Charles Joughin Hypothermia Survival


Thomas Nuckton

Greetings from San Francisco,

I am a critical care physician with research interests in immersion hypothermia. I have long been impressed by the remarkable story of Charles Joughin, Titanic's chief baker. Reportedly, he survived over 3 hours in the sub-zero water.

Some accounts have reported that Mr. Joughin was drinking that night. However, contrary to popular belief, alcohol offers little to no protection against hypothermia.

I have always imagined that Mr. Joughin was obese - perhaps a stereotype of bakers, but also because an increase in % fat clearly protects against hypothermia.

Recently I saw a photo of Mr. Joughin - the same photo that appears on the ET biography. Remarkably, he appears to be thin - although this was likely taken after the sinking(he may have lost weight) and is only a "head shot".

Does anyone know of an account of Mr. Joughin's ordeal that mentions his size the night of the sinking? Knowledge of photos prior to the sinking would also be helpful as he may have lost weight after the ordeal.


Charles Joughin was a small man. He stood 5 feet, 4 inches in height and weighed 155 pounds--so for that height might have been slightly chunky but not very. He remained about that size in his later years and the last photo I have of him (taken just after his second wife died in 1943) shows him to be just an older version of the photo that is on the bio on this site. By then he had gray hair on top (still a full head of it) and no moustache and was wrinkling perceptably--but the outstanding feature would be the eyebrows, still thick and dark (his eyes were brown).

As for his avoiding hypothermia, my opinion (and take it as just that)--is that he was not in the water nearly as long as he claimed. It sounded quite heroic to have survived that long in the water when all others died but I suspect he climbed atop Collapsible B not long after Thayer, Gracie, etc. If that is true, it negates a good story--but I suspect a story is all there is to it.

Thanks for your private e-mail--will answer that separately.

Phil Gowan
I always found that detail about him standing on the fantail (and don't some accounts say he checked his watch?) and riding it into the water without getting his head wet to be beyond far-fetched.

Mr Gowan, perhaps you know- did that whole account first surface in A Night To Remember, or did Mr. Joughin make those rather fantastic claims earlier?

I know you are directing the question to Phil but let me jump in and say that Walter Lord did not create that story. It was well known well before. I have no idea whether Joughin gave interviews but I expect he must have.

I know that the baker's story was recounted at length in Lucy Duff Gordon's memoirs which were published in 1932. See pages 181-182 of the US edition of her book; the English edition was printed in a different type and size. She indicates it was a tale going round the Carpathia.

I too cannot imagine his being in the water more than 3 hours. But I do believe he was on the fantail and sank with the ship.

Btw, Lucile's version puts Joughin's time in the water at only "over an hour" so, since she's drawing on her memory of hearing the story when it was fresh, this may be a crucial point. Perhaps Joughin guilded the tale over the years?

He surely wouldn't have been alone when it came to embroidered stories about Titanic.

To all,

Joughin's description of his survival comes right from his testimony at the British Inquiry in 1912. In fact, when Walter Lord used a large portion of Joughin's recollections in ANTR, Joughin wrote to him and thanked him for telling his story so accurately. I've seen the letter, and Mr. Joughin was fascinated by Lord's detective work in tracking down his story. Joughin apparently didn't realize that Walter used portions of the British Inquiry in his book. He probably didn't even think those records were available to the general public. Walter gladly wrote back and informed him.

Joughin didn't give many interviews about the Titanic in his later years. He did speak to his family about it though, and when his step granddaughter asked him how cold the water was, he replied, "My dear I was swimming with the polar bears that night."

Joughin may have doctored his story to a degree, but I do believe him for the most part. I believe he stepped off the Titanic's stern as he described since others testified that there was no suction at all during the ship's final plunge.

One disappointing point about Joughin's recollections: he doesn't go into any detail concerning the ship breaking in two. I always believed he would have been one of the key eyewitnesses to this dramatic event. Standing on the stern, Joughin would have had a clear view of the ship breaking up under his feet. He does not say anything about it during the British Inquiry but he apparently confirmed this with his family many years later.


