Men in Life Boats


Bill DeSena

Hi Randy,

Its been awhile huh, I agree here with you after rereading the posts above. Poor old EJ, standing on the bridge watching his ship, pension and his passengers slowly slipping away must have been hard enough for the old guy without entering some neo-Darwinian survival of the fitest policy. I think the image is so laughable as not to really get so fired up over, we all know it didn't happen that way and I think David wasn't really saying it did either so let's all kiss and be friends,..OK! Oh well maybe he did but he apologized for the ruffled feathers so let's move on.

G'Day everyone,

Randy, the reason you didn't see some of us mariners go ballistic or get overly upset is because from the lowest to the highest among us, we have been trained to take actions and make decisions which to others may appear to be downright heartless, and all for the good of the ship and the general welfare and good of everyone aboard. Sometimes, that means making some sacrifices when caught in a tight spot, vis a vis closing the door on people trapped in a burning or flooding compartment or even abandoning the injured if time is of the essence. We're taught to be mindful of the fact that even scant seconds can make the difference between losing a few people or having everybody end up as the main course for John Salachii Jaws. We know what david is talking about because some of us have been there.

Some examples: Sparks and I were both on the USS Ranger for a collision (Fortunately a minor one) and a fire that wasn't so minor because it killed six people. I was onboard that same ship when some idiot set fire to the wardroom on the 03 level. I was on one of the fire parties for that fiasco, sloshing my way through water in smoke filled spaces which were hotter then hell. My hose team tried to get up from the 02 to the 03 to beat the fire down but the heat was so intense, we were driven back. I have also taken a summer cruise through what was, for all practical intents and perposes, an unswept and shifting minefeild, vis a vis the Persian Gulf after Desert Storm. My work center was the laundry on the second deck and I was mindful of the fact that if we hit something, I would likely be one of the first to get it.

Erik Wood described a situation where his ship had an engine room fire. One where he had to shut all the doors leading down to the space and flood it with CO2 even though he knew that men trapped in the space would die. It was that or lose the ship, so he made the tough call.

I'm sure Sparks can tell you a horror story or two, and I would be very surprised if David Brown hasn't had a few rough scrapes. I hope they'll be willing to discuss their experiences so you can get a better idea of what mariners have to be ready to deal with. The use of the term "triage" was perhaps unfortunate, and I suspect he couldn't think of anything better at the time, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Bill, From one SH to another, I was lucky in that I never had to deal with that ice cream mix. S-2 had it all...and the cockroaches to prove it.

Gotta go.

Michael H. Standart
Thanks Bill and Michael.


Your story is hair-raising. I'm glad you are with us today. I know men of the sea have to contend with situations those of us (especially me as I must confess I have never been at sea)will never have to deal with and you all have my absolute respect. Please know that.

But I always thought there was a great sense of duty to your mates (and passengers), especially in the military. I know my father (who was in Vietnam) said there was not much a soldier wouldn't endure to try and rescue an injured comrade.

It's maybe this heroic view I have (and will always have) of soldiers and sailors like my father, yourself and the other naval guys here, that makes me feel that Capt. Smith, Officer Murdoch, etc., were just too noble to consider a plan that would condemn to death the people they were suppose to protect. Maybe I'm being too romantic on this but I just can't feature these men being anything but heroes.

Hi Randy, a lot of sailors have been through far worse then I have. I've been very fortunate in having a career that was mostly just boredom and hum drum routine...but when things got exciting, look out!

There is and always will be a lot of ambiguity surrounding a lot of events that happened on the Titanic the night,and we're all on slippery ground trying to second guess these men no matter what thoery we come up with. We all have the same chance to be equally wrong.

My own beleif was that they didn't have a plan. At least not one that was ever read by everyone who should have read it.(Recall the problem finding crewmen competant to man the boats.) Whatever plan they had of nesseccity had to be made up on the fly, and no matter what their plan was, it would condemn at least half of the people to death. It was a cold and ugly fact that they were all too aware of and one that called for some unpleasent choices.

