Compass Platform

Dec 2, 2000
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>>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.. <<

Were that the issue, you would expect to see the canvas erected over the top of the compass platform and that's exactly what you don't see. A provision may have existed to do that if there was a need, but in the cold regions of the North Atlantic where the Olympic class liners were expected to operate, this was rarely a concern.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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As some of you may know, after her refit at the end of 1912, early 1913, the Olympic was equipped with 5 compasses on board: One Lord Kelvin's 10'' standard compass with azimuth mirror on the central platform, one Lord Kelvin's 10'' standard compass above the wheelhouse, one Lord Kelvin's 10'' steering compass inside the wheelhouse, one Lord Kelvin's 10'' steering compass for the Captain's bridge, and a 10'' light card compass for the docking bridge. The Britannic was similarly equipped.

The Titanic did not have a compass on top of the wheelhouse. The only standard compass it had was on the central platform. The course that the ship was to keep was the course on this standard compass. The detail of the use of standard and steering compasses on Titanic was explained by Lightoller:

"We have a standard compass and a steering compass. The standard compass is the compass we go by. That is the course that is handed over from one senior officer to another, the standard course. The junior officer goes to the standard compass which is connected with the wheelhouse by a bell, or by a bell push, wire and bell, and when she is on her course he rings that bell continually, showing the ship is on her course with the standard compass. The other officer takes her head inside the wheelhouse from the compass the quartermaster is steering by. The standard course is on a board and the steering compass course is also on a board. Therefore, the quartermaster uses the board that is there for the steering compass. The senior officer of the watch looks to the standard compass board and passes that course along."

The "Courses on board" book used for Olympic in the years following her refit had three column pairs printed in it for the transatlantic part of the voyage. The three column pairs were labeled: Std. comp., Stg. Comp., and W. Comp. Each compass had a column for writing down both the compass course and the compass deviation. There was also a column for writing down the magnetic variation labeled Var. W'ly., and a column labeled True Course. There were also columns for the ship's Lat. N., Lon. W., the Day, Month, Date, Hour From and Hour To for a particular course run. When filling out a given row for a particular run, values were entered into all of these columns.

However, for use in channels, the page only had columns labeled From and To and columns for listing the course on the Std. Comp., and the Stg. Comp. There were no columns for listing compass deviation, and there was no column for the W. Compass. It was only during the the transatlantic part of the voyage that courses and deviations on all three compasses were logged.

My guess, and its just a guess, is that it was the W. Compass was the one installed on top of the Wheelhouse roof. It allowed for steadying the ship on course "by standard" every half hour per IMM rule 253 that was apparently still in effect at that time without having to send a J/O out to the midship platform. I believe that is Dave Brown's main argument for why a standard compass was installed on the wheelhouse roof. It made for easier communication. But the same rule 253 also required that compasses be compared every OOW's Watch (that's every 4 hours) and the comparisons entered into the Compass Comparison Book. This last part of the requirement I believe would involve all three compasses that we are talking about here, thus the three columns printed in the book. Another consideration is that the standard compass on Olympic's midship platform was equipped with an azimuth mirror which was used to take stellar and solar bearings to check the deviation of the standard compass. This was not listed as part of the compass that was put on top of the wheelhouse in the H&W office drawing notebook that specified the compasses used.

What exactly happened after they installed a gyro compass on Olympic I'm not too sure about. Was the central platform compass removed and the one over the wheelhouse then the the only standard on board? The Courses on Board book show the words "W.Comp." crossed out and replaced with the hand written word "gyro". For the channel crossings, the gyro compass values were written in the column for the Stg. Comp. But the "Std. Comp." columns for both channel courses as well as transatlantic courses were still being written in. And the the value written into the "True Course" column always equaled the Std. Comp. course after adjusting it by the variation and std. comp. deviation to a 1/4 of a degree. Thus you may see the true course written as "S 43 3/4 W," while the gyro course was entered with just three digits, e.g., 224, and no fractions.
 
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Thanks to Sam for some good information.

I've gone through every nautical glossary in my library trying to come up with something for "W Compass." Nothing fits, save the obvious. "Wheelhouse (roof) Compass." There are no particularly nautical phrases that would work against the assumption this was the compass atop the wheelhouse.

