Maritime Laws in response to Titanic

Not open for further replies.

Erik Wood

Aug 24, 2000
Good morning fellow board users. I have been reading for my own pleasure the 1942 addition of the Merchant Marine Officers Handbook. In this book there are two or three very distinct rules that I believe are in response to what occured on Titanic on the night of April 14/15.

I will list them under a bold underlined heading and list the chapter and page number.


ICE NAVIGATION PROCEDUREThis is found in chapter 9 (Shiphandling)and is on page 9-41.

"The following procedure was set up by Captain D. F Sargent fo the Mormacisle and has been passed along by the USCG for the benefit of other shipmasters whose vessels may be called upont to navigate in far northern latitudes."

The Chief Mate is to assist the Master in conning from the flying bridge.

One mate and able seaman posted on bow as lookouts to assisnt in ice conn.

One mate on watch on flying bridge

Helmsman steering from flying bridge, 1 hour on and 1 hour off because of cold and amount of manuvering necessary.

One mate in the wheelhouse plotting continuous postition and keeping bells.

Carpenter and one dayman sounding all bilges every half hour.

Boatswain and one dayman inspecting all holds and deep tanks every half hour at quarter of and quarter past the hour.

Chief Engineer in engine room pumping bilges in rotation contiuously.

The next section is:

SPEED NEAR ICE found in Chapter 18 (Navigation Laws) page 18-19.

"When ice is reported on or near his course, the master of every ship at night is bount fo proceed at a moderate speed or to alter course so as to go well clear of the danger zone."

This quote is also from the International Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea
Those to chunks show just how far things have come since the days of Captain Smith and in my way of thinking are probably in direct response to the lessons learned from the Titanic.

The fact that these are actually written procedures for ships in the U.S. and in the last part ships throughout the world means that we did learn something from what happened to Titanic.

More importantly though is how these laws actually effect the safe and prudent operation of the vessel. In the first quote that I used every officer is on the bridge, and could be on the bridge for a rather large amount of time. Even once the ice watch is secured somebody has to stand watch and that officer will be tired from Ice Ops.

Fatigue is a dangerous companion. Airline pilots have regulations 8 on 12 off or something like that. Sailors have no such rules. You are on call 24/7 while underway and if you don't get sleep for 2 days you are still expected to dilligently stand your watch. That is why few officers make it to Captain. It is hell on the body and mind.

Books like the Merchant Marine Officers Handbook are designed to assist Junior Officers and experienced deck officers in carrying out there duties. One can never really be prepared for the job until it is placed upon them.

Just some thoughts and insight.
Jul 14, 2000
Good thoughts and good insights Erik.

You know I can't help but marvel at how much those rules mirror plain common sense.
It seems odd that it would take such obvious precautions being written down as law before they would be considered common practice. Then again, I feel sure that many captains ran their ships to the same standards of diligence, even before those standards were regarded as 'rules'. Those were the captains who went on to have long careers. What's the old adage? There are foolish captains, and there are old captains; but there aren't any old, foolish captains.


Tracy Smith

Nov 5, 2000
South Carolina USA
Yuri said:

Then again, I feel sure that many captains ran their ships to the same standards of diligence, even before those standards were regarded as 'rules'. Those were the captains who went on to have long careers.

One of these captains was named Stanley Lord....
Oct 28, 2000
Without attempting to apologize for Captain Smith and was physically impossible to follow the Ice Navigation Procedure outlined by Captain Erik aboard Titanic. The physical layout of the vessel would not have permitted it. There was no flying bridge from which the captain could have commanded or the quartermaster steered. If course changes were required, there was no mate available to do continuous position plotting and keep the bells, unless the officer of the watch (chief mate in the text) was delegated to this duty (a real "comedown" in responsibility). Changing course on Titanic required placing one junior officer on the compass platform and another inside the wheelhouse. Having the chief mate do bookwork would have prevented him from assisting the captain or performing any lookout duties.

Within a year of Titanic's accident a halfway flying bridge was created on Olympic by moving the standard compass forward to the top of the forebridge/wheelhouse. From photos, it appears a functional flying bridge was part of Britannic when it went into hospital ship service.

Did somebody discover something about the inadequacies of Titanic's bridge design on the night of April 14, 1912?

--David G. Brown
Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
Dave, I'll bet there were a few conversations going on behind the scenes that never made it into the inquiries, and along with it some very tough questions that nobody wanted to air in a public forum.

Seems to me that a few inadaquacies were discovered which I recall discussing in Topeka. Something about a set-up which made it impossible for all eyes to be where they were needed most.

Erik Wood

Aug 24, 2000
Captain Dave makes some good points especially in regard to Titanic. Captain Lord (I don't want to turn this thread into a Californian debate) did have a ship that could accomodate these rules and as Tracy said he followed them almost to the letter. I don't think there is a dispute about that.

In adaquacies on ships of era especially in regards to how they where run was probably the norm. Look at the size of the telegraphs, during the same time period the Great Lakes freights had telegraphs twice as small. The placement of key navigational aids was also a big problem.

I think most of us who where at Topeka this last September recall learning of some inadaquacies.
Not open for further replies.

Similar threads

Similar threads