Seamen do have a sense of duty much as what you described. At least those who make a career of it do. The ones who don't never last long and nobody misses them when they pack up their kit and go home. We would indeed try very hard to rescue an injured shipmate, but it was always instilled in us that the ship came first. It had to be that way as the survival of the ship was life itself. If that was impossible, then we had an obligation to do whatever we could to save as many lives as possible, even if that demanded some unholy sacrifices.

Smith and company found themselves in exactly that sort of situation. So is it possible that they did as David suggested?

Yes it is.

Would they have liked it?

Hell no!

But whatever their course, they did as they thought they HAD to. What they wanted was no longer relevent. They weren't monsters, but they were short of resources and time. Doing what they liked was no longer an affordable luxury. I'm just happy that I'll never have to deal with the nightmares the survivors among them had to deal with.

Michael H. Standart
Dear Michael Standart,

Okay, you probably know me better than anyone on this board and I am not trying to pick a fight or anything like that...I just feel that the term triage used in the way that Brown has described here is inappropriate. Not because it is upsetting, but because it is a wrong description of what was actually going on here.

Yes, military ships have all kinds of experiences that are tough. Men live on these ships for months and go into really tough places at times. But bottomline, that is the job you are tasked to do each and every day that you are out there.

Split decisions must be made and everyone must be taken into account not just a few. Trust me, that I know about what you speak, because I too have made extremely difficult decisions based on what was good for the many and not the one! And a part of me died when I made my decision.

But this is not the navy or a war zone, this was a passenger ship carrying some very wealthy picky first class people who did not wish to get their hair mussed up. And folks were lining up a few at a time and not in any hurry to fill any life boats.

At the time of the beginning of the life boat filling, I donot believe that there was any sort of plan or decision made as to who was to be sent out and who was not. Yes, the boats were being filled, some women and children only and some with men as required, but that was the end of it. If you were standing there and were a woman or a child you got placed in a boat.

That would be a triage that merely stands as a doorman ornament at the front of a house and lets anybody pass. That is not emergency room triage.
The theatre man who takes your ticket and points to the specific theatre where your movie is being played is not performing triage. But he is alos not performing triage if the building begins to burn and he points the way out of the building in a form of rescue. But he would be performing triage if when out of the building, he looked over the passengers and priortized their trips in the ambulance. The crew did not do this on board Titanic. Triage used here is wrong.

Once in the water with the collapsible boat that had overturned and was carrying men on it, I believe that they at some point performed triage to discard the dead and pull up onto the boat those who could be saved.

But I am willing to agree to disagree here and go on.

Inger Sheil

G’day, Suze —

Don’t let your views of Lightoller’s personality take too much of a hit from Marcus’s description of him as a ‘hard case’. I don’t think Marcus intended to suggest the he wasn’t ‘playful, if cocky’, but rather that his powers of endurance and ‘toughness’ had been honed by his experience. Accounts I’ve heard confirm that he was very congenial company, and was remembered for it. One person I spoke with remembered his ‘cheerfullness’ as his outstanding characteristic, although there was always a degree of command (both of himself and those around him) that came with his career. I believe Murdoch was his equal in that regard, however. Both men had a personal charm that was long remembered, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an element of physical and mental toughness to the make up of their character. James Moody, universally remembered as a bright, good humoured, mischievous and outgoing young man, was in his own way just as tenacious and tough as Harold Lowe. They wouldn’t have not only survived but thrived in their chosen career if they didn’t have a degree of endurance and ‘hardness’ in their nature, either innate, acquired, or some combination of the two.

I only just read this thread from start to finish, and I have to say I’m inclined to think that there’s a good deal of power in David’s arguments. He’s right — the maths were brutal, whichever way you look at it. How does one ever decide who has to live and who dies? There is no such thing as a ‘fair’ way under those circumstances. People were going to die, no matter what course of action was followed. But those decisions had to be made, whether as part of a conscious plan or on the fly. I certainly don’t think it’s a slur on the Titanic’s officers that they had to make such a decision — ideally they would most certainly never have been in a position where they had to make determinations of life and death, but (as David said), they were past such a point — the decisions that got them there had already been made, and they had to address the consequences as best they could.

