Controversial Emergency Boat #1


Jan 11, 2014
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I've been researching on the Titanic for a while ;) and I find it fascinating. One of the things that caught my attention the most was the loading of Emergency Lifeboat #1.

My Q's are:

What could have possibly gone through Murdoch's mind while lowering it away not only with only 12 people but knowing that most of them were both men and crew members?

Was it out of desperation?

Murdoch was an experienced seaman and was not supposed to commit such a mistake.

P.S.: Not judging him, he must have had a reason.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nobody can know what was in another man's mind. The best you can do is to examine the testimonies of survivors (see The Titanic Inquiry Project online) to accumulate eye witness impressions of the situation on the boat deck at that time and in that location. This will not of course provide you with a complete picture, but will make it easier to consider the options available to Murdoch and the extent to which each was justified. Also you will certainly find that there is much existing debate about boat 1 already in the archives of this forum, so do spend some time examining them. There will be existing open threads in which you can comment further or question the views already expressed. Obviously it will be more fruitful if you do that after studying every available testimony from 1912.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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5th Officer Lowe said it was he who loaded and lowered No. 1. However when the boat was loaded there were nearly 20 people close by and only 2 of them were women. 12 were put into the boat and as there was nobody there it was lowered. The officers did not have time to wait and search for more.
Murdoch loaded the boats on the starboard side with women and children first and when room he send men and crew members into the boat to fill it up. (I think he was going to safe as many lifes he could.)
 

Dave Gittins

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Murdoch's action was not as bad as many make it out to be. The capacity of the emergency boats was very nominal. I'd say it was very imaginative. Try getting 40 people into a double ended boat 25' x 7'. There are oodles of bigger trailer sailers!

By modern SOLAS rules, the emergency boats' capacity is 20. Boxhall had about that many in boat 2. To the dozen in boat 1 she looked pretty full, especially as she was cluttered with spare oars, spars and sail. In the poor light, she probably looked pretty full to Murdoch.
 

Jim Currie

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Emergency boat 1 was launched very early-on. It was the last one of the four boats located at the for'ard starboard side. It was launched before full-blown abandon ship mode.. when there was a possibility that the occupants would be returning to the vessel after the problem was under control. There was simply no need at that time to pack them in like sardines, regardless of sex.
It should be noted that lifeboats were being launched in a specific manner.. not port and starboard at the same time. That did not start until an hour and a half after impact. Then it was get 'em in and off from both sides.

Jim C.
 
Sep 10, 2012
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Murdoch's action was not as bad as many make it out to be. The capacity of the emergency boats was very nominal. I'd say it was very imaginative. Try getting 40 people into a double ended boat 25' x 7'. There are oodles of bigger trailer sailers!

By modern SOLAS rules, the emergency boats' capacity is 20. Boxhall had about that many in boat 2. To the dozen in boat 1 she looked pretty full, especially as she was cluttered with spare oars, spars and sail. In the poor light, she probably looked pretty full to Murdoch.

Well, this question is coming from someone whose knowledge in seafaring is very lacking, to say the least, but how is it possible that a boat with a rated capacity of 40 only had room for something like 20?

Also, while I acknowledge that the boat may have looked pretty full in the poor light, how come that Walter Hurst, who probably saw it less well than Murdoch did, found the boat empty enough to remark to a friend "if they are sending the boats away they just as well put some people in them" according to this letter he wrote to Walter Lord? Granted, that was written more than forty years after the disaster, but I don't see why he would make this up, although his memory may have been faulty.

Lastly, if the rated capacity of the emergency cutters was beyond the room they actually had for people, did that apply to the regular lifeboats or to the collapsibles as well? From what you say, it seems that it might have, but at the same time, Collapsible C reportedly was full almost to its rated capacity of 47, and Lifeboat 15 was lowered beyond its rated capacity of 65, to name a few instances. Did the regular lifeboats or the collapsibles somehow seem that much more spacious than the emergency cutters, in spite of not being that bigger, particularly as far as the collapsibles are concerned?

I apologize if this is too much to inquire about, but your post has gotten me curious, especially considering everything that was said about how almost all of the Titanic's lifeboats ended up filled well below their rated capacities.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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I think it was Poingdestre who mentioned that people wearing a lifebelt took up more space.

Regarding the lifeboat capacity, interestingly there were 2 different number given. According to the BOT the capacity of the Emergency boats were given as 40 but on the list they were given to had space for 33 people.

Regarding how full the boats were, it depends which officer was involved. Murdoch took more "risk" and filled his boat with over 50 people (especially the aft starboard boats) while on the other side, Smith, Wilde and Lightoller never put more than 35 (or at most 40) into them. [Of course it also depends on the passengers. Many refused to go and when the forward starboard boats were loaded there were not much people close by.]
 

