Line of sight etc

Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

I was looking at BB's deckplans - particularly of the Boat Deck and A-deck - and trying to get a mental picture of what it would have been like in terms of what one could see or hear during the sinking of the Titanic.

More specifically, would the crew and passengers around Lifeboat 10 on the boat deck at and after 01:30 am be able to see or hear anything of the activity around Lifeboat #4 on A-deck? Or vice versa? Given the crowd, darkness and the distance involved, I am guessing that it would not have been able to see much eg identify familiar faces etc.

Similarly, could those working on Collapsible D on the port side see anything of the activity around Collapsible C on the starboard side before the latter was lowered?
There's no way someone could see from collapsible C to collapsible D. The wheelhouse is in the way. Unless both doors were open, you might peak through both doorways. But terrible visibility.

You might be able to see from #10 to #4, but not likely. Maybe if someone had a distinctive silhouette, or you already knew they were there.
Here's the line of sight from Boat #10 to Boat #4. We're standing just forward of #10 looking forward
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You might be able to see from #10 to #4, but not likely. Maybe if someone had a distinctive silhouette, or you already knew they were there.

Thanks. Any idea what the physical distance might have been from the davits of #10 and #4?

Right, I'll be more specific but this is still hypothetical. If someone with a "distinctive silhouette" - let us say he was a big and well known crew member - was working near Lifeboat #10 around 01:40 am, is there any way Lightoller, from his vantage point near Lifeboat #4, be able to identify him?

The points that I see against this are:

- It was dark and there was also question of distance between the two points.
- Both points would have been crowded with people - passengers and crew. There might have been a few interposing in-between.
- Perhaps most importantly, #10 was loaded from the boat deck while Lifeboat #4 was lowered to A-deck earlier and loaded from there.
The distance from a location on boat #4 to the same location on boat #10 was roughly 285 feet.
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One other consideration... most people would have their attention focused in their immediate vicinity. Those loading the lifeboats would be focused on the task at hand, not trying to discern who was standing on the opposite end of a football pitch.

If someone said they recognized someone, I'd guess they had a 75% of being right, but I don't think most people would have been trying.
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The distance from a location on boat #4 to the same location on boat #10 was roughly 285 feet.

That's about 90 metres. IMO, it would be difficult to distinguish someone in the dark in the middle of a crowd, even with a familiar silhouette.

I owe it to you guys to explain why I am asking.

One of the Titanic issues that I am interested in is what really became of Boatswain Alfred "Big neck" Nichols. I have read Brad Payne's interesting article about this and agree to most of his conjectures. Many accounts presume that Nichols and his 6 handpicked sailors died belowdecks when they tried to follow Lightoller's order to open a gangway door. IF Lightoller indeed give that order, it was at 01:05 in the vicinity of Lifeboat #6 on the boat deck. Lightoller claimed, probably truthfully, that he never saw Nichols afterwards. But going by survivor statements Nichols was seen by a few others afterwards, notably by Leading Fireman Barrett when the latter arrived at Lifeboat #13. According to Barrett, Nichols told him to get into the lifeboat and 'pull an oar'; if that was true, it would have been around 01:35 am.

Payne reckons that Rule, who knew Nichols by sight, did not see the boatswain in the vicinity of Lifeboat #15 a few minutes later was because Nichols was one of the scouts sent out by Moody to find more women and children to put into the boat. This may indeed be the case but even if so, Nichols would have done this by 01:43 am, just before #15 was lowered. The question arises what Nichols might have done afterwards; my conjecture (and that's all it is) that he might have followed Murdoch across to the port side where Lifeboat #10 was being readied for launch. IF that was the case, I just wondered whether Lightoller, still faffing around Lifeboat #4 on A-deck, could have seen Nichols' familiar silhouette if the former had looked in that direction. My guess is, that he could not.
285 feet is a long way in daylight. At night with only relatively dim light, no way.
I think it's remotely plausible, if one was talking to someone with a distinctive outline: a specific coat, distinctive hat earlier that night. If that person stood up on a platform against a lit backdrop, or was momentarily not surrounded by the crowd.

Under those circumstance, I think it would be possible. But it would be easy to be mistaken, and it wouldn't be a very dependable thing.
I think it's remotely plausible, if one was talking to someone with a distinctive outline: a specific coat, distinctive hat earlier that night. If that person stood up on a platform against a lit backdrop, or was momentarily not surrounded by the crowd.
Despite the different decks in the specific scenario that I mentioned? Lifeboat #10 was loaded and lowered from the boat deck while Lifeboat #4 was loaded on the A-deck through those windows. Wouldn't that have interfered with the line of sight?
Unless you were looking over the ship’s side, a person standing inboard of the lifeboat at #10 lifeboat on the boat deck couldn’t see a boat #4 loading from A deck.
I think the difference in deck height is irrelevant, as long as you're looking down. It's only about 9 feet (3 meters) between decks. Of course, you'll also have to factor in the tilt of the deck, which might double that. The distance along the deck is going to be by far the largest contribution to distance.

