Compass Platform

Where is the compass Platform? What was it's layout? What was on it? Why is there no wreckage, it couldn't have evaporated? It wasn't even near the split was roughly 200 feet away! Any help?
All Ahead Full!
I'm not sure where it is, but I think it may be at least a possibility that it had disinegrated or simply "broke off" during the sinking. It was a small platform with 4 thin "legs" and a set of steps to reach it. It was probably a delicate structure.
Shane -- the compass platform was a wood and bronze structure that was unlikely to survive both the sinking and 90 years under water. Most likely it was washed off the roof of the 1st class lounge as the bow section plunged downward. It may also have been dislodged when either the #2 or #3 funnel came adrift.

The platform contained the ship's "standard compass." This is a technical term meaning the compass against which all others were judged during a voyage to ensure accuracy. Think of this compass as the "gold standard" in that regard.

The steering compass in the wheelhouse was checked against the standard compass every half hour. That means 8 times per four hour watch, or 48 times per day. Communications between the platform and wheelhouse were rudimentary--a one-way bell pull. The officer on the platform could signal the wheelhouse, but not the reverse.

The standard compass was equipped to allow its accuracy to be checked by celestial observations. This was done at routine times throughout the day and Boxhall testified as to having done so during the day on which the accident took place.

Great care was taken to prevent magnetic influences from causing errors (called "deviation" by sailors) in the reading of the standard compass. That is why the wood and bronze construction of the platform. The use of oil lamps to illuminate the compass at night (see Olliver's testimony) also prevented errors from the flow of electrical current.

The placement of standard compasses on virtually all other ocean-going ships was directly above the wheelhouse. This allowed 2-way communications between the two locations either by an opening hatch or speaking tube. White Star lines seems to have been at odds with this usual setup. Standard compass platforms were erected amidships (as on Titanic and Olympic) on most of the company's ships. The likely reason for this choice was to place the standard compass at the center of the vessel's magetic mass in an attempt to reduce deviation.

Curiously, Olympic received a new standard compass during its refit after Titanic sank. This new standard compass was installed on the wheelhouse roof in the usual location. For reasons never disclosed, however, the old platform and compass were left in position until sometime in the 1920s. Photos show Britannic received both a midships compass platform and a standard compass atop the pilot house.

-- David G. Brown
The Compass Platform is a prominent feature in the "Titanic Adventure Out of Time" CD-ROM Game and can be seen briefly in the "Helicopter Shot" in "Titanic" (1997) following the "Take her to sea, Mr.Murdoch." line in the movie.

My question is: Was the Compass Platform used for official business by the Officers and Crew only (as explained in the previous post ) and/or was it something of a 1912 version of an Observation Deck for passengers , such as Reunion Tower, etc. ?
(Apologize for the local reference ;-)

Seems to me that if it was open to passengers, Cameron missed an opportunity as a place for Rose and Jack to ? :)
Crew only, as were the fore bridge, after bridge on the poop deck, machinery spaces, and crew's quarters. Access to the forecastle head was also supposed to be off limits to passengers. There were posted signs restricting access, but that does not mean that some passengers didn't manage to go where they wanted to. (See the article on Helen Churchill Candee on this site.)
The compass platform was used a minimum of 48 times every day. The two junior officers of the watch had to coordinate their efforts to "steady the ship" by the standard compass on the platform and make sure it was steering the correct course by the steering compass in the wheelhouse. This sounds odd, but it's common sense.

A ship can only have one "standard" compass (think of "gold standard," the compass by which all others aboard are judged.) In computing a course, the deviation used was for the standard compass in the platform. The ship was then steered by bell commands from the platform to the wheelhouse until it was on course. The reading of the steering compass was noted and that was used to steer the ship.

Every 30 minutes it was required by IMM/White Star regulations for the ship to be steadied on course again by standard compass so that it was certain the steering compass had not strayed.

In addition, the standard compass had a special sighting ring for taking star azimuths. These allowed the accuracy of the standard compass to be checked using celestial observations.

All-in-all, the two junior officers of the watch must have gotten a bit tired of this drill. But, the constant comparison and checking of the steering compass remained part of daily life well into the modern era when electronic navigation finally became a reality.

Of particular note in the Titanic story is the location of the standard compass. The industry practice was to place it atop the wheelhouse where there could be direct 2-way voice communications with the bridge. Some ships even had speaking tubes or small hatches in the wheelhouse roofs for the purpose. Not Titanic nor most of the White Star ships. For some reason, WSL standard compasses were mounted amidships. This probably reduced the magnetic effect on the standard compass from the ship's hull. But, it created real communications problems for the officers. On Titanic there was only a one-way bell pull from the platform to the wheelhouse.

-- David G. Brown
Why was there a canvas blind stretched around the top of the platform? Was it to block out the ship's lights at night so the officer could better see the stars?
>>Seems to me that if it was open to passengers, Cameron missed an opportunity as a place for Rose and Jack to ? :)<<

In freezing cold conditions? That would kill any "randiness" faster then a cold shower!

Good suggestion about that canvas "blind" as you called it. I've not seen any photos of it in use, so can's say for sure. However, adjusting it to block out the loom of deck lights would have made some observations easier. The trick would have been adjusting it so as not to block out the stars, too. The four vertical "rods" which arise from the corners of the wooden structure would appear to offer the necessary adjustment. The real possibility that it was only a wind "dodger" cannot be discarded, however.

Most ships placed the standard compass on top of the wheelhouse near the bridge where it was naturally shaded from light. The "monkey bridge" or "flying bridge" on which they were located often had a canvas dodger rigged over an iron pipe railing.

If you look at both Olympic and Titanic, one thing that is obvious is the wide open expanse of the wheelhouse roof. Nowhere else on the ship is deck space wasted in such a grand manner. To my eye, this area was left open because H&W expected someday to move the standard compasses of those ships to their "proper" locations. And, that is in fact what happened to Olympic.

-- David G. Brown
Nice one Mike.

I have heard of vague references to the canvas top of the compass platform though I can,t recall from where I think I have seen it on various models. Will check back if I find any info.

Matt Pereira

I always thought the canvas top was to be used to cut down on water spray from the bow as the enclosed forward section of A deck was. Well guess people have their own theory about it.
Water spray from the bow wouldn't reach this high up and centrally located on the ship. It'd be more confined to the sides. I'd give more credence to Yuri and David's proposals. It's not implausible that the canvas served multiple purposes. I doubt keeping bow spray at bay is one of them, though.
"Water spray from the bow wouldn't reach this high up..."

'Height' on a ship underway is a movable feast, depending upon the prevailing sea state and the responsive oscillations of the vessel. In heavy weather it is entirely possible for upper works of the ship momentarily to be below the crests of the waves. It would be entirely predictable that at some times in normal operation the compass platform would take spray.

Accordingly, in the absence of specific information to the contrary I would assume any provision for canvas rigging would be for it to serve as a weather dodger.

>>Water spray from the bow wouldn't reach this high up and centrally located on the ship.<<

Oh I wish that was true! Get seas heavy enough and you would be amazed at where the spray can end up! I've been in heavy seas on an aircraft carrier and one night, went out on a sponson near the level of the flight deck only to find myself looking up to see the crest of a large wave heading right for us. (There was barely enough light to see by!)

I beat feet bck inside the ship fast! I didn't do that again!

BTW Dan, it's good to see you back here with us again.
LOL - oh, it was only a little surf spray, come on! ;-)
I'll fall on the sword on this one. I probably should have clarified that 1. I plead guilty as a hopeless landlubber (I've never even *seen* the ocean) and 2. the words "spray from the bow under normal sailing conditions" would have more accurately reflected my disjointed thoughts at the time. I am sure that area on Olympic shipped some spray when that rogue wave in the '20s gave Old Reliable a run for its money.

Thank you for the welcome back - I look forward to posting as my cognitive health dictates.
>>LOL - oh, it was only a little surf spray, come on! ;-) <<

Dream on!

>>I am sure that area on Olympic shipped some spray when that rogue wave in the '20s gave Old Reliable a run for its money. <<

And I'm sure a few laundry bills got a bit more expensive after this incident cured those suffering from acute constipation.

The North Atlantic run has always been as brutal as it's been unpredictable, and ocean waves as high as 30 metres are now a matter of documented fact. I spent most of my career in the Pacific so I rarely saw anything *quite* that bad, but te Pacific Northwest in November is not to be taken lightly.

Matt Pereira

Ok what is it, I've heard that the compass platform was a brass structure with wooden sides and here is being said its a Bronze and wooden structure.

So which is it?

Apologies for resurrecting an old thread, but what's your source for the removal of Olympic's midships compass platform in the 1920s?



Jim Currie

Have any of you ever considered that the canvas was to keep the sun off anyone who had to be there for a long time.. eg. relaying headings in the event that the steering compass was buggered?