Mike Findlay

P.S. Many have asked me what the correct pronunciation of Joughin's last name is. For the record, it is "Jockin" not "Joffin" or "Joggin" as some others have claimed.
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6080. Then you were in the water for a long, long time? - I should say over two, hours,Sir. (Brit Inq)

I would like to thank all for their thoughts on Mr. Joughin. Having done research in immersion hypothermia, I think it is unlikely that Mr. Joughin was in the water for over 3 hours. As Mr. Gowan points out above, Mr. Joughin was not obese at the time of Titanic. Furthermore, he was apparently a small man, and smaller individuals cool more quickly, regardless of body fat - if fat is equal, an individual with overall larger size will cool more slowly.

The average suvival time in 28 F water with adequate flotation in calm seas is approximately 1 hour and 20 min. Thus, Mr. Joughin's survival is truly incredible even if he was not in the water for the extended period of time often mentioned.

In the British Inquiry, Mr. Joughin reports that he did not reach Collapsible B until about sunrise. It is known that sunrise was at 5:40A that day (my thanks to John Dunne who has provided this information using satellite positioning data). From this, if taken literally, Mr. Joughin would have been in the water for approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes before reaching Collapsible B. It is know that the men from Collapsible B were taken into another boat shortly after sunrise . Thus, again, if Mr. Joughin's testimony is taken literally, he would have been in the water even a bit longer while awaiting this transfer.

But Mr. Joughin, in his testimony, never gave an exact time of how long he was in the water. The above quote " I should say over two hours" is not specific and clearly was not intended to be exact.
It is easy to see how one might not recall the exact timing (or even sequence of events).

In summary, physiologically I doubt Mr. Joughin was in the water for over 3 hours. Alcohol may have helped him slightly (more because it decreased mental anguish than anything) but not substantially. It is possible that he survived for "over 2 hours" with assistance from others on Collapsible B, especially if he arrived at that boat earlier than he thought, and especially if he was able to get at least his torso out of the water. However, not much longer than 2 hours.

Again many thanks to all - this discussion has been incredibly helpful to me as an investigator.
Also, my thoughts above are in no way meant to be definitive - I would welcome any additional input or information.

Mr. Jougin has become one of my favorite crewmen to investigate, simply because of the way he behaved that night and the way he survived. According to most sources and the book ANTR, Jougin rode the end of the stern to the ocean, so he was first submerged at 2:20, the time of the sinking. According to some sources he reaced boat B around 2 hours later and just held on to John Maynard's hand and was still almost completely submerged in water. Around 6:30 boat 12 came and Jougin was hauled aboard by the women. That would mean Jougin was in the water for over 4 hours. It had to be all the alcohol he consumed. Perhaps he planned it that way. In the movie ANTR he was assigned as a skipper to a lifeboat and got out. He went strait to his cabin and went on drinkin'. Athough considerbly drunk he managed to make it to the edge of the stern, even with the great list. With all the people who died within minutes, his survival seems impossible but perhaps he knew what to do to survive.
Although I don't place a lot of faith in Robin Gardiners book, he does place considerable doubt on Joughins story by quoting on the effects of cold and hypothermia from the British Sub-Aqua Diving Manual where it states:

"People who are cold, or likely to become cold, should not drink alcohol. Alcohol increases heat loss by dilating the blood vessels of the skin and reduces heat production by lowering the amount of sugar in the blood"

It does seem strange that Joughin managed to survive in water at that temperature when by rights he should have been dead within half an hour.

To put it in perspective an unfortunate young lad in my locality had a fall outside a night club on a mild November night last year while under the influence of alcohol.He knocked himself unconscious.
As it was after 3am and he was out of sight of the main entrance to the club nobody noticed him until around 6.30am when a nearby shop owner was opening up for the day found him dead.
Everyone thought the knock he had taken had killed him but it proved to be hypothermia.
Although there were marked differences in the circumstances, and different people have different metabolisms, it would seem that this young man had a massively better chance of survival than Joughin but didn't pull through.

