News from 1891: Boat drill on Coptic

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Star, Christchurch, 12 August 1891
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,

At 9 a.m. to-day an interesting and somewhat novel sight was witnessed at
Lyttelton. Captain Kempson, R.N.R., of the R.M.S. Coptic, offered a prize
amongst the crew of the vessel to the winner of a competition at boat drill.
This is a branch of the duties of the crews of most steamers that is sadly
neglected, and although we have seen similar competitions in Lyttelton
previously they are few and far between. In these days of ingenious, and, in
many cases, valuable marine inventions, it is inexcusable that a ship should
be sent to sea unfurnished with the best of those life-saving appliances
which numerous able and laborious inventors have submitted to owners. But it
does very often happen that when a shipwreck occurs a score of contrivances
for life-saving which ought to be aboard are wanting. Boats are sometimes
stowed bottom up, and the ship sinks before they are lowered; or it may be
that they are so leaky with constant exposure to the sun and weather that
they fill immediately they touch the water. It would be possible to fill a
whole book with instances of the little attention this most important matter
receives at the hands of shipowners and masters, even during these days of
progress and invention, and perhaps a trifle stricter laws. Such contests as
that which Captain Kempson arranged for this morning cannot fail to have a
beneficial effect. Of course, on board all large ships, lists are posted
allotting the station of each man in case anything should happen to make it
necessary to take to the boats. This forenoon the positions were taken up,
and upon a given signal the boats were manned, the davits swung out, and the
boats lowered. The boats then put off from the steamer, and were rowed clear
of the moles, when, with masts and sail hoisted, and before a fresh breeze
they were headed for the reef buoy. The large boat, under the command of the
second officer, was lowered in best time, and was well clear of the ship
before the last boat got into the water, partly owing to a slight accident
to one of the crew of the latter. The course was round the reef buoy and
back, the back journey to be done without the aid of the sail. It was hardly
to be supposed that the rowing would be any thing approaching regatta form,
but it was such as propelled the heavy boats at a good rate, and, after all,
that was the main thing. The second officer's boat continued to increase her
lead and got home some minutes before the second boat, which was steered by
the third officer, the other three boats tailing off a bit. In steamers
where the crews are constantly changing, it is not to be expected that the
form displayed would bear any comparison to the work done on one of Her
Majesty's vessels for instance, but the drill the men were subjected to
could not but stand them in good stead should an accident unfortunately
happen by which the same work would have to be done at sea.