Command Art. 4
(a.) A vessel which from any accident is not under command, shall carry at the same height as the white light mentioned in Article 2 (a), where they can best be seen, and, if a steam vessel, in lieu of that light, two red lights, in a vertical line one over the other, not less than 6 feet apart, and of such a character as to be visible all round the horizon at a distance of at least 2 miles"

Were Californian and Titanic to your knowledge, outfitted with these two red lights?

If they were, why weren't these lights used?

It says "Shall", why weren't they used?

And for David, I may have to read this a few times. What I see here is that I can be in a totally disabled ship floating without the ability to control it, but as long as I the captain am alive my ship is not "Not under Command" because I am not dead. Is this true?

Erik thanks for your response as well. Do you have any new view taking what Parks has posted?

Maureen.
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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Yes I do have a response from what Park's posted. But before I reply I must take the time to use both hands to forcefully remove my foot from my mouth.

My quotations where correct however, I didn't have the knowledge that Parks does and I thank him for pointing out my mistake. I still don't think the use of the sidelights and what we think to be the lack of red lights as prescribed had any effect on the outcome of the disaster. Especially considering there is enough evidence to suggest that Californian was far enough way that those lights may have been obsecured and not seen properly.

The term not under command, has nothing to do with the ships named commander, it has to do with whether the ship can maneuver. If the ship has lost power, has engine problems or rudder problems and the crew of the ship can not control the direction or speed with which the ship is traveling then the ship is not under command. There are about 327 pages worth of examples.

My view is that once Captain Smith ordered his ship to be abandoned the ship was no longer under command from a rules of navigation point of view, at best rule 27 would apply (section (b)). Once the ball was put in motion, work on deck and the safety of lowering boats took precedence over the ships maneuvering.

However, at night I would want every light that I had available burning so that help could see me if help was needed.

To be honest I don't think anyone anywhere testified to the changing of lights on the ship to suit the situation. After all I think the focus was on abandonment. This brings up another question:

Do ships always show the proper lights and day shapes when "Not Under Command"???
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Do ships always show the proper lights and day shapes when "Not Under Command"???<<

I would hope so, but in a crisis, they might have other things on their mind. I'm not aware of any testimony pointing to a change in the lights. That might just explain some of the confusion that appears to be evident from the Californian's standpoint.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Oooppss...my "captain is dead" rhyme is to help would-be captains remember the lights. "Not under command" within the Rules has nothing to do with the health of the master. It strictly refers to a ship which for any reason cannot maneuver as required to avoid collision.

Strange as it may seem, under the rules a sinking power driven vessel is still required to maneuver to avoid collision under the rules--unless that foundering ship identifies itself as "not under command." I've not seen any cases reported in which this technicality became an issue.

I do not recall that Titanic was rigged with electric lights for the "red over red" display required of a vessel not under command. In that day it may still have been deemed sufficient to have a couple of red oil lanterns stowed away against such a necessity.

Erik mentioned dayshapes. For those not familiar with this type of signal, dayshapes are silhouettes of balls, cones, diamonds, and cylinders. Used singly or in combination they can indicate the status of a ship. For instance one black ball indicates at anchor. Two balls in a vertical hoist indicate not under command. Three in a vertical line say the ship is aground. Because they are black, day shapes have no signficance after dark.

-- David G. Brown
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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"Were Californian and Titanic to your knowledge, outfitted with these two red lights?

If they were, why weren't these lights used?"


I think you'll find this is already coverered by inter alia Parks Stephenson above but I'll repeat:

Californian in her particular situation was NOT 'not under command'.

All ships were "fitted" in the sense that a QM would have to be deployed to assemble the requisite lanterns or shapes and send them up the signal halyards. This would take some time.

I was once in a ship which broke down so frequently that the day and night signals were permanently assembled and held in readiness on the monkey island as a mute indictment of her engineers! But this is the exception.

In modern ships a variety of night signals can be achieved virtually instantaneously by doing a permutation on a permanently installed array of available signal lights.

