Purpose of launching the lifeboats halffilled


Oct 19, 2007
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What was the purpose of launching the boats half-filled? It doesn't seem to have been an accident--it seems to be the only constant in a very inconsistent evacuation. Most lifeboats on both sides left under capacity. Did they not understand that the boats could be lowered at capacity or did they have a plan? Perhaps they wanted to get as many lifeboats in the water as quickly as possible and assumed that those in charge would allow others into the boats with a ladder or something? How long did it take to lower the average lifeboat? Would it have taken much longer to lower a lifeboat that was full? If they had taken the time to completely fill each of the lifeboats, could they have launched as many as they did? (Sorry for so many questions--kinda had a brain storm--answer any part you want to!)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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There were several factors at work here, not the least of which was the stated concern by the officers...notably Commander Lightoller...that the boats could buckle and break under the weight of having them filled to capacity. One of the schemes attempted, and which was a notorious failure, would be that boats would be partially loaded in the davits, then loading would be finished through a side door in the ship's hull once the boat was in the water.

Allegedly, they were unaware of the tests carried out in Belfast in which boats were fully loaded but I'm extremely skeptical of that one. If an officer doesn't know what his ship and her equipment are good for, then on some level, he's really asleep at the switch!

Another factor was that at first, some passengers refused to get into the boats because they thought they would be safer on the ship. By the time they realized their error, it was way too late.

Deploying the boats from a purely mechanical standpoint isn't that incredibly difficult, but it does take trained hands to do it right and Welin davits were very labour intensive. One of the problems they faced that night was the shortage of trained seamen who were competant to do the job.

The reason that this wasn't considered to be a matter of great concern?

Simple.

Nobody expected that the lifeboats would actually have to be used.
 
Oct 19, 2007
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But the near universal nature of the boats launching half-full seems to suggest that, not just one officer but every trained person aboard must have felt that the lifeboat would buckle under the weight. It is generally agreed that the higher ups knew by midnight that Titanic would founder. The grim statistics would have been clear. Why not chance it? At that point, the gain would have outweighed the risk.
It seems that the officers and crew tried to preserve a sense of normalcy long into the sinking to prevent panic, but it actually slowed the launching of the lifeboats. A little fear coupled with firm directions could have speeded up the process. The unwillingness of the passengers seems odd to me. How hard was it for them to understand that the ship hit an iceberg and that is was serious enough for the Captain to order people into lifeboats. Especially with so many of them feeling such a 'sense of forboding' about sailing on Titanic. And besides,why did they even feel like they had a choice. Here are officers, in uniform, taking the lead telling them to enter lifeboats, but they act as if it is a suggestion and not a command. If a police officer asked me evacuate my home because of some pending disaster, I would do so quickly. But I guess I'm just one of those people who gets in the bathtub whenever there are tornado warnings.

Andrea Cranford
 

Jim Kalafus

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>There were several factors at work here, not the least of which was the stated concern by the officers...notably Commander Lightoller...that the boats could buckle and break under the weight of having them filled to capacity.

Negated by the fact that as the ship began to obviously sink the same officers were more than willing to fully load, and overload, the same boats. Had they truly been afraid that the boats would buckle, they would not have suddenly began overloading them.... accidentally killing passengers off a rapidly sinking ship is just as bad as killing them off a ship that is only slightly down at the bow.

Lightoller, and most of the rest, had experience with the Olympic, and with the other relatively new White Star ships. They knew perfectly well what the boats were and were not capable of. They also knew, via the Olympic, what the Welin davits were capable of.

Had they TRULY believed that the boats might buckle or the davits might break, then the final boats would have been as underloaded as the first. Yet, they weren't.

Lightoller was an admitted liar, who too frequently gets a free pass because he spins a good tale. The underloaded boats, both port and starboard, are just another addition to the massive "WE MUCKED UP" (substitute F for M in that second word) file that this disaster generated. There IS no rational explanation for why it happened, and it is highly unlikely that one will ever surface in the historical record.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>But the near universal nature of the boats launching half-full seems to suggest that, not just one officer but every trained person aboard must have felt that the lifeboat would buckle under the weight.<<

I don't know that every trained person believed that, and for the reasons I gave...to say nothing of what Jim offered here...I am extremely skeptical of the premise that they didn't know what the davits and boats were capable of.

>>Why not chance it? At that point, the gain would have outweighed the risk.<<

Eventually, they did.

>>It seems that the officers and crew tried to preserve a sense of normalcy long into the sinking to prevent panic, but it actually slowed the launching of the lifeboats.<<

That's very possible. Realistic or not, they knew full well that a panic was a real possibility and that if one broke out, they would have been badly outnumbered.

