Murdoch's orders & the helm during the collision?


Arun Vajpey

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Apr 21, 2009
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I was under the impression (and I admit that I may have got it wrong) that during the days of the Titanic and for some time afterwards, the direction of a ship's helm turn was opposite to the direction in which the bow was intended to go. In other words, turning the helm to starboard (right) would make the bow eventually swing port (left). Accordingly, during the actual collision Murdoch's intention was to "port around" the berg and so he gave a "Hard a Starboard" initial order which eventually turned the bow to port albeit not completely successfully. Right?

In Cameron's film, following Murdoch's "Hard a Starboard!" order, Hitchens turned the helm to port (his left) and then the bow also swung to port. Then when Murdoch gave the "Hard a Port!" order, Hitchens was shown turning the helm to starboard (his right). Is that not a revealing mistake or have I missed something?
 
Mar 18, 2008
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The order was given in which direction the "tiller/helm" was going. Hard to starboard means the wheel had to be turned to left (port) the tiller moved to starboard turning the rudder to port moving the bow to port.
Hard to port order the other way. The movie show it correct.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Thanks, but can I ask you to clarify this? I thought that the ship's bow swinging in the same direction as the turn of the wheel came later with the increasing popularity of the motor car concept. On the Titanic the helmsman would have been facing forwards, right? Since the intention was to swing the bow of the ship to port (left ) I thought the helmsman had to turn the wheel clockwise (to the right) as was the norm in those days. In the film, Hitchens turns the wheel counter-clockwise (to the left) and the bow also swings in the same direction (like in a car or bus). That is the part that I could not understand.
 
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On the Titanic the helmsman would have been facing forwards, right?

Yes but he could not see anything (also the windows were shut off, he only had the instruments in front as the compass, helm indicator etc.


Since the intention was to swing the bow of the ship to port (left ) I thought the helmsman had to turn the wheel clockwise (to the right) as was the norm in those days. In the film, Hitchens turns the wheel counter-clockwise (to the left) and the bow also swings in the same direction (like in a car or bus). That is the part that I could not understand.

It was not the norm in those days. As I stated earlier in 1912 the order was given in which direction the helm was going. The wheel was so to say turned into the direction the bow was going. Hard to starboard = bow turns to left (port) the wheel turned to left.
Hard to port = bow turns to right (starboard), wheel turned to right.
 
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This is the steering control pedestal from the wheelhouse recovered in 1987 by IFREMER and show the direction going with the orders. Hard to starboard means to turn the wheel to left.

407039_2964598250877_19246855_n.jpg
 

Rob Lawes

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It's a hangover from the days of sail. If you are sat in a dingy and you have a tiller. To turn to port you push the tiller to starboard, and vice versa for turning to starboard.

Early wheeled steering mechanisms turned a drum below the wheel which in turn wound ropes that hauled the tiller to port or starboard.

Quite why the arcane practice of issuing steering orders by the movement of the tiller survived into the steamship era is beyond me. Suffice to say, at the first safety of life at sea conferences after the Titanic sank, helm orders indicating the direction of turn were mandated as the standard.
 

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