Noel
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Agreed. Californian was under command. An underway watch was maintained on the bridge and in the engine room, even if the ship itself was drifting. As pointed out above, Californian was properly showing her underway lights.

Was Titanic "not under command" when her watchstanders were relieved to launch the lifeboats? No, she was "sinking" (I say in half-jest). Therefore, the proper lights to be shown were distress signals.

In the "viva-voce" portion of the Nicholls's Guide, sample questions are given to prepare the candidate for the verbal portion of the BOT examination. Here are a couple that might help with this discussion:

<font color="#000066">Q. When is a vessel said to be underway?
Ans. When she is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground.

Q. Would you regard these lights [for a vessel not under command] as signals of distress?
Ans. No, They must be regarded as signals that the vessel showing them is not under command, and is therefore unable to get out of the way.


Parks
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Parks, Erik, Mike, David, and Noel. thanks for all the information. David...glad that the poem does not mean that the Captain is dead (SMILE).

I am still taking all of what has been posted here in.

I think that I can understand that things could be forgotten in the heat of the moment, but many of these guys were seasoned sea going guys. I'm having a hard time understanding why any officer on a ship would not think about the oncoming traffic and put up red lights that would keep oncoming ships from hitting them by accident.

Like driving a car, if my car is suddenly stopped on a sparsely driven road with little lighting, even I would place emergency lights on. But to say that a limo driver, race car driver or taxi driver would forget them if their car stalled in the roadway is really hard to imagine.

And yes it may be a mute point at the distance between the Californian and Titanic, but if the folks on californian saw a ship with a green light that looked like it was in between the Californian and a further ship that seemed to be sending off signals, I think it is worth pursuing this.

And if rocket signals would replace the red lights, should the running lights still have been shut off to avoid the confusion?

Just dealing with the red lights and running lights and whther the rockets, distress signals would have replaced them in an emergency and if the running lights should have been shut off. Any thoughts?

Maureen.
 

Ian Walker

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Jun 14, 2009
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Does anyone know how many Masthead Navigation Lights the 'Californian'carried.
Nothing to do with Side Lights (Red and Green)- purely masthead lights.
If anyone has an answer can I kindly ask the source of their information.
Thank you.
Ian
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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Groves also mentioned that the two lights were 70 feet apart (horizontally), I think, which means they were on the two foreward masts.
 

Jim Currie

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For those who are interested:

The vertical separation between these lights would be not less than 15 feet and the horizontal distance at least thee times that. The forward one would be the lower of the two.
Thus at a distance at night; an observer would have a good idea of the direction in which the ship showing the lights was heading .
In the case of Californian; it would seem that the vertical separation between her two mast lights was close to 25 feet.

Titanic's masts were about 600 feet apart. This distance was too great to make the fitting of a second white light on the main mast practical. If the above formula was to be used, the vertical separation of such lights would need to have been in the region of 200 feet.
Since the one on the foremast was above the crows nest, the second on the main mast - a second light might have to have been mounted on the first funnel which would be impractical.

The separation formula is not strictly arbitrary.
For two masthead lights to perform in a satisfactory manner - i.e. show direction of travel - the separation must be obvious to an observer from another vessel. Such lights could not be fitted on Titanic's mast and obey the formula therefore they would have appeared to be almost in a straight line as seen by a distant observer. Perhaps the following sketch illustrates what I mean:




You have to imagine that there would have been complete darkness and the ship would be invisible - just did it this way to show position of the lights on the ship.

I have made the lights bigger for clarity.
In Sketch A, I show where a second light would need to be to obey the formula.

In Sketch B, I show a light mounted on the mainmast. Observe how they seem almost to be in a straight line.

By the way - not to scale!
 
Mar 22, 2003
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A second masthead light was later fitted onto Olympic and to Britannic, Titanic's sister ships. For those that have a copy of Simon Mill's "Hostage to Fortune," you can see this in the H&W rigging plans at the back of the book. The 2nd masthead light was fitted just a few feet under where the wireless antenna connected to the mast. There was also a ladder running up the mast on the starboard side to enable the light to be maintained. The position of the masthead light on the foremast was the same as on the original Olympic plan and on Titanic.