Masthead Lights


Dec 4, 2000
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The discussion of masthead lights recurrs from time to time. From the ship's rigging plan, it appears that Titanic was fitted with only a single masthead light on the foremast. There does not seem to have been any fitting for an electrical light or a halyard on the main mast for an after masthead light. Steamshps in 1912 were only required to display a single masthead light no matter what their size. An after masthead light was permitted, not required, under the then-current Rules of the Road.

Some have suggested that an after light would have burned kerosene. This is based on paragraph 20 in the IMM/White Star Line rulebook which stated, "At all times one of the two mast-head lights carried must be of oil; where only one is carried, it may be electric light..." This paragraph also states, "When navigating any channels, on the night before reaching and during the night after leavey any port, and elsewhere in fog or misty weather, oil mast-head and side lights are to be used instead of electric lights."

The masthead light recovered from the debris field was electric. Were oil lamps actually used (not carried, but used) in Titanic? Ive seen no research to support oil side or stern lights. But...??? (Ships of 1912 often carried oil lights as "backup" equipment, but that's not what is described in the IMM/WSL rules.)

-- David G. Brown
 

Bags

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Ah, interesting, it would appear that if she was running two mast lights it would have been captains discretion, as she was neither near port or in fog.

Which is of course why the debate keeps rearing it's head. I don't expect that one will be resolved anytime soon. (yet another of the many on the list) and even if she had been sporting one, I submit it is unlikely it would have survived the breakup, let alone be recognizable as "in use on the stern mast" among the many oil lamps that are likely strewn around the debris field.

Thank you Dave, for that excerpt from the "White Star Bible". Certainly was illuminating (gods that was embarrassing, lol)

Derek
 

Jim Currie

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There was a problem with oil lamps on a mast... filling them when they ran dry and lighting them at night. There was also the problem of ensuring that they could not be seen outwith the mandatory arc of visibility. To solve that problem, masthead oil lamps or side rigging (sailing ship) oil fired navigation lights were located in twin guide wires which kept them pointing in the right direction. To fill or light then, they were and hauled up and down between the guide wires as required.
Titanic's forenast light was located on top od a little platform jutting forward fron the mast. If rigging plans are to be believed, there was no provisoion for an an oil-filled auxhiliary masthead light if the electric one failed. Later ships had twin wires terminating in twin locating pins mounted under the electric light platform. Thus, an auxhiliary oil lamp could be hoisted in an emergency!

If it had been the intention to mount an oil-filled masthed light on Titanic's mainmast, I would have expected to see some sort of arrangement to hoist it into place. There does not seem to be any such arrangement on the rigging plan.

Though I'd share that with you!

JIm C.
 

Bags

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Morning Jim,

Thanks for that info, I spent some time perusing the model we have here in Ottawa yesterday and noticed that there didn't even seem to be a provision for a lamp in the rigging for the after-mast either. So it would appear that even had he wanted to, Capt. Smith would not have had an easy time to set a light there. (one could therefore assume that had he opted to have one there, one of the officers would have known about it)

Derek
 
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Mila

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No! Titanic had only one masthead light!

If two white masthead lights are carried, you cannot see one without the other. They are designed as such. You either see two white lights the back one noticably higher than the front one and a red or green side-light or just one white light... a stern light.

Jim C
Hi Jim, but the masthead lights could be hard to see as two lights depending on the bearings and on the heading. Isn't this true that sometimes the separation would be so little that they would look as a single light?
 

Jim Currie

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No, Mila. I have seen that idea proposed before. Allow me to explain.

The white masthead light was originally called the "Steaming" light. This was to indicate the method of propulsion during darkness. This was during the transition from sail to steam. A vessel under steam and sail at the same time was required to show the white steaming light but did not have to do so when under sail only.
It was discovered that the white steaming light could be seen much further than the coloured side lights so the next innovation was to fit a second steaming light. The reason for this was that since the white light could be seen much further than the coloured ones, a second one suitably arranged in relation to the first one would allow observers at "great range" to be able to tell which direction the ship carrying the steaming lights was going. Consequently, the name "Steaming Light" was upgraded to "Range Lights". However, to make them effective at a great distance, the two light had to be mounted so that one was behind and higher than the other and the separation to be clearly seen. If they could not be clearly seen separately at maximum range, then that would negate their raison d'etre. The Rules laid down the measurements relative to a vessel which would ensure that there would always be a clear separation between these lights. Here is a little sketch to show how these could be effective. Keep in mind that Boxhall would be looking through a telescope. Thre is no way he could have been mistaken.
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Mila

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Thank you, Jim!
But 1912 regulations required the masthead lights to be seen at the distance of at least 5 miles. We know in reality they were seen much farther away. So would this separation rule still work for the lights that are observed on 16 miles away, for example?
 
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If observed with glasses at that distance they should appeared separated. But depending on the actual separation distance, at some point the eye would not be able to resolve two lights unless they had more than a certain angular separation. I believe it's called visual acuity.

By the way Britannic was fitted with two electric masthead lights and Olympic was refitted to carry 2 masthead lights at some point in 1913 or 1914.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The purpose of having a forward and after masthead lights is to provide a "range" which allows an observer to better determine the direction the vessel is moving. The after light is always higher than the forward light and guidelines for the vertical distance between he two lights are given in Annex I, Paragraph 2 of the Rules Of The Road. Today, Titanic would be required to display both a forward and after masthead lights with a minimum vertical distance between them of 4.5 meters. Considering the immediately above discussion, the following portion of the Annex is of interest:

2.(b) The vertical separation of masthead lights of power-driven vessels shall be such tha in all normal conditions of rim the after light will be seen over and separate from the forward light at a distance of 1000 meters from the stem when viewed from sea level.


