Lights on Board


Ben Lemmon

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Oct 9, 2009
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Hello everyone,
I had a question about the lights on the Titanic. During its infamous sinking, is it likely that the lights flickered on and off, as portrayed by Cameron, or did they remain on until that last pivotal moment, when all the breakers failed? If this question is unanswerable, I understand, but is there anyone who might have some feedback into what possibly happened that night? Thanks in advance for the assistance!
 
May 27, 2007
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I had a question about the lights on the Titanic. During its infamous sinking, is it likely that the lights flickered on and off, as portrayed by Cameron, or did they remain on until that last pivotal moment, when all the breakers failed?
I'd have 'em flicker a bit, Ben. I remember writing my story having the lights start flickering an hour into the sinking. That's what got the Third Class Passengers moving. That and the male passengers coming forward with water on their pants and wet feet from flooding, after a few of them went back to get their clothes. But I specifically remember the having the lights start to flicker an hour after the sinking. Not so much from what I read as from what I thought sounded right. I had just a bit of flickering too til near the end when the breakers went.​
 

Ben Lemmon

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What was it that they had, then, if they weren't breakers? I'm not questioning your knowledge, because I know you're one of the experts here. However, I still would like to know what they had instead of breakers. If you could get back to me that would be great!
 
May 27, 2007
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What breakers?
The breakers on the ship that Cameron depicted I guess? In my story I didn't have breakers or really go into how the ship was powered.

I would like to know how the ship was powered if not by breakers. I, myself think it's tied up with the engine generating the power. Actually I never really thought or been interested in how the ship was powered. I'm sure Ben is interested though so please enlighten us.​
 
May 27, 2007
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Hello Ben. I'm guessing like you I got the idea the ship was powered by breakers from Cameron's film. Seems we were mistaken. I think the ships power was generated by the engine, perhaps.
 
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Bill West

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Steam engine driven dynamos supplied the electricity. But on it’s way through the switchboard for distribution throughout the ship it was controlled by circuit breakers, just as in your house. The breakers didn’t fail as such but when the water shorted the wiring at various places in the ship the breakers opened to shut the branch circuit off. This makes a progressive failure of the lighting quite plausible.

As a detail the breakers were the old fashioned carbon tipped type and would mainly deal with overloads while the fuses that were also provided cleared short circuits. In the switchboard pictures the breakers are the fancy rig at the top with the big handle while the fuses are in the vertical white porcelain holders.

Bill
 

Ben Lemmon

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Oct 9, 2009
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Thanks for the information, Bill. It was really helpful, and it helped me to comprehend what actually went on to cause the power to go out. Your answer, however, makes wonder something else. After the power had gone out in one area due to the water, would it have been possible for the power to be flipped back on, just as one can when a breaker trips at their house? Or once the power went out, did that mean it was permanently out until the ship sank entirely? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
 
May 27, 2007
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Thanks Bill.
happy.gif
I was wondering all night why Cameron depicted breakers in the film if there were supposedly no breakers. I've heard of the dynamos but must confess I have not idea how they work with the engine.
 

Bill West

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Ben, if the breaker opens because of a temporary problem then you can reset it after the problem has been corrected. But if you try to reset the breaker on a permanent problem such as flooding then excessive current will flow again and the breaker will just open again.

George, dynamo is an older term for generator. Either way it just converts mechanical power such as from an engine to electrical power. On the Titanic there were four 580 horsepower steam engines in the electrical room for driving the four dynamos.

A piece of people logic, if you overfire a boiler or stop its engine the safety valves will lift, but nobody blames the valves. When you overspeed a dynamo or short its circuits and the fuses blow however, everyone blames the fuses. So when a non technical director is making a film, he finds that the dynamos spin away steadily but during trouble it’s the breakers that open, maybe with lots of sparks, and they are where any operator reaction is needed so that’s why he thinks they make a better film subject.

Bill
 
May 27, 2007
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George, dynamo is an older term for generator.
Ah ok, Generator! That makes sense. Thanks, Bill
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quote:

So when a non technical director is making a film, he finds that the dynamos spin away steadily but during trouble it’s the breakers that open, maybe with lots of sparks, and they are where any operator reaction is needed so that’s why he thinks they make a better film subject.
I bet Mr Cameron thought so.​
 
Mar 22, 2003
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The real question is what failed when the lights went out? It seems the ship's lights all went out when the ship broke as I read lookout Symons' description. Steam lines from the boilers to the dynamo engines would have parted. Beesley described the lights go out then come back on for single flash before going off completely. If the inverse delay breakers tripped, why would the lights flick back on briefly?
 

Bill West

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Water causing very heavy overload currents on several branches would pull the voltage down for one or two seconds while the breakers opened. The voltage and the rest of the lights then recover for seconds before the system completely failed.

This is because if a system drops 10% voltage at full load it only takes a 300-400% overload to dim the lights enough for one’s eyes to think they’ve virtually gone out. So if arcing occurs at the fault location the rest of the lights appear to flicker in an inverse pattern to the arcing at the fault.

From my den I can see lightning flashes 10 miles away on the opposite side of the city. Whenever they hit the main electric system there is a flicker in my lights too.

Bill
 
Dec 29, 2006
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I have another question about the lights on RMS Titanic. I note that, as depicted in recent films and TV programmes, the funnels of the vessel seem to be floodlit, so that they are clearly visible at night. Is this entirely accurate — I know that modern cruise ships often have floodlit funnels, but I do not associate this feature with ships of the 1912 era. In any case, even if “funnel lighting” was fashionable at that time, would they have been lit when the vessel was at sea?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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The only photo I've ever seen of the Titanic taken at night was a heavily retouched photo of the ship taken at anchorage in Cherbourg. The stacks are noteworthy for not being illuminated. Whether that's signifigent, I can't say, but if they weren't going to light them up at anchorage, I can't see this happening out at sea where such illumination would trash the watch team's night vision.
 

Bill Sauder

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Hi Stanley,

No the Titanic's funnels were not flood lit, that came into fashion during the 1920's and it would not surprise me if it were the French that led the way.

The most light you'd seen on them at night would be the light scatter that filters up from the grand staircase domes and reciprocating engine room hatch, so we're talking mostly on the after face of the No. 3 funnel.

There are excellent inventories available for the ship's major electric users, and the wreck has been scrutinized since the 1980. Nobody's ever found any evidence for floodlights.
 
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