Ideally, as Conrad pointed out, ‘the order to leave the ship should be an order of the sternest character, to be obeyed unquestioningly and promptly by everyone on board, with men enough to enforce it at once, and to carry it out methodically and swiftly’. But what do you do when everyone on board, because of insufficient life boat provision cannot leave at once… or at all? And when there aren’t enough people with the training to enforce the order? When the passengers haven’t been drilled in how to ‘leave at once’? When the decision that got you to that situation have all already been made, there’s little left to do other than deal with what you have to deal with, even if that is brutal and ugly.

Hi Mo, and I think you hit on the real injustice of the whole affair. Namely that the passangers weren't trained to deal with this sort of crisis and had no expectation that they would need it. They certainly didn't ask for the crew to strike ice. They booked passage to the U.S. on the reasonable expectation that the shipping line they paid to do the job would get all of them there.

Unfortunately, striking ice was exactly what happened and sinking followed in short order. Smith and Co. had choices to make and very few options to play with. So few that it just no longer made a difference whether the passangers were military or civilian mariners who knew and understood the risks that came with the game.

As I said, Triage is an unfortunate choice of words, and inaccurate, but David was likely at a loss for something better. It happens to all of us, which is why I'm not going to fixate on it.

In re plans; I'm sure there was something on paper somewhere, but I doubt that everybody who should have known about it and read it actually troubled themselves to do so. Thus, they had to do the best they could with what they had...which wasn't enough...and which they could do nothing about.

And the North Atlantic didn't care.

Michael H. Standart

Nathan Heddle

Hey everybody,

I think a lot of sense has been written here since I last left a message. I don't want to go in and start on an arguement that is days old now, suffice to say that triage is a really cold word, and really out of pure interest who were those in point 3, those who were going to die anyway. I assumed everyone had a equal chance.

You seem to have contradicted yourself David. At first you say only the lucky and the smart get off the ship (oh those poor stupid people), then you say that there were those who were predestined to die anyway. I assume no ammount of intelliegence was going to save them, then you say that it was the decision of the top four officers who lived an died. Really which one is it.

I would suggest option (d) none of the above. There was no predestined fate for some, the officers were never choosing the occupants of the boats, nor was it EVER a combination of luck or smarts, it was just what happened.

The officers were undertrained and not equipped to deal with the situtaion, and the passengers as Michael said weren't equipped either.

It is a serious tragedy, no more no less.


PS Sorry I seem to have argued further.

Tracy Smith

Essentially, children of both genders should have come before any adult. They could not make decisions for themselves.

Women were adults who could make their own decision. It was not only hysteria that caused a woman to refuse a seat in a lifeboat. Heroism was seen in some women that night as well. Ida Straus would not leave her husband and, with her firm, quiet dignity, no one was about to force her. She was a rational adult who had made a rational decision. She gave up her seat to a younger person with their entire lives ahead of them and out of love for Isidor: "We started together, and, if need be, we'll finish together".

Also, another women (Edith Evans? Correct me if I'm wrong) gave up her seat to another woman because the other woman was married and had a family.

And, as far as I'm concerned, Mr Navratil should have been allowed to accompany his boys in the lifeboat. So far as anyone in the crew knew, he was a single parent and by separating him from his boys, would have made them orphans. Happily, this wasn't the case, but you get the principle here. At any rate, Navratil deserved the seat more than Ismay did.

Paul Rogers

Hi Tracy.

Regarding your comments concerning M. Navratil. Firstly, I agree wholeheartedly with your opinion that he deserved the seat more than Ismay. I also tend to agree with your thoughts about children having precedence over adults, (although I'm still thinking on that one...)

How would you see the Officers putting such a policy into practice? They wouldn't have had the time to question each adult to see if they were a single parent!
And I guess a few (or more!) would have lied, and others wouldn't even have spoken English.

If a child was placed aboard a lifeboat, and both parents were also present, which one should the Officers have chosen to accompany the child? One could argue that the Father would be the better choice to be saved, as males were the main/sole breadwinners in those days. Otherwise, one could be sentencing a Mother and child to a life of poverty.

I'm posing these questions, but I haven't got the faintest idea of an answer! I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, or anyone else's.


What a fantastic thread.

Loads of old friends from long ago, major controversy, heated debate, outrage and amazing insights (IMHO).

Ah, the glory days...!