Bob Godfrey

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Guilherme, you have made comparisons with several other boats which were loaded up to or even beyond their rated capacity and have questioned whether boat 1 was lightly loaded because the cutters seemed less spacious. It's more a matter of when each boat was loaded and lowered - No 1 at a time when passengers were reluctant to board, Collapsible C and boat 15 later in the sequence, when demand for places exceeded supply. Bear in mind also that there was an added incentive to get the cutter away as soon as possible because its davits and falls would be needed to lower Collapsible C stored on the deck alongside. Another point to consider is that unlike the lifeboats which were designed as such (both the full-sized variety and the smaller collapsibles) the cutters had no bouyancy aids, so there was greater risk if they were launched fully loaded and the sea became rough. The other cutter (boat 2) was launched with around 25 people, which was probably a reasonable compromise for a craft which was not designed as a seagoing lifeboat.
 

Jim Currie

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Bob has it more or less right.

As for the BoT number, there was a formula for determining how many people could safely be loaded into a lifeboat. It was determined that each person would occupy 10 cubic feet of space. Thus, by calculating the internal volume of the boat and dividing it by 10 the number of people it should be loaded with was arrived at. In the case of Boat 1 it would have been done like this..Length 25' x breadth 7 ' times depth 3.5' = 612 cu ft. However a boat is not a box so we have to allow for its boat-shape. This is done by multiplying the box shape volume by a coefficient. In the case of Boat 1 the shape of the boat would be about 0.65 of a box of the same dimensions. Therefore to find the number of people, we multiply 612 by 0.6 = 397.8 cu. feet and divide the result by 10. The answer comes to a rounded number of 40 persons.

Jim C.
 
Sep 10, 2012
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Ioannis, not meaning to denigrate either the words of whoever said that or yours by mentioning them, it seems a bit puzzling to me to think that the Titanic's lifebelts were as bulky as to have a significant impact on the room existing in a lifeboat. I do know that both A Night To Remember and James Cameron's movie had the passengers and crewmembers wearing a wrong (and from what I'm understanding less bulky) type of lifebelt, but it does seem to me that the Titanic's real lifebelts would have to be very bulky indeed to make a signifcant reduction on the number of people that could fit in a boat.

Bob, thank you for your very informative reply, particularly the bit about the emergency cutters not having floation tanks (until I read your post, I just thought they had, simply because I know that the regular wooden lifeboats did).

And Jim, thank you for telling me how the amount of people that could fit in a boat was determined back then.
 

Dave Gittins

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Actually, Captain Jim hasn't got it quite right.

The formula used was Length x Beam x Depth x .6. Different sources give slightly different dimensions for the boats. Mersey's court used 30' x 9.1' x 4' and a volume of 655.2 cubic feet. The volume of the large boats was divided by 10 to get the nominal capacity. For the emergency boats, a factor of 8 was used, giving a capacity of 40. Titanic's big boats were actually marked as having a capacity of 64, using slightly different dimensions.

It was realised even in 1912 that the capacity was very nominal. Lightoller said it only applied in perfectly calm conditions. Harold Sanderson of White Star said that in his opinion the practical capacity was more like 40.

Contrary to claims made at the time, none of the boats were overloaded. Mersey and his assessors found that witnesses frequently exaggerated the numbers in the boats. They particularly overstated the number of women and children in the boats and minimised the number of crew. According to evidence 642 women and children were saved, which is more than were on board. You can't always trust eye witness accounts.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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Contrary to claims made at the time, none of the boats were overloaded. Mersey and his assessors found that witnesses frequently exaggerated the numbers in the boats. They particularly overstated the number of women and children in the boats and minimised the number of crew. According to evidence 642 women and children were saved, which is more than were on board. You can't always trust eye witness accounts.

Yes, that became also clear when reading the different eyewitness accounts. Boat 6 had about 24 people on board but Hichens later stated that he count about 40. Lowe was under the impression that No. 1 had 25 or 27 aboard and No. 15 became famous to had about 70 on board but more likely had about 60.

However what is clear, the starboard boats were better filled than those on the port side.
 
Sep 10, 2012
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Well... I apologize if I sound like I am trying to be stubborn with this post, because I'm not; I'm fully aware that I am too much of a newbie as far as the Titanic is concerned to have anything resembling vast knowledge about it. However, meaning only to give my own opinion, I would say that concerning Lifeboat 15, and that one only, it seems to me that at least that one was overloaded.