>>The unwillingness of the passengers seems odd to me. How hard was it for them to understand that the ship hit an iceberg and that is was serious enough for the Captain to order people into lifeboats.<<

Some of this wasn't so odd if you think about it a bit. From the perspective of a passenger on a ship promoted in the press as unsinkable...the "practically" qualifyer seems to have vanished in the editing, why would they want to take a chance on the freezing cold ocean in an open boat when the ship appeared to be so warm and safe?

To sweeten the pot, put yourself in the shoes and the hobbling skirt of a society lady who is being asked to jump into a boat hanging over a darked ocean on a freezing cold night.
 
A

aly jones

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The reason why the officers neither acted nor did there jobs to their true ability was due to the fact that none of them had been through this terrible situation before.
Most of the officers and crew may have experienced An emergency drill onbroad the olympic,but never went through a real-life threatening disaster.
without that experience,one might think that they know how to act when it comes to the crunch,but when they are face to face with a life threatening situation,with other people's life's in there hands,they are likely to react poorly.it is unfortunate that this disaster happened because mankind thought that they knew it all.
 

Jim Currie

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In the 20 years before Titanic, 66 ships were lost in the North Atlantic alone, along with 2708 souls.
Ship wreck was not a novel thing to all these people they lived with it day in day out. Many of them had been shipwrecked before - not just our swash-buckling hero!
As to the design of the lifeboats: In case it has escaped anyone - a lifeboat is merely a light (wooden in those days) shell which has a single backbone it's keel. It is designed to be supported evenly on all sides and on the bottom by the pressure of the water. When suspended at each end in air, it is only the keel which supports all the weight.
When fully loaded with 65 people, the total weight of boat, equipment and passengers is probably getting close to 7 tons. However, the most important item in the launching 'kit' would have been the manila rope with which the boat was lowered to the water - the lifeboat falls as they are called. These were (and still are) the weakest link in the whole system.

The boat lowering system on Titanic was manual. The falls were wrapped round a crucifix shaped bollard (anchoring point)on the deck beside each davit. After the boats were swung out over the side and loaded with people, a man stationed at each davit, took hold of the fall and slackened it off round the bollard. Thus, the weight of the boat and contents was lowered toward the water.
It was difficult to lower the boat smoothly and evenly by this method without jerking the lowering tackle. Such jerks imposed a shock load on the falls. This shock load was the greatest fear. It would most certainly be aggravated by the boat being fully loaded.
Although I don't know the size of the fall ropes on Titanic, I would guess they were about 5 inches in circumference and made of natural fibre - best manila or Sisal rope.
All the officers on Titanic were highly trained in the use of rope and had a great deal of knowledge about its strength. Consider this quote from a seamanship manual which I know for certain they all used:

"A hard and fast rule cannot be laid down to estimate the safe working load for a given size of rope, but one sixth of its ultimate strength offers a good factor of safety in order to resist excessive stresses due to sudden jerks to a fall"

The ultimate breaking strength of a 5 inch rope would be found by dividing the circumference squared by 3. Thus the ultimate breaking strength of 5 inch rope would be 25 divided by 3 = 8.3 tons. Fine for our loaded boat but if we apply the formula for safe working with this rope, we get 8.3 tons divided by 7 which is 1.2 tons, not much more than the weight of the boat itself. Obviously the officers had quite a problem on their hands.

The question we should ask of ourselves is: if we had been there, with the same knowledge of ropes as had the officers of Titanic, how would we have initially acted under the circumstance that prevailed during the first half hour and how would our actions have changed in accordance with the circumstances?

It is all too easy to sit back in the warmth and safety of our homes and criticise the actions of the officers on that night but unless we know exactly what was going on in their minds at the time, I don't think we have the right to condemn them in any way.

Jim
 

Jim Kalafus

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>It is all too easy to sit back in the warmth and safety of our homes and criticise the actions of the officers on that night but unless we know exactly what was going on in their minds at the time, I don't think we have the right to condemn them in any way.

I dont know exactly what was in Jim Jones' mind, either, but that doesn't mean I have to remain morally neutral about Jonestown. I don't know what was in McDonnell-Douglas and the FAA's respective minds when their infamous 'gentlemen's agreement' allowed planes with defective cargo doors to remain airborne long enough to kill 356 travellers, but that doesn't mean I have to remain neutral on the point. I dont know what caused the owners of the Beverly Hills Supper Club to pack 1400 people into a room that could only safely evacuate a hair over 500 nor do I know what was in their heads when they let the fire burn for almost ten minutes without warning the patrons, but my not knowing what was in their heads doesn't mean I have to withold criticism for their role in a disaster that killed 168.

Not only does one have a RIGHT to condemn those idiots aboard the Titanic, one has an obligation.

The fact that the San Juan, which sank in ONE MINUTE, in the dead of night, had an equal survival rate to that of the Titanic amongst both passengers and crew is about as disgraceful a reflection on the Titanic's senior officers as one can muster. There are plenty more examples from which to choose. Four years earlier, the liner Columbia sank in under five minutes, but in that time the officers managed to get several boats filled and lowered AND, again, one had a better chance of survival in that disaster than aboard the Titanic.