When approaching another vessel head-on, the two masthead lights will be in vertical line. If the other vessel is heading to your left, the higher light will be to the right of the lower light. When the higher light is to the left of the lower, the other vessel is heading to your right. Both lights show through an unbroken arc of 225 degrees (dead ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on both sides). The stern light fills in the rest of the circle so that when approaching a power-driven vessel from any angle you will see a white light.

Sailing vessels do not show white masthead lights when under sail alone. This is why white masthead lights are sometimes called "steaming lights" by sailors. Only power-driven vessels (which once meant only steam-powered) carried them in years past.

-- David G. Brown
 

Bags

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Ok.. I realize this is somewhat redundant, as our ability to know what was occurring at the time of the sinking is limited by our ability to interpret the survivor accounts from the inquiries and biographies, but here is photographic evidence ( I believe outbound from Sherbourgh, correct me if I'm wrong pls.) Clearly showing only one light on the foremast. So it appears that at least prior to the incident, Titanic was only sporting the one light.

Capt. Smith may have ordered more lights lit , but I do not recall any mention of this in the Inquiries.

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Mila

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Titanic only had one masthead light. My initial question was about steamers that had two masthead lights.
 

Jim Currie

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If observed with glasses at that distance they should appeared separated. But depending on the actual separation distance, at some point the eye would not be able to resolve two lights unless they had more than a certain angular separation. I believe it's called visual acuity.

By the way Britannic was fitted with two electric masthead lights and Olympic was refitted to carry 2 masthead lights at some point in 1913 or 1914.

Acuity is simply sharpness of the eye, Sam.

All Merchant Navy Officers were, and still are, required to pass an eyesight test.
In the old days, this consisted of the candidate being seated in a small, windowless, closed room devoid of all light sources. On the opposite wall, there was a mat-black pannel which was perforated in patterns. Each pattern represented a ship's light array...i.e. represented what a ship of a particular type or engaged in a special operation, would display.
At the start of the test, the operator would open a shutter which would allow a pinpoint...and I mean a pinpoint of light...usually red to be displayed to the Candidate. He was then immediately required to call out what he saw, no time being allowed.
As the test proceeded, the arrangement and colours of the lights became progressively complicated.

The entire test had to be completed without the aid of glasses. In the cse of Boxhall, he first used binoculars then, what was called in my day, the ship's 12-mile telescope. To suggest that somehow he saw these two white masthead lights as a single source is, I must say, totally absurd.
 
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Aaron_2016

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Re - The second masthead light.


Ida Hippach:
"The lights all went out one by one, then they all went out in a flash, except for a lantern on a mast."

Elizabeth Shutes:
"Only one tiny light is left. A powerless little spark. A lantern fastened to the mast. Fascinated, I watched that black outline until the end."

Frank Prentice (on the poop deck)
The ship "seemed to break in two.....the lights had gradually gone out excepting one light near where I stood."

August Wennerstrom (collapsible A)
He saw an "electric light still burning when she was under the water."


Anyone know which single light all of these people were referring to? Was it on the mast or on the stern rail?


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Mila

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Groves said he saw two masthead lights. I wonder, if he could have mistaken a reflection of the masthead light with the second masthead light.
 

Harland Duzen

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-but here is photographic evidence ( I believe outbound from Cherbourg, correct me if I'm wrong pls.

Actually that photo was taken in the Solent, off Southampton by Beken of Cowes, but still, nice Photo! I got one of her in Queenstown that I still need to frame.

Back to Topic!
 
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Aaron_2016

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Groves said he saw two masthead lights. I wonder, if he could have mistaken a reflection of the masthead light with the second masthead light.


Gibson was also asked if he had seen more than one light.


Q - Could you see more than one white light?
A - I saw a glare of lights on her after deck.
Q - You mean the port-hole lights?
A - A glare of white lights on her after deck.
Q - I do not think you quite answered the question I was putting to you. Did you or did you not see any second white steamer lights?
A - Not distinctly, sir.
Q - Do you mean you are not sure whether you could see it or not?
A - No.
Q - Not sure?
A - No.

If the Titanic was facing them almost head on then the lights across her promenade decks would merge into a bright glare of light which may have been mistaken for a second masthead light.



lightstitaniccalifornian-png.png




However if there was strong refraction that night, then it could explain the appearance of a second masthead light as the refraction elevated the horizon and the single light and reflected it onto the false horizon created by the refraction which created the illusion there were two masthead lights.

I observed a ship that was 20 miles away by radar, I could see it with the naked eye and it appeared to be only 4 or 5 miles away. The refraction had elevated the horizon and reflected the lights onto the false one below which made it appear as a bright glare shining on a calm sea, yet it was still 20 miles away. It was a trick of the eye created by the refraction.



refraction01a.png



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Aaron_2016

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There had to be because the SS Marengo recorded great fraction on the horizon on the night of April 14th - 15th and they were south west of the icefield. It was seen by them at 8pm and 12 midnight and they also noted in their log how unusually clear and bright the stars were. The survivors and the crew of the Californian saw the brightness of the stars and how they never saw a night like that before. Another ship passed over the area and saw "sea mirrors" on the horizon. They recorded a sudden temperature drop and rise as they passed over the region of the ice, and the brightness of the stars would have illuminated the area bright enough to cast the refraction. Although the lights of the Titanic is all the illumination the Californian needed to see the affects of the refraction because the vessel I saw was surrounded in total darkness and the refraction had reflected her lights onto a false horizon below which created the illusion the ship was much closer and masked her true appearance.


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