Efficency of the Titanic's Bridge

Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
Since the Skylight's thread seems to be drifting off into unintended territory to focus on the efficency or percieved lack thereof of the Titanic's bridge design, I thought it would be wise to start a new thread where it would be more appropriate to discuss it. In the previous thread, David Brown made this point;

This is not meant as a criticism of the people involved, or of the design of the Olympics per se. Rather, my goal is to point out the way human knowledge does not progress evenly and this can result in unanticipated consequences. Technology allowed the construction of huge, fast floating hotels, but there was no human experience to teach how to manage those vessels. So, what we erroneously call "mistakes" were made. But, design errors resulting from the uneven acquisition of aggregate human knowlege are not "mistakes." They are really the inevitable cost of progress.
With that, I leave the rest of this thread open fdor comment and discussion.​
Oct 28, 2000
Thanks Mike for switching this discussion. It deserves to be a separate thread.

It was discussed on the previous thread that watch officers often spent too much time in the chartroom and too little on the open bridge during cold or inclement weather. This seems likely. Anyone who is of the human species can attest to human nature when it comes to being cold, wet, or miserable. However, it does not appear that anyone was "goldbricking" on Titanic that night.

Even so, we have evidence that the design of the bridge did force the watch officer to leave his post from time to time. Most people know the story of Lightoller sending word to the crow's nest to watch out for "small ice and growlers." He actually had Moody make the phone call. Moody's first effort did not satisfy Lightoller, so he had the sixth officer repeat the message more exactly.

By concentrating on the message to the lookouts, we have forgotten the implications of Lightoller's correcting moody with regard to keeping lookout. The telephone instruments were inside the closed wheelhouse. For Lightoller to have overheard Moody's conversation, it was necessary for the second officer to at least put his head inside that wooden structure. And, doing so meant that Lightoller perforce could not keep lookout as he was expected to do.

True, there were no dire consequences of Lightoller's departure from the bridge to listen to Moody on the phones. However, the fact that Lightoller moved to where he could hear Moody's end of the conversation indicates the built-in loss of situational awareness of Titanic's bridge layout. While supervising Moody it was impossible for Lightoller to properly perform his primary duty of keeping watch.

-- David G. Brown
Mar 3, 1998

I see what you're saying, but I think that you're stretching the point a bit. One can still be standing on Titanic's forebridge and listen to conversations in the wheelhouse, especially on a darkened bridge at night when the weather is calm. Remember, there would be no hum from transformers powering a battery of electronic equipment or the crackle of the bridge-to-bridge radio like we have today...Titanic's bridge would have been fairly quiet that night.

Titanic's bridge was not the best design to serve that ship. The entire ship was essentially an upscaling of earlier designs and the designers should have taken the ship's larger size into account when laying out the bridge. I say this, of course, with hindsight...from the designer's point of view in 1908-9, they were venturing into uncharted territory and doing the best they could with the knowledge they had.

It has been often mentioned that the design of the Lusitania was superior to that of Titanic because of the additional requirements imposed on the designers by the Admiralty. In addition, though, one thing that John Brown did that Harland & Wolff didn't was to vet their designs through a model-testing and peer-review process. As good as the H&W shipwrights were, they didn't really get any feedback from independent evaluators that might have improved upon their original design. The engineers at H&W were very good at learning from the lessons of the past and building solid, reliable ships. However, one need only compare the hulls of Lusitania and Olympic to see which was the more advanced in terms of hydrodynamic efficiency. Then again, this is like comparing apples to oranges...Lusitania had incorporated into her design the dual role of emigrant ship and armed "cruiser." Olympic was only intended to be an emigrant ship...a large, richly appointed emigrant ship, but from the standpoint of naval architecture design, a bulk people-hauler, nonetheless. Olympic's design served her intended purpose.

I still disagree with the notion that "watch officers often spent too much time in the chartroom and too little on the open bridge during cold or inclement weather." This may have been the case for the junior officers of the watch, whose duties took them off the forebridge (the very purpose of the junior officer of the watch, as you know, is to perform those duties on or off the bridge that would otherwise distract the deck officer from his duty), but not the deck officer. Let's just say that when I was in the Navy, the OOW could not leave the bridge under any circumstance, unless ordered to by the CO (who would be present on the bridge). I can't imagine that the modern US Navy has more stringent rules in this regard than the British Merchant Marine of the early 1900s. If so, then spank my bottom and call me Charlie.

I just had a 6-stop in my brain...why are we discussing this topic?

Mar 22, 2003
Chicago, IL, USA
Parks wrote:

... that the man responsible for the ship will remain on the bridge at all times, in a place where he is an integral part of the environment.

I assume that what is meant by "the man responsible for the ship" is the OOW. And as long as the Captain has full confidence in the abilities of the OOW, and the visibility is perfect, it would be all right to inform your OOW that you will be just inside if needed when entering a region of ice. We do know from Lightoller that Capt. Smith left the bridge to go inside at about 9:30 PM, a time that Lightoller himself expected to be up to the region of ice. We also know he did not return to the bridge during the remainder of Lightoller's watch when he turned it over to Murdoch at 10:00. Hichens doesn't say anything about Smith being on the bridge after he took the wheel at 10, but he was in the enclosed wheelhouse. We know from Boxhall the Smith was busy in the his chart room plotting positions on a chart about 10 PM. We don't know what Smith did or did not do with respect to going onto the bridge after 10 PM, but we do know that at 11:40 he was not on the bridge when the collision occurred, but came onto the bridge passing through the wheelhouse as the berg was passing up astern.​
Mar 3, 1998

Yes, the deck officer has responsibility for the ship's safe navigation when the ship's Master is not on the bridge. That is the reason why deck officers exist -- Masters cannot be on the bridge ALL the time -- and I apologise for not making that plain in my post above.

Of course, even though responsibility for the ship's safe navigation is delegated by the Master to the deck officer, that does not relieve the Master of his ultimate responsibility. It is therefore essential that the Master have complete trust and confidence in the deck officers who stand the watch in his place. This also explains why Masters who have trouble delegating responsibility have an abrasive, and sometimes abusive, relationship with their subordinates...the element of trust is missing.


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