Even the General Slocum, from which NO boats got away, offered about equal chances of survival: 400 lived, 950 didn't. You stood as good a chance being a non-swimmer jumping without a life jacket from an overcrowded and fiercely burning wooden boat (into a swiftly moving river while wearing 20 pounds of cotton skirts and underskirts) as you did on board the brand-new, slowly sinking and only half full Titanic.

>"A hard and fast rule cannot be laid down to estimate the safe working load for a given size of rope, but one sixth of its ultimate strength offers a good factor of safety in order to resist excessive stresses due to sudden jerks to a fall"

Indeed. The one Lusitania lifeboat lost to a breaking rope, as opposed to a rope that was suddenly released, was fully loaded. But, that liner WAS jerking and vibrating rather severely. And despite the 18 minute sinking span, the killingly cold water (one hour survival time w/o lifejacket, 3-4 with), and the fact that only 7 boats got away, more effective order was maintained AND one stood a better chance of survival than one did aboard the Titanic. The Titanic which, unlike the Lusitania, was at a complete stop on an eerily flat sea. The ship wasn't jerking, and the crew had exceptionally rare perfect lowering conditions with which to work.


>Obviously the officers had quite a problem on their hands.

Several. BUT, they also had the advantage of being on a slowly sinking, underfilled, ship on a calm sea. And yet they did a worse job than officers confronted by the conditions presented by a ship rapidly sinking in a storm.

The lethargy amongst the officers is truly puzzling. Virtually any rationale their defenders offer for the torpid early stages of evacuation has an equally compelling counterpoint.

Their handling of the evacuation was disgracefully poor. The fact that you stood as good a chance of surviving jumping into the aptly named Hell's Gate (without a life preserver and with 20 pounds of absorbent cotton wrapped around your lower body) as you did aboard the slowly sinking Titanic is like an upraised middle finger aimed at the senior officers of that ship, and at those who defend them.

The officers got a free ride in 1912, and have continued to get one in the subsequent 98 years. The odd, masturbatory, celebration of Anglo-American values which broke out BEFORE there was any firsthand news of the disaster shielded them from the flaying that they richly deserved. And, the same romanticized mindset still protects them.

They were dealing with lowering conditions for which other shipwrecked crews would have prayed. And they blew it.
 

Jim Currie

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A bit vitriolic Jim! However, everyone to their own ideas.

From reading the witness evidence, I don't recognise the picture you paint. This thread asked the question: 'What was the purpose in launching the boats half filled?". The simple answer was to ensure the rope falls did not break.

You write:

"Not only does one have a RIGHT to condemn those idiots aboard the Titanic, one has an obligation."

Those in the know at the time did not condemn the men you refer to - only the Master of the ship - and rightly so. That's what he took on when he agreed to take the job.
However, you only have the RIGHT to something if you earn it. The right to call the member of an honourable profession - any profession- an idiot is surely a right reserved to someone who is a member of the same profession and who fully understands the reasoning behind the actions or inactions of the 'idiot'?
Too often pundits pontificate about the results of an action without fully understanding the action itself.

"like an upraised middle finger aimed at the senior officers of that ship, and at those who defend them"

Not so Jim. As in every British Merchant Ship, the Captain was 'God'. When to load or not to load a lifeboat was not an arbitrary decision made by an individual.
In any case, you can see from the evidence that the three most senior surviving officers approached their Captain for advice relative the loading of the boats. The bridge of a ship is not a democracy nor is it prone to anarchy. On a crowded boat deck there has to be order for there to be any hope of success.
The Captain Makes the decisions and his underlings cary out his orders accordingly. That's why Smith was condemned.

"They were dealing with lowering conditions for which other shipwrecked crews would have prayed. And they blew it."
"the San Juan, which sank in ONE MINUTE"
"Columbia sank in under five minutes"

None of the foregoing can remotely be connected to Titanic. As you eloquently point out, Titanic was " brand-new, slowly sinking". There was no need to rush about like mad things overloading boats, alarming passengers. That accident was, as the sports reporters say, 'a game of two halves'.

"The ship wasn't jerking, and the crew had exceptionally rare perfect lowering conditions with which to work."

Nothing to do with the ship 'jerking'.

Such a lifeboat would not even need to be on a ship to be in danger of breaking her lifeboat falls. They could break if the Lifeboat was a rescue one located in its davits at the side of a dock.
It is not the 'jerking' of the ship or even the effect of a stormy sea on the ship which might cause the falls to break. It was the method of lowering available to the men doing the lowering that was the problem. Perhaps this illustration will help you to understand:
img024_copy1.jpg

The people on Titanic did not have the luxury of a winch controlling the paying-out(slackening-off)of the lifeboat falls simultaneously as can be seen in this more modern picture. The 'jerking' came from the action of the individual trying to pay out his lifeboat fall at the same rate as the guy on the other end of the boat. Here's what they actually looked like:
titanics_lifeboats.jpg

"They were dealing with lowering conditions for which other shipwrecked crews would have prayed. And they blew it."