The more I think about it the more I suspect the Joughin story of not having the ring of truth about it.


This topic comes up again and again. The "Common Wisdom" is that no one could survive in cold water as long as Joughin reportedly did, therefor Joughin is lying. Yet if "The Keepers of the Common Wisdom" continually reject new data, new knowledge cannot be added that so-called wisdom. I don't doubt that the accepted survival time is a pretty good average, but there are exceptions to most rules. Joughin may have been the one in a thousand (quite literally) who was able to survive when most would perish.

Joughin's tale is not the only reasonably well documented account of such survival. There was an interesting "Drama In Real Life" in Reader's Digest some 10 or 15 years ago. A fisherman from Iceland (IIRC) survived after his boat capsized. He hung onto the overturned boat as his shipmates succumbed one by one. The water was very cold, close to freezing. He finally decided to swim for it, swimming ashore, then had to walk, bare-foot and soaked to the bone, for five miles or so. He spent something like 14 hours in the water and did not have a survival suit. The article said that the accepted survival time in water that cold was 5 to 10 minutes (IIRC). (No, I don't have a citation for the article, but it's on my list to track down.)


Thank you for the example from the Readers Digest. Far from rejecting new data, this is the first new data I have come across, so I can now break free from the "common wisdom".

All I have done is look at the evidence and the likelihood of such circumstances for survival and come to my own conclusions.

I may be wrong. I hope so. But I'm still unsure.


Cal -- you have caught me singing the "common wisdom" song, which as you know is contrary to my contrarianism. However, I have serious doubts about people surviving long hours in cold water. The causes of hypothermia are beyond human control. It is my opinion that most stories of miraculous survival are "too good to be true." Or, as is sometimes said in newsrooms, they are stories too good to check out. ("Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!")

One thing factor common to all who survive under trying conditions is a belief that they would not die. The mind may not be able to overcome the elements, but someone who believes he will die is usually right.

The problem with Baker Joughin's story is the number of reasons why it's probably false. The biggest negative is alcohol, which causes the body to lose heat faster than it would otherwise. The other is physiology. The loss of body heat causes the body to shut down whether the owner of that body wants it to or not.

Interestingly Joughin's tale of riding the stern down and not getting his hair wet may explain his survival. Alcohol interferes with the mamalian diving response. This is the natural response that decreases the heartbeat of whales and other diving mamals. In humans, the response is negligible. However, even a small amount of alchohol can cause a heart siezure if the person's face is submerged in cold water. Many so-called drownings are really the result of heart seizure after drinking. (These are sometimes called "dry drownings" because the victim's lungs are found free of water.)

Also, Joughin's intoxicated appearance is exactly what would be expected of someone experiencing moderate hypothermia. Such a victim has slurred speech, faulty logic, and the inability to "walk a straight line."

However, Cal's point about common wisdom cannot be avoided. Just because something is repeated...and repeated...and repeated...does not make it true. Often, the truth is far stranger than fiction.

-- David G. Brown
Almost a year after its posting, I stumble upon this thread while doing some furtive Joughin -- Mike, I always thought it was pronounced "jo-HAN' " -- research, and applause immediately comes to mind.

Cal, bravo! I didn't realize you'd touched on this previously, and your caveats about the "common wisdom" ring exceedingly true. Also not usually brought up in this debate is the crucial observation that facts taken strictly in *isolation* tend to assume a life of their own far removed from the greater reality.

While the maxim that alcohol increases cooling has been cited ad nauseum, it's rarely sewn into the larger tapestry. Physical activity *also* radically increases core cooling, as has been noted. (For instance, the decision to "swim for it", it is advised, should not be taken lightly.)

ANY physical activity -- swimming, thrashing, even shivering! -- increases the rate of internal heat loss. But Joughin was fairly *numb* from his imbibition. (Though I don't believe for a minute that he was as trashed as he's often depicted -- not on a "half tumbler of liquer", anyway.) All life has trade-offs: the man did imbibe -- which *would* facilitate cooling due to vaso-dilation. But he was also *anesthetized* by that imbibition! So his normal responses to cold would be fairly muted, decreasing any tendency towards *physical* reactions that would lead to rapid cooling. (How many fully sober people were likely to be able to just calmly paddle in that sub-freezing water like Joughin did??)

One hand giveth, and the other taketh away. So I'm not at all sure that Joughin's "intoxication" invariably diminished his odds of survival. *All* the aspects and their interactions need to be factored in to get a complete picture in the real world.

A couple other points that should be addressed: Joughin himself NEVER claimed that he "never even got his head wet", at least not in his testimony. This seems to be a bit of latter-day artistic license from Walter Lord that has been repeated ad infinitum as fact ever since. What Joughin actually said at the British Inquiry was:

6075. And did you find yourself in the water? - Yes.
6076. Did you feel that you were dragged under or did you keep on the top of the water? - I do not believe my head went under the water at all. It may have been wetted, but no more.

Note especially that in the context of the question he's merely stating that he wasn't dragged under. Moreover, not only does he NOT say that he never got his head wet, he in fact states that it may well "have been wetted"! (Unless Walter got further specifics from a personal communication with Joughin, I have to assume his "take" on this is just an extreme interpretation of what the man actually said.)

Also, the 3+ hours of immersion stipulated above is excessive vis-a-vis Joughin's own testimony. My own results from two different astronomical software packages yield 5:21 AM, not 5:40, as the actual time of sunrise for latitude 41º 44' N (zero elevation) on April 15, 1912. But more importantly, Joughin never *said* anything about sunrise; what he talked about in his testimony was "daylight" breaking!

"Nautical twilight" on that date began at 4:13 AM, more than an hour before sunrise. ("Astronomical twilight" -- the most extreme measure -- was at 3:36!) Even using the Nautical variety, it's easy to see that "daylight" need only mean at latest about 4:15 AM -- two hours after Joughin checked his watch:

6085. Then you spoke of a collapsible boat. Tell us shortly about it? - Just as it was breaking daylight I saw what I thought was some wreckage, and I started to swim towards it slowly. When I got near enough, I found it was a collapsible not properly upturned but on its side, with an officer and I should say about twenty or twenty-five men standing on the top of it.

In summary, I don't find Joughin's assertions at all preposterous -- unlikely perhaps, *statistically*, but stranger things have happened. Certainly no one involved in the Inquiry seemed to doubt him. The final deliberations there suggest to me a great deal of credence attached to his testimony.

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Hi John!

Re the time of sunrise, don't forget that ship's time and local time were not the same. I forget what the skew was, but 20 minutes is probably in the ballpark.

Good point, Cal. That 5:21 AM that I specified *is* true local time. So someone on Titanic time (since the Noon fix that day) would be 20+ minutes faster. (Ok, that explains the 5:40 AM previously cited.)

Still, adjusting those twilight times to "Titanic Time" (and rounding up for good measure) yields around 4:00 AM for the start of "Astronomical Twilight", and 4:35 AM for "Nautical Twilight". So Joughin nevertheless only had to be in the water 1-2/3 to 2-1/4 hours to observe "daylight breaking".

6080. Then you were in the water for a long, long time? - I should say over two hours, Sir.

(Either the man had a very good sense of chronology, or perhaps he estimated the duration after the fact.)

Thanks for keeping me honest, by the way! :)

Just another thought not addressed here...even five minutes in water that cold is going to feel like a lifetime. So it's likely that the exaggeration of the time Joughin spent in the water was really how he perceived it to be. Any physically or even emotionally trying circumstance can make time seem to drag on longer that it really does.
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