It's much more difficult looking up. To be on A deck looking up at the boat deck, the person you're seeing would have to be in the front of Boat 10, and they'd be silhouetted against the night sky. So unless they were wearing a big white hat with flowers on it:

that probably ain't going to happen.
Unless you were looking over the ship’s side, a person standing inboard of the lifeboat at #10 lifeboat on the boat deck couldn’t see a boat #4 loading from A deck.
Which, you'll notice in the deck picture I posted above is exactly the angle I took that shot from... because it's the only place where such a view is remotely possible.
Hi Arun,

I treat a lot of the gangway door opening stuff with some degree of scepticism. And as you are an arch sceptic of Lightoller, who proposed all this on day 1 of the USA Inquiry - knowing that none of those he claimed to perform the task of the opening of the gangway doors never survived - you also ought to have your doubts over this?

Boxhall is ordered to go from the port side in his boat (emergency lifeboat 2) to manoeuvre this boat with only one seaman on board around the stern to an open gangway on the starboard side which was open/wasn't open depending on which account of Boxhall's you believe. And all this from was it 1.45am onwards and then must have taken some time to accomplish.

So Boxhall's boat get's lowered at 1.45am the same time Phillips goes out from the Marconi cabin on deck to see what is happening and Bride sends a message, and Phillips comes back and reports was it the front well deck was awash? IE going under. And there was already a list to port. (All this is in Sam's new book). So Boxhall and his one seaman get their emergency lifeboat 2 round the stern with the propellers partly exposed to get to an aft gangway door to rescue passengers from it?! He never made the attempt; as either the risk of suction plus the ganyway doors weren't open.

The whole thing is 'nuts' IMHO. To start with you don't open gangway doors close to the waterline on a sinking ship. I can't believe that Captain Smith would have approved of such a move, given what Andrews had told him as recounted by Boxhall, as to the limited time left for Titanic to sink.

It seems to me to be an extravagant 'sop' to appease the clamours of the USA press and public opinion that most of the lifeboats were not fully loaded.

Doesn't make any sense to me!


You are probably right and that's the reason all of my posts mentioning that supposed order at 01:05 am by Lightoller to Nichols to take six men etc are preceded with a big "IF". My main interest in that is linking it with the fate of Alfred Nichols.

Let us suppose - just suppose - that Lightoller really did give that order. I have made some private notes of the probable eventualities as follows:

I stress that this is my conjecture only but in doing so I am trying to fit in various survivor statements by Symons, Johnstone and Barrett about seeing Nichols at various places later and also possible reasons why Littlejohn and Rule did not see him. IMO, none of those sightings or non-sightings of Nichols are mutually exclusive.

12:55 ~ 01:05 am: Having helped load and launch #3 as instructed, Symons too arrives at #1 to see Nichols once again working with Murdoch. Symons takes Nichols' place while the latter crosses over to the port side to the vicinity of Lifeboat #6, arriving there around 01:00 am. Here on the port side, Lightoller is in charge of Lifeboat #6 and Nichols briefly helps to continue loading. A few minutes later, around 01:03 am, Lightoller instructs Nichols to take 6 men and go to E-deck and open the gangway door on the port side in order to load additional passengers from there, presumably starting with #6. Nichols departs and quickly picks his 6 sailors.
Meanwhile on the starboard side, Murdoch lowers the partially filled Lifeboat #1 at around 01:05 am with Symons in it.

1:05 am ~ 01:15 am: Nichols and his picked men go down to E-deck and open the Gangway door. But they find that the waterline is almost to the threshold of the doorway by then and realize that Lightoller’s plan would not work, at least not from the E-deck door. So they close it again and cogitate about the next step. Meanwhile, Lightoller continues loading Lifeboat #6 and lowers it at 01:10 am.
Someone, probably Nichols himself, suggests opening the portside D-deck door instead, which is not only a deck level higher but further aft, thus well above the sea level at that time. As the group starts-up again, Lifeboat #6 goes past the closed E-deck door (which explains why no one on the boat noticed an open gangway door)

01:15 ~ 1:30 am: Nichols and his six men go to the D-deck and open the gangway door. By then it is around 01:20 am and Lifeboat #6, launched 10 minutes earlier, has long gone past the spot. Having done that Nichols and his men return to the boat deck; Nichols dismisses his 6 sailors who then disperse to help at other spots while he himself goes forward to report their actions to Lightoller. But the Second Officer is not on the boat deck by then and unbeknown to Nichols has moved to A-deck to work on Lifeboat #4. Nichols finds Chief Officer Wilde instead preparing Lifeboat #2 to be loaded and reports to him. By then #2 is being loaded and seeing that Johnstone is about to go in it, Nichols instructs him about “watching the star”. Fourth Officer Boxhall, (who eventually ended-up on charge of #2) is still busy with the rockets and not yet in the vicinity and so does not see Nichols near Lifeboat #2.

