Lights On, Lights Off


Oct 14, 2013
Not sure if this has been brought up before, but I haven't seen it in the threads.

Given that Titanic could see the lights of Californian during the sinking, and vice versa, and Californian could see Titanic's rockets, but couldn't make out the morse lamp....

Could Titanic have flashed ALL of its lights, on/off to get the attention of Californian? Maybe even in morse code? SOS/QCD, etc...?

Not sure what the capabilities would have been in the electrics, in the dynamo room, etc., whether or not this would be feasible.

Of course it might increase the likelihood of panic as lights started flashing throughout the ship, but it might have been worth a try.


Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Hello Scott.

If you have been following anoither thread re this subject, you'll know that I dispute the idea thatTitanic and Californian were in sight of one another during the sinking.
However the interruption of ship's power that you refer to would, besides the panic effect you allude to, have been a logistical nightmare if it was even possible and didn't blow fuses all,over the place. A morse 'flashed dot' is a fraction of a second and a 'flash dash' about half a second. At a distance, this would merely look like flickering lights. An observer would not be looking for it or expect it. Additionally; it would have caused problems with the wireless transmitter/receiver.

Jim C.

Adam Went

Apr 28, 2003
Hi Scott,

What Jim's saying is correct, and in any case the engineers on board the Titanic had been instructed to keep the lights and power going for as long as possible so as to aid with both the evacuation of the ship and the constant sending out of distress signals. To try and use the entire ship as a morse signal in a circumstance like that would have wreaked even more havoc.


Jay Roches

Apr 14, 2012
The wireless ran off a separate circuit and could also run off the emergency dynamos, but the transmitter was quite sensitive to changes in voltage. It depended on a DC motor turning an alternator to generate AC power (AC was required for radio transmission). Suddenly switching on and off large banks of lights would have affected the voltage and current available at the wireless. The supply would have stayed relatively constant but the demand would have varied. The wireless may have even had fuses blow, and the motor's speed would have fluctuated and made transmission impossible.

There were controls (variable resistors, aka rheostats) for the motor's armature and commutator as well as a rheostat for the AC alternator's field. They are the large boxes with handles (one has a little copper coil on it) you can see on the wall in films or photos. There's strong evidence that it became necessary to adjust these as the dynamos failed. Making the lights flash would have made the problem worse and there would have been a decent chance of wrecking the transmitter. There was a backup, run from batteries, although it was less powerful and was never used on April 15th, 1912.

That being said, it was technically possible to turn on and off large areas of the ship's lighting. There were switch and fuse boxes at relevant locations as well as a main distributor panel, and the ship's circuits were divided into sections such as the machine spaces, cargo holds, forward/midships/aft compartments, saloons, wireless and navigational lights. As with the wireless, turning off some circuits might overload others and blow fuses. It would have been likely to cause panic, it would have been unlikely to work, and no one would have though of doing it.

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