With regard to the concept of a "standard compass," a ship can have only one. This is the compass by which courses are determined and by which all other compasses are checked during the voyage. The reason for only one standard compass is something called "deviation." It is an error that comes from the magnetism of the ship itself. And, it is different for every compass because changing the physical position aboard ship of an instrument also changes its deviation.

If more than one compass were used as the "standard," then which one would be considered as "correct" should the two standard compasses disagree? Also, using more than one compass as a standard would have required recomputing courses for each compass--unnecessary and time consuming work.

The question becomes, "Which compass was actually used as the ship's standard compass?"

I note that in the H&W drawing office notebook the compass installed on top of Olympic's wheelhouse was a "Kelvin Standard Compass." The words were crowded on the page and there was little room for additional information. However, just above is the description of the original platform standard compass: "Lord Kelvin's 10" Latest Patent Standard Compass with Azimuth Mirror complete for Compass Platform."

It appears to me that the second entry for the later compass is simply an abridged description of a particular model of compass produced by the Kelvin company. That is, the model was a "Kelvin 10" Standard Compass" intended for the use its name implies. As such, it may have been delivered with the azimuth mirror mentioned with regard to the original platform instrument. The difference in the entries in the Drawing Office notebook being nothing more than the lack of space to fully describe the instrument installed on top of the wheelhouse.

Sam suggests that the standard compass on the platform was used when navigating in channels. Perhaps, but I doubt it. The problem comes down to communications. There is no mention of a telephone from the captain's bridge to the compass platform. This means there was no practicable way to get information from the bridge to the platform. However, it would have been relatively easy to speak to the officer on the wheelhouse roof from the bridge. From an operational standpoint, I am more willing to believe that when in channels the column labeled "Std Comp" was used to record the reading of the instrument on the wheelhouse. Certainly, that would have been the safest procedure in all cases.

Paragraph 253 of the IMM/WSL book requires two different compass evolutions. Every half hour the ship must be steadied by standard compass. And, every watch the compasses must be compared. One would seem to be the other, but not really. Steadying by standard was simply a means of making sure the ship was on course. It involved only the standard and steering compasses and was recorded as Sam explained.

Comparing the compasses involved all of the compasses on the bridge. It was a way of making sure that any one of the instruments was not starting to go out of whack in some way. The comparisons were not written in the book mentioned by Sam, but in a different "Compass Comparison Book."

Courses Book -- record of courses steered.

Comparison Book -- record of performances of compasses.

As usual, I have a quibble with one thing Sam wrote, but this time it's minor. He suggests that the platform compass continued to be used as the actual standard compass for Olympic after the refit. I believe that the new "Kelvin Standard Compass" atop the wheelhouse was in practice used as Olympic's navigational standard compass. It was compared once per watch against the old standard compass in the platform.

-- David G. Brown
 
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An interesting discussion here. I did have one specific point to make in response to one comment that David made.

David opined:
quote:

Sam suggests that the standard compass on the platform was used when navigating in channels. Perhaps, but I doubt it. The problem comes down to communications. There is no mention of a telephone from the captain's bridge to the compass platform. This means there was no practicable way to get information from the bridge to the platform.
I am afraid this is simply not true. Communication was possible. The procedure onboard Olympic has been documented. There was a bell fitted near the compass on the platform, and a button to press - the bell rang through to the bridge. When the ship's head had to be brought round to port then two bells were rung; to starboard, one bell was rung, and once Olympic was on the correct course then three bells were rung to confirm it. By means of these pre-arranged signals, it was the method used to communicate between the navigating bridge and the compass tower amidships. The officer stationed at the compass did not have the course book, for obvious reasons, but instead had the various courses written out on paper.

Once the fifth officer had rung to confirm that the ship had steadied by the standard compass, then the sixth officer (who was stationed on the bridge) noted down the reading from the bridge compass and then passed that information on to the quartermaster.

Best wishes,

Mark.​
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Thanks Mark for providing that detail.

It should be noted that the bell signals from the standard compass platform are very similar to the bell signals used by the lookouts up in the nest. In the case of the officer on the compass platform, one bell was rung when he wanted the ship's helm put over to port to bring the ship's head round to starboard. In the nest, one bell meant that an object was spotted off to port. Similarly, but opposite in directions, when two bells were rung. And three bells in both cases meant straight ahead.

The entire conning process was referred to as steadying the ship up on her course. As Mark pointed out, the magnetic course was given to the junior officer before going out to the platform. When the time came to change the ship's course, the helm order would be given from the pilot to the QM at the wheel to shift the helm, such as "hard astarboard" for a sharp turn to port in the channel to round a buoy. Then the pilot would give an order to "ease your helm" before the ship was on the new course so as to reduce the rate of turn as ship was coming around. With the order to ease the helm the helmsman would let the wheel run amidships. Then as the ship came close to her new course the pilot would give the order to "steady up" which usually needed some opposite helm applied to stop the swing of the ship. Once that happened, the course would be steadied by standard with signals from the J/O out on the standard compass platform just as Mark explained in the post above. When 3 bells was pushed, the J/O next to the helmsman would note the steering compass course and order the helmsman to keep steady on that course; e.g., S 64 E. He would also take the time. The entire process to steady her up would take less than 5 minutes.

By the way, this bit of detail on how the ship was steadied up came from Albert Haines who was the QM at the wheel at the time of the collision with the Hawke. On Titanic, he was the boatswain's mate.

With regard to the compass placed on top of the wheelhouse, if they intended for that compass to be the one used in channel waters you would think the courses on board book would have listed the W. Comp. and the Stg. Comp. as the two compass courses to be recorded. But they didn't. They listed the Std. Comp. and the Stg. Comp. The W. Comp. was only included along with those other two for the ocean crossing courses where they recorded the courses and deviations of all three compasses.

The standard compass on the amidship platform was the one that was regarded as having the least deviation error. It was also called the conning compass, and the platform was referred to as the "conning tower." The deviation of this standard compass was being checked throughout the voyage by taking celestial bearings using its azimuth mirror and ring. Boxhall was doing this after he worked out the 7.30 p.m. star fix on the night of April 14. It was during this time, working up the compass error, that he discovered that the Titanic was actually heading 266° true since altering course at 5:50 p.m. that evening. That was about 1 degree up from the intended course to the Nantucket lightship.

The big problem that I see with the standard compass being out on the platform amidships was that a J/O had to be sent out there by the OOW to steady her up once every 30 minutes if they were to be in compliance with IMM rules. In effect, they were verifying that the difference between the steering compass and the standard compass did not change over the last 30 minutes of time for the magnetic heading they were on. Sending someone aft effectively takes them away from the bridge and therefore leaving one less lookout available to the OOW about 20% of the time while at sea. I think that is one of Dave Brown's points, and I agree with it.

Adding a "standard compass" to the top of the wheelhouse would have allowed two compasses, the W. Comp. and the Stg. Comp., to be used to check each other without having to send someone aft every 1/2 hour. This is the main reason I believe it was added to the compass inventory. The other added advantage is that they could take direct compass bearings on objects directly ahead of the ship if needed without a relatively wide funnel obstructing the field of view. In reality, there was no need to have two "standard compasses" on board. As Dave said, only one of the two was considered the "Standard Compass." I believe the one on the amidship platform was the one regarded as the ship's Std. Comp. and the one put on top of the wheelhouse was simply the W. Comp. used primarily while at sea for the reasons given above. Both were equipped on Olympic during her refit at the end of 1912, and also equipped on Britannic as well.
 
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In substance, I agree with Sam regarding the compasses and how they were used.

However, a question: with regard to not using the compass on the wheelhouse as the actual standard compass for navigation-- if not, why was it put there? Nothing was accomplished for the safety of the ship if the same old procedures were followed.

The reason for placing a compass atop the wheelhouse was communications, which is a fundamental necessity for safe operations. So, I can't see spending the money for a new instrument and then continuing to use a system that prohibited quick and effective 2-way communications.

Sam's answer to my objection comes in his final paragraph. On the whole, I agree with him. However, I would modify his argument slightly. It would seem that the wheelhouse compass was for practical purposes the "conning compass" both at sea and in confined waters. The original standard compass then retained only the function of being "the standard" against which the other instruments were checked.

The problem with Sam's suggestion is that although perfectly rational, it does not follow the IMM/White Star rule 253. That rule requires the ship be steadied on course "by standard every half hour." So, putting a conning compass on the wheelhouse would not have altered the requirement for an officer to climb the compass platform every 30 minutes.

Since Sam's suggestion is rational, and human nature is to do things the simplest way, I suggest they changed how they interpreted Rule 253. To wit: the ship was "steadied" every half hour by wheelhouse compass; and the compasses compared to the standard once each watch.

My reference books list the term "conning tower" as pertaining to military (navy) ships in the 1912 era. "Compass platform" and "standard compass" are more from the merchant fleet. However, much of Titanic's crew had naval experience. A reference to the "conning tower" was probably fully understood.

The method Haines outlined for using the standard compass in confined waters is practicable only if courses have been predetermined. This was the normal practice when entering and leaving ports. The various "legs" would be calculated in advance. This would allow the officer on the compass platform to have a list of each new course in succession.

Problems would come if there were any unexpected changes to the predetermined courses. There was no easy or quick way to get information to the officer on the compass platform. Safety and convenience suggest that in confined waters or when course changes were made at sea the ship was conned from atop the wheelhouse. Doing so would have required computing the final course for both the wheelhouse and standard compass; and then making an unscheduled compass comparison after the maneuvering was complete.

Placing the standard compass amidships to avoid some deviation problems was questionable even in 1912. Deviation comes not just from the mass of metal, but also from the magnetism in various parts of the hull. The ship's magnetic signature did not remain static. For instance, as Titanic sat at the H&W completion dock it took on some of the earth's magnetic field. This induced magnetism was caused by the long period of time the ship spent oriented in the same direction. It would have dissipated over time as Titanic made its regular runs.

The changing nature of magnetism is why officers were urged by rule 253 to, "ascertain the deviation as often as possible." This was done with the azimuth mirror discussed earlier.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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quote:

Since Sam's suggestion is rational, and human nature is to do things the simplest way, I suggest they changed how they interpreted Rule 253. To wit: the ship was "steadied" every half hour by wheelhouse compass; and the compasses compared to the standard once each watch.
I agree.
quote:

Problems would come if there were any unexpected changes to the predetermined courses. There was no easy or quick way to get information to the officer on the compass platform. Safety and convenience suggest that in confined waters or when course changes were made at sea the ship was conned from atop the wheelhouse. Doing so would have required computing the final course for both the wheelhouse and standard compass; and then making an unscheduled compass comparison after the maneuvering was complete.
As explained by Olympic's 5/O Tullock, who was at the compass platform the day of the Hawke collision, he was given the magnetic courses shortly after they left the dock in Southampton before going out to the platform. His station that day after leaving the dock was to man the platform for the purpose of steadying the ship on her channel courses until clear of all channels. He also referred to the standard compass as the "conning compass." The ship, however, was actually conned by the pilot on the navigating bridge. It was he who gave the orders. If the pilot decided to change any of the prearranged courses from what he gave the 5/O it would be a simple thing for him to give it to the standby QM who would take it out to the amidship platform to give to the officer in less than a minute. At any time, the pilot could direct the helmsman to steer any other course by giving him an order to bring the ship's head to port or starboard by so many degrees should the need arise.

By the way, it was also the job of the J/O who was out on the platform to record the courses in the scrap log later on. The J/O by the helmsman recorded the time to the minute shown on the wheelhouse clock of all course changes as well as the location where the change was made such as West Bramble Buoy. He also gave the Stg. Comp. course to steady on to the helmsman when the ship was steadied up as explained before. On the day of the Hawke collision, the Olympic was steadied on S59E by Std. Comp. after rounding the buoy which corresponded to S64E by Stg Comp. Less than 5 minutes later the helmsman was given an order for hard aport shortly before the Hawke struck aft on the starboard side.

quote:

Placing the standard compass amidships to avoid some deviation problems was questionable even in 1912. ... The changing nature of magnetism is why officers were urged by rule 253 to, "ascertain the deviation as often as possible." This was done with the azimuth mirror discussed earlier.
I believe in that period there was some concern over the influence and interaction between the correction magnets in having two compasses mounted one above the other by the wheelhouse. The amidship platform for the standard compass appeared on many WSL vessels. I think Dave Gittins may have some more to say about this concern. Anyway, changes in deviation error were known about, and as David Brown pointed out, the OOW was urged to ascertain the deviation as often as possible. And as I pointed out in my previous post, that is what kept Boxhall busy after he completed working up the 7.30 star sights taken by Lightoller and Pitman on the night of Apr 14.​
 
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What sam says about fears of stacking compasses is just one of a number of concerns being voiced at the time. Full understanding of all compass errors was just coming to light. The number of possible errors affecting a compass is rather surprising to the uninitiated--and that included a lot of ol' salts at the time.

As with anything new, this information raised doubts about existing practices. Sailors become very conservative in the face of doubt. Sam knows as an airplane pilot that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots.

In my opinion, what we see in the standard compass placement on WSL ships is an over-reaction to new knowledge done for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, intentions don't count for a bucket of warm spit when it comes to safety at sea. The placement of the standard compass amidships resulted in serious problems for bridge team management, flow of information, etc. involved in what we now call "situational awareness." (Also something sailors had to learn from their zoomie friends.)

At this point I think it's safe to say we have parsed in the broadest of terms how the various compasses were used both pre- and post- the installation of the wheelhouse roof instrument in Olympic.

We probably will never get any closer because the rest of the details are the stuff of unwritten practices and procedures that may have varied from ship to ship, or captain to captain aboard the same ship. For instance...

It's all very easy to say that the officer Tulloch on the compass platform of Olympic during the Hawke incident steadied the ship on course in channels--because he did. However, how did he know when to perform his function? There was no direct link from bridge to platform. In confined waters even a few seconds can mean the difference between safe passage and a dented bottom, so sending "word of hand" was out of the question. There must have been a procedure.

When rounding a buoy, the officer on the platform could have been told to initiate the maneuver when that mark was opposite the bridge wing, or passing amidships. But, what if a course change were necessary at an unmarked bend in the channel? How did the officer on the platform know the wishes of the pilot who was presumably gauging the situation through his experienced eye?

Did they use "whistle talk" like employed with tugboats? (Big steam whistles or little "Acme Thunderer" whistles could have been used, or not.)

Another curiosity. A ship does not stop turning just because the helm is returned to neutral. The rotational motion of the hull continues. If you simply neutral the rudder, the bow will rotate well past the chosen course, anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees depending upon a variety of factors not germane to this discussion.

A good quartermaster knows this and begins to "meet" the turn as the compass reading approaches the final heading. To stop rotation, opposite rudder is applied briefly. This is not done by command (although a reminder to "meet her" may be given), but by the QMs initiative. Meeting the rotation of a turn is simply part of the job.

The problem with what we know...only the highlights of the procedure...is that the QM could not "meet" the ship if only a system of three coded rings (left, right, and straight ahead) were employed. Under that system, a signal that the ship was on course (3 rings) would initiate the meeting procedure and the ship's head would rotate well past the desired course--necessitating another round of bell signals. This "hunting" would continue with smaller course errors until at last the ship was centered on the heading.

I am reasonably certain that "hunting" for the course never happened. There must have been some intermediary signals...or, the QM must have been given courses "uncorrected" for his steering compass. Either way, the QM must have been given enough information in advance of the maneuver to avoid the problem of the bow swinging past the desired heading.

-- David G. Brown
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>If you simply neutral the rudder, the bow will rotate well past the chosen course,<<

I can back that up from personal hands on experience on the Comstock. When turning to a new course, I found I had to start returning the rudder to the centre position before the ship settled on her new course or I would end up overshooting. If I overshot, or started to, I would have to apply some opposite rudder to get back where I was supposed to be. I learned very quickly to do what it takes to avoid overshooting.

This, by the way, speaks to the art of seamanship as opposed to the theory of seamanship. The latter you can learn from books, but the former is the sort of thing you become good at only through experience.
 
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quote:

how did he know when to perform his function? There was no direct link from bridge to platform.
The officer on the platform had the courses that the pilot wanted after rounding specific points in the channel. But maneuvering the ship was not controlled by the officer on the platform, it was controlled by the pilot on the bridge. The pilot would give commands to the helmsman as well to the J/O at the bridge telegraphs for the maneuvers he wanted. The turning of the ship was not just controlled by the actions of the helmsman, but also by the actions of ship's engines. The ship's whistle would also be blown to indicate the start of a turn. As in this case, a turn to port, two quick blasts of the whistle.

quote:

A ship does not stop turning just because the helm is returned to neutral. The rotational motion of the hull continues
Never said it did. But when the helm is returned amidships, the rate of turn would start to decrease. To stop the turn takes application of opposite rudder, the amount and timing of which controls whatever overshoot there is.

quote:

I am reasonably certain that "hunting" for the course never happened. There must have been some intermediary signals...or, the QM must have been given courses "uncorrected" for his steering compass. Either way, the QM must have been given enough information in advance of the maneuver to avoid the problem of the bow swinging past the desired heading.
As I posted above, the helm order "hard astarboard" was given by the pilot to the QM at the wheel to shift the helm for the sharp turn to port to round West Bramble buoy. That particular turn was taking the ship from a magnetic heading of S65W to S59E by standard, or 124 degrees. To accomplish this, he also gave orders to the J/O at the telegraphs. I believe the sequence given for rounding was first an order for slow ahead on the port engine as the ship passed the Thorn Knoll buoy. This was soon followed by stop on the port engine, then half astern, then full astern after the whistle was sounded and the helm ordered hard astarboard. As the turn was nearing completion, the order was given to ease the helm, which was for the helmsman to let the wheel run amidships, and an order given to stop the port engine followed by full ahead. As the ship came up to the course that the pilot wanted it to be on he ordered the helmsman to "steady up" which needed opposite rudder to stop the swing of the ship. The helmsman was not given a compass heading, and was actually watching the ship's head come round during the turn. With the ship thus steadied up, the officer on the platform would then note the course she was on by standard, and then given whatever signals needed to put the ship on the prearranged magnetic course heading. It this case, S59E. As a reflection of the skill of the pilot, the 5/O on the platform in this case did not ask for any correction. He rang 3 bells and the J/O ordered the helmsman to keep steady on S64E by the compass in front of him. If the pilot wanted to change it he could have simply ordered for a change of so many degrees to port or starboard from what he had given to the officer on the platform earlier.

quote:

But, what if a course change were necessary at an unmarked bend in the channel?
A good pilot knows his channels. That's why he is aboard the ship and in command of the vessel.

What I am describing above comes from those that were there. By the way, the time logged by the 6/O was the time the bridge of the ship was abeam the buoy, not the time the turn was completed. I may have given the wrong impression several posts above. The actual turn sequence was started a little before the buoy was abeam. Timing and judgement were critical. One other item of interest, in Southampton waters and down Spithead channels, ships were run at what they called "reduced full speed," conditions permitting of course. For Olympic, this was about 19-20 knots. The ship of course was slowed as it rounded the buoys.​
 
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Sam's last paragraph is of vital importance in understanding the maneuvering of vessels. The helm orders have to be given and obeyed before the ship gets to the turning point. If the orders are delayed, the ship will "shoot" past the turning point, which usually leads to the conning officer finding new employment.

The use of the ship's whistle to coordinate things makes perfect sense. I was trying to get at this point in my previous posting. This type of shipboard communications in the pre-walkie-talkie days was quite common. However in the case of rounding a buoy it also allowed the ship to indicate it's intentions to other vessels in the area. Two short (not "quick") blasts was and still is a conventional whistle signal indicating (International Rules) the ship is turning to port.

Sam apparently misinterpreted by question about an unmarked bend in the channel. I simply meant that without a buoy as a gauge, there was no way for the man on the platform to know when the pilot wanted the ship to steady up on the new course. A whistle signal would suffice.

However, it's the steadying up that still needs study. If, as Sam said, the pilot waited until the ship reached the course he wanted before telling the quartermaster to "steady up," then there is no way for the ship's head not to have swung past the desired heading. The steady up command had to come first--and the quartermaster had to know what to steady up on. It could have been an object on shore if the quartermaster was steering from the bridge. But, at any time when the quartermaster was in the wheelhouse, the clumsy nature of the system would become instantly apparent.

There are ways around this, but I don't want to confuse supposition with facts. That's why I've been asking questions. Sam apparently has the testimony in front of him and is giving us the real stuff.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Yes, two short blasts on the whistle for a turn to port. I stand corrected.

From what I could gather from the limited testimony available, the QM was at the wheel located on the navigating bridge just ahead of the wheelhouse. Apparently that was the preferred position in channel waters during daylight.
 
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Sam -- Only after your response on the "short blasts" did I realize how I worded that. It was not meant as a correction, just my old teacher reflexes from teaching the Rules Of The Road. You have to use the exactly right words to get credit for a correct answer on U.S. Coast Guard tests. For example, for years it was either a "short" or "long" blast. Now, it's "short" or "prolonged." My dictionary doesn't find any meaningful difference between "long" and "prolonged," but one is wrong and the other gets you a license.

In confined waters (channels, fairways, etc.) it is usually best if the quartermaster can see landmarks. Many channels have what are called "ranges" in the U.S.A. or "leading lights" elsewhere. Two lights are mounted one above the other, but with the lower one nearer the observer. If they are directly in line, your ship is in the center of the channel. If they are not in line, you steer toward the lower light to bring the vessel back to center. Quite obviously, if the man at the wheel can see the lights he can do a better job of following them. This is only one example of why the quartermaster would be moved forward to the command bridge in confined waters.