There are two crucial points here. First, when (and if) Nichols returned to the boat deck after carrying out a modification of Ligtholler's order, the Second officer had moved down to A-deck to start his shenanigans with Lifeboat #4 and so could not see Nichols. In that case, Nichols would have reported to either Wilde or Captain Smith, most likely the former, who was working near Lifeboat #2 at the time. Second, there is the timing of that 'star tip' that Nichols reportedly gave Johnstone near #2; I think this was around 15 minutes before that boat was lowered and not just before as Johnstone's statement appeared to suggest. Boxhall was still firing his rockets at the time and not yet arrived near Lifeboat #2, which explains both the delay in launching that boat and the reason why the fourth officer did not mention seeing Nichols, because the latter had left the spot by then.

Further on:

01:30 ~ 01:40 am: Seeing that there is enough crew help around #2, Nichols departs and heads to the starboard side aft. There, Lifeboat #13 is loaded initially from the boat deck by Murdoch with Beuchamp and Littlejohn helping out. After some First Class passengers are loaded, Murdoch orders Littlejohn into the boat and has it lowered to A-deck where Moody supervises loading of a lot of Third Class passengers just as Nichols arrives there at around 01:30 am to help out. In the general crowded confusion Littlejohn, already in the lifeboat, does not notice that Nichols is helping out on A-deck. Barrett arrives just as the loading is complete and Nichols orders the Leading Fireman into the boat and 'pull an oar'. #13 is launched at 01:40 am.
01:40 ~ 01:45 am: Murdoch on the boat deck aft on the starboard side has started loading Lifeboat #15 immediately after #13 was lowered to A-deck, with Rule as one of the crew helping. Murdoch tells Rule to go down to A-deck to help to load more people from there and presumably to make sure that #13 is launched before loading of #15 above it is completed. Rule complies and upon arrival on A-deck sees Moody (but does not know him by sight) who has started lowering #13. Rule knows Nicholls by sight but does not see the latter in the vicinity. That is because as soon as #13 was loaded and ready for lowering, Moody sent out scouts to find women and children to load into #15 when it is lowered onto the A-deck and it is likely that Nicholls was one of those scouts. Meanwhile, Lifeboat #15 is lowered onto A-deck as planned and further loading is quickly completed. Rule gets into #15 along with a crowd of passengers just as #15 is lowered at 01:45 am, almost on top of the struggling #13 on the water.

While all that is going on, Boxhall finally arrives at the davits of Lifeboat #2 on the port side, where Wilde has returned and completed loading of the lifeboat. Wilde orders Boxhall to take charge and lowers #2 at 01:45 am, with Johnstone (who had received the ‘star tip’ from Nichols about 15 minutes earlier) in it. The delay could be due to the fact that Wilde wanted to wait for Boxhall to finish sending-up the rockets and arrive to take charge of Lifeboat #2.

By the time Nichols returns to starboard side aft with a few women and children, #15 is almost ready to be lowered and so he hands his charges over and proceeds to the port side with Murdoch to where Lifeboat #10 is still attached to its davits on the port side. (This may seem like too much conjecture, but Murdoch was involved with loading and launching of Lifeboats #13, #15 and #10 and whose presence near #10 was noted by Evans. If Nichols was also near Lifeboat #15 just before it was lowered, with nothing more to do on that side aft, it would be logical to assume that the boatswain followed Murdoch to the port side to help with #10). Murdoch, Nicholls and others complete loading and lower #10 it at 01:50 hours.

Further up on the port side, Lightoller also finally lowers Lifeboat #4 at 01:50 am. But with the combination of darkness, milling crowds and general activity, Lightoller, from his vantage point on A-deck, would not have been able to get a clear sight of Nichols near Lifeboat #10 on the boat deck.

If things really panned out that way, what Nichols did afterwards would be subject to further conjecture. If he was with Murdoch near Lifeboat #10 when it was lowered, the boatswain would likely follow the First Officer to starboard side forward, where Collapsible C was being loaded. By then everyone would have realized that the Titanic was going to sink and that there were not enough lifeboats for all still on board the ship. The mindset would have increasingly been of survival and so noticing “who-was-doing-what-where” would have been far less likely than, say, 20 minutes earlier. With Wilde, Murdoch and Moody all being lost and Boxhall none the wiser, Lightoller could not have had any fellow-officer update on Nichols’ whereabouts and actions after the two parted company at 01:05 am. And no survivor knew for certain the identities of the 6 men that Nichols had chosen to help him with the gangway doors and so whether any of them survived.