I looked for some information about its occupancy, and many people mentioned a figure of around 70 for its occupants. Frank Dymond and Samuel Rule both said that there were 68 people aboard, and George Cavell and John Hart said that there were 70 people aboard, or something like that, and George Pelham said that there were over 60 people aboard.

And while Cavell and Hart did mention that most of those were women and children, Dymond, Rule and Pelham all said that the majority were men (Dymond said that only 28 of those were women and children, Pelham said that there were nearly 40 male passengers, and Rule initially mentioned that only eight or nine of those were women and children, although he appears to have been coerced into changing that figure later on).

So, given that 68 is a 'specific' number, that those who gave that figure also said that the majority of it was made up of men, and that even those who said the majority were women and children didn't give a much higher figure... well, it simply seems to me that Lifeboat 15 may have been overloaded when launched, although I do acknowledge that if it was, it would have been a very tight fit.

Again, this is just my opinion, and I acknowledge I've gotten interested on the issue far too recently to be truly knowledgeable about it. I only wanted to explain where my saying that Lifeboat 15 was lowered beyond its rated capacity came from.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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In most cases crew members gave a higher number than passengers (like boats No. 6 & 8). According to Nichols No. 15 had about 50 on board while Dahl gave the number to be 82.
 

Jim Currie

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Keep at 'em Guilherme.:cool:

The loading of the lifeboats has been a contraversial subject since the year 'dot'.

You're not alone in your lack of marine knowledge. Understandably, very many people who voice opinions on the subject of lifeboats know very little about them. Equally understandably, they are shocked when they hear that such seemingly big boats left Titanic's sides without the proper complement on board.

In fact, although built under the most modern conditions and equipped with the very latest buoyancy aids and launching system, the lifeboats of Titanic had an achilles heel. All lifeboats at that time had it.
Her lifeboats were lowered to the sea by a single manila rope at each end. Manila is a natural fibre and has less strength than it's modern counterpart. For this reason, it can be broken easly by a sudden shock load. The ropes (falls) of all lifeboat lowering systems in 1912 were vulnerable to shock load.
The method of lowering lifeboats on Titanic once they were wound-out to the lowering position was by 'surging'..slackening the ropes at each end. To do this, the ship-board end of each rope was led round a cross-shaped bollard or cleat on the boat deck. There was one at each end of the boat for that purpose.. When the boat was loaded and ready for launching, it would be hand-lowered to the sea by slackening off these ropes. While this was happening, the boat had to be kept level otherwise it would spill its contents. Obviously the ropes had to be slackened-off smoothly and by equal amounts. Very often, one of these ropes would become jambed and the lowering operation would need to be halted quickly. Too quickly and a sudden shock on the free end would result. Depending on the speed of stop and the load, it would be quite possible to break the rope. causing the boat to up-end an spill everone into the sea. It follows that to ensure there as no danger from breaking by shock load, the intial load should be kept to a manageable value. Once the boat was safely launched , it could be brought to an embarkation opening. Failing that, there would be room on board for unfortunates who had to jump for their lives.

Initially, the evacuation of women and children was a well managed affair. There was no real urgency. It followed that cautious boat loading could be followed. Later on, all caution was cast to the winds. We see thre result in the ever increasing numbers leaving in the boats.

Jim C.
 
Sep 10, 2012
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Well, I also didn't know that about the Titanic's lifeboats. Thank you for sharing that with me.

If I may ask, why were the boats' lines made of manila? Didn't they have any stronger material? Or is there some other reason?

Whatever it is, after I learned of it I can only say what I already thought, albeit to a lesser extent: it seems almost a miracle that when it comes down to it, a lot of things 'went well' when the Titanic sank, so to speak. Considering that 18 boats were lowered into the water without tipping a single person into the water, and that, according to this post, it took six people to lower each lifeboat (and possibly not all of them were ideally trained) it seems almost a miracle that all the lifeboats were lowered without major incidents, regardless of their actual occupancy.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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Manila rope was the best and also required by the BOT.

2 seamen were enough to lower the lifeboat. Additional crew members were only helping at the falls. Those does not need to be "trained" crew members (at some boats it was Ismay who helped them). Beside all crew members were trained as they had lifeboat drills on each voyage. (Some may have not work with a Welin Davit before but that is all.)
 

Jim Currie

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So true Ioannis. You can imagine the shock on that single line when they stopped lowering suddenly.

Hello Guilherm.

Manila, Hemp and coir were the three most common natural fibres used in rope making. Cotton was used as well. Man-made fibres did not become popular until after WW2.
Steel wire was in use before WW2 but had specialised uses. Mostly as back or fore springs for the moorings and for cargo runners on the cargo handling gear.

JIm C.
 

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