Collision - Did Vibration Cause the Lights to Go Out?



A question that I'm sure has puzzled many. Why did the lights go out in the boiler rooms after the collision? Well apparently a similar incident did occur on the Olympic in 1929 which caused some of her lights to fail as well due to the vibration of the ship. Perhaps the vibration of the iceberg collision / grounding was sufficient to cause a power failure on the Titanic as well? Here are two articles from UK newspapers.

November 1929.



Any idea why vibrations would cause some of the lights to go out? According to Cavell the shock of the iceberg collision caused the coal to half bury him and when he climbed out of the coal bunker the lights immediately went out. This would suggest the vibration or shock was felt much stronger from his location which could explain why the lights immediately went out there.

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Jun 23, 2017
Hi Aaron,

Definitely an interesting theory. The only thing that leads me to believe that this was not the case is that it appears that the lights went out a number of minutes after the collision. If it was the vibration that caused a circuit breaker to be shaken open then it would have occured during the impact sequence not after.

My personal speculation is that the flooding in boiler room 6 caused a short which took out the breaker supplying all the boiler rooms. It seems that the electricians were able to isolate boiler room 6 and restore power to the rest in pretty short order.

Let me know your thoughts!


I believe the ship lost a propeller blade which would account for the trembling and heavy vibration of the ship after the collision. It was the general belief from some of the survivors, including Ismay and Lightoller, and several who sailed on the Olympic when she lost a blade and recognized the same sensation on the Titanic. Some survivors mistook this vibration and thought the engines were going full speed astern. According to Joseph Scarrott - "The ship shook in the same manner as if the engines had been suddenly reversed to full speed astern, just the same sort of vibration, enough to wake anybody up if they were asleep.....just a trembling of the ship." He also heard the lookout ring the bell and he was asked:

Q - How soon did you feel this vibration after you heard the three strikes on the gong?
A - "As I did not take much notice of the three strikes on the gong, I could hardly recollect the time; but I should think it was, well, we will say about five or eight minutes; it seemed to me about that time."

After the Titanic stopped she reportedly went slow ahead for a short time before stopping again. I believe the vibration that was felt several minutes after the collision were the effects of the lost blade. Captain Smith had just lost a blade a few weeks earlier on the Olympic. Ismay and Lightoller both thought it was a damaged blade and one can only assume that was on Captain Smith's mind as well - hence his decision to go slow ahead. The vibration immediately made him aware and he stopped engines again for the comfort of the passengers who were just going to sleep.

What puzzles me is that Barrett went into boiler room 5 and he said the lights went out a little while after the collision, but Cavell further back in boiler room 4 said it happened almost immediately after. This leads me to believe the collision or grounding was felt more stronger under boiler room 4. According to some survivors the ship listed / heeled to port during the collision as if she were grounding over the ice. Lookout Fleet was asked:

Q - Did it tilt the ship to any extent?
A - She listed to port right afterwards.
Q - To what extent?
A - I could not say; a slight list.
Q - Just immediately on striking the berg?
A - Just afterwards.
Q - Did it seem that the blow came beneath the surface of the water and caused her to shift?
A - Yes, sir.

I believe the ship grounded over the ice when it was behind the lookouts and passing under boiler room 4. This gave her a bump and she heeled slightly over to port. The bump would cause the coal to fall onto Cavell in boiler room 4 and the vibration caused by the immediate rubbing under his feet caused the lights in boiler room 4 to go out. - That is of course assuming that a strong vibration can do that.

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Rob Lawes

Jun 13, 2012
Leading Fireman Barrett said the lights went out after he and the 2nd Engineer returned from their attempt to re-enter boiler room 6.

I 100% agree with Rancor's post above. The most likely explanation is that flooding in boiler room 6 caused the breaker to pop and the lights to the boiler rooms could not be restored until boiler room 6 was isolated from the circuit.

Given the nature of Titanic's lighting wiring which used a single cable system and the hull acting as the ground or earth, this would be severely disrupted by water.

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