My questions about how the quartermaster knew when to "steady up" and how much reverse rudder to apply are not based on operation during those times when he was on the command bridge. I am more curious about when the quartermaster was inside the wheelhouse and a course change was made. (For instance, the course change made at "The Corner.") How then would he know when to begin shifting the wheel to slow the turn?

-- David G. Brown
 
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David.

You asked, "I am more curious about when the quartermaster was inside the wheelhouse and a course change was made. (For instance, the course change made at "The Corner.") How then would he know when to begin shifting the wheel to slow the turn?"

I don't have any first hand information about that, but I would guess that he would be told to come to the magnetic course that was desired by standard and then they would follow that by steadying up by standard as described above. The procedure of steadying by standard also may explain why QM Rowe said they altered course at 5:45 while Boxhall and Pitman said they altered course at 5:50. Some insight to this for me comes from reading some the testimony of Haines when he was questioned about how he estimated the time of the Hawke collision coming after they steadied up.

"Because of the steadying of the ship. We steady the ship by a compass as well. The ship was steadied on by the compass...but it takes a certain amount of time to steady the ship...The ship was steadied on, and then they steadied on in the conning tower....Seadied on her course, and then the officer goes up and takes the compass up in the conning tower."

Haines was speaking in general terms here. In the channel, there was a J/O out on the platform soon after leaving the dock and he was to stay there until the ship reached open water.

If we try to apply what Haines said to the turn at the corner, the procedure would be for the OOW (Wilde) to order the helmsman (Rowe) to turn to the new magnetic heading, say N 73 W. Then a J/O, probably Boxhall would go out to the platform to steady the ship by standard while Moody would watch the steering compass. In this example Boxhall may have called for a slight turn to starboard (one bell push) until the standard showed N 73 W, at which time he would push three bells. Moody would then take steering compass course, N 71 W, and order Rowe to steady on on that course. He would then mark the new steering compass course on the course board.
 

Jim Currie

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In post Titanic days, the standard compass was situated (still is in a lot of cases) directly above the helmsman. A gyro repeater was eventually sited to his left and a magnetic compass binnacle in front of him. Although the helmsman steered by gyro, he could also steer by standard compass if the gyro went 'down'. He did this by looking into a 'periscope' in front of his eyes. This is the reflector system which allows the helmsman to see the standard compass above his head. The course board had 'True'. Gyro, Standard and Magnetic marked The appropriate errors were noted alongside.
I have had considerable experience in steering lots of different vessels at sea and in pilotage waters. Depending on where you were, Pilots gave you a true course to steer or a mark to steer for. Mainly they just grunted 'port' or 'starboard' then 'steady on that' finally asking: 'how's your head?' then marked your reply into their notebooks.
Transits and light sectors were handy. In the case of transits; I used them to check my gyro compass error. They were also useful if the ship was heading straight for them to check the deviation on that particular heading.
My experience with twin screw passenger vessels was that when turning 'short round' i.e. using engines to make a very sharp turn, it was better to put the helm midship. Steering a twin screw ship was , to my mind fine if both engines gave exactly the same thrust - any variation caused frequent helm corrections. In a single RH screw vessel it was easier once you learned the offset caused by the transverse thrust.
Correction of all magnetic compasses was a bit of a headache. The exam syllabus for Master FG and Extra Master was termed 'Deviation and the Deviascope. Before the advent of electricity and iron(steel) ships, the problems were minimal. Many knew the effect of and on ferrous metal in the earth's magnetic field but the real problems came when they equipped ships with electricity. It was found that an electric current passing along a wire sets-up a magnetic field round that wire. A compass within range could be seriously effected. Since the current did not flow continuously, the effect was variable - not desirable in an instrument for navigation. But I diverse - that's an other subject
 

Jim Currie

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The Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea Part A Rule 1,(c) subsection (x) the term "short blast" means a blast of about one second duration.
Subsection(xi)the term "prolonged blast" means a blast of from four to six seconds duration.
 

Jim Currie

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Dave re my last posting: I think that's what the dif. in the description was. A long blast can have any length but a'prolonged one coupled with the Rule definition would certainly get a pass mark!