For criticism to be effect it should be constructive. So how should they have performed?

Jim C
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>However, you only have the RIGHT to something if you earn it. <<

Not exactly, Captain Jim.

A genuine "Right" exists for anybody and everybody whether it's earned or not. It's a "priviledge" which has to be earned.

Now with that said, I don't hold with the notion that nobody has the right to pass judgement on these men. Judgements were being passed in 1912 before the Carpathia appeared over the horizon on her approach to New York with the survivors. Not all of these judgements were kindly or forgiving, or even from professional mariners such as ourselves, but not all of them were wrong either.

A lot was made of the inadaquate lifeboat provision and you and I both know that the ship sank rapidly enough that they couldn't possibly have been all filled and dispatched in time, but that doesn't take away from the fact that more were needed, could have been accomadated and would have made a difference. If nothing else, there would have been no reason to be selective about who would get a seat and who wouldn't.

The Titanic is a nice study in the consequences of corperate mismanagement and dangerous navigation practices which were everywhere to be seen on the North Atlantic run. Far from being unique, what's frightening about the Titanic was that the way this ship was provisioned, equipped, managed, navigated as well as the way the crew was trained was all too typical of the way damned near everybody was doing business.

As people interested in the history of this disaster and they way it effected everything which followed, we have an absolute obligation to be honest about what went wrong, who screwed up and why.

In other words, we have to make judgements.

Yes, we need to be careful of the judgements we make. We didn't walk in their shoes and we don't know everything they knew or how they understood it. Nevertheless, we still have to make those judgements. 1500 deaths which were entirely avoidable demand it.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Michael!

I just know you and I will not agree concerning the word 'right' used in this context.

The right of anyone not to be called an 'idiot' or alternatively a 'genious' is earned by the actions of that person. Consequently, if the adjective is used to describe the person's professional performance then only that person's peers or another equally informed person or group, has earned the 'right' to judge in such harsh terms.

I'm afraid I'm of the old school. I am of the opinion that nowadays, the word 'right' has been hijacked by the PC brigade and of course the lawyers. Even a basic 'right' can be lost if it is 'un-earned' - much like the 'privilege' you mentioned!
I merely felt that if we are going to pass severe judgement on anyone, we must not do so from an emotional point of view but after hard examination of the evidence based on personal or informed knowledge. As far as I'm concerned, such knowledge has not been forthcoming so far.
 
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>>Consequently, if the adjective is used to describe the person's professional performance then only that person's peers or another equally informed person or group, has earned the 'right' to judge in such harsh terms.<<

And I would have to differ with that if only because everybody has to answer to somebody. I don't like being judged by landsmen any more then you do, however intellectual integrity obliges me to be honest about a very inescapable core reality.

That core reality being that the Titanic didn't sink and kill 1500 people because the professionals got it right.

The Titanic sank and 1500 people died because the professionals just plain got it dead wrong!

>>I merely felt that if we are going to pass severe judgement on anyone, we must not do so from an emotional point of view but after hard examination of the evidence based on personal or informed knowledge. <<

I wouldn't disagree with that.

>>As far as I'm concerned, such knowledge has not been forthcoming so far.<<

I'm afraid it has been forthcoming. Perhaps not from a lot of quarters but when you're dealing with somebody like Jim Kalafus, you're dealing with somebody who in fact has and continues to do his homework. His research and the diligence he's shown in presenting real world examples of where mariners have done better under dramatically worse conditions then faced by the officers of the Titanic demonstrates that.

I might not be cozy with it and you might not be cozy with it, but facts remain facts, and they don't go away because we don't like them. In light of that, we might as well "man up" and face them.

(And just for the record, I'm not especially interested in political correctness or political incorrectness. I leave politricks to the politricksters.)
 

Jim Currie

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"the professionals just plain got it dead wrong!"

Basically one professional got it wrong and he paid the ultimate price for his errors!

I'm not criticising Jim's ability as a researcher. I'm sure he is very good at what he does. However if we are going to make comparison between 'real world examples', we must compare like for like. A ship which, at first, to all on board her, seems to have suffered a minor mishap which then turns out to be a full blown disaster, is not the same as a ship which has a few minutes to live.

I remind everyone of the original question which I judge to have been a well spotted anomaly by the questioner which escaped the notice of all researchers until now:

"What was the purpose of launching the boats half-filled? It doesn't seem to have been an accident--it seems to be the only constant in a very inconsistent evacuation. "

I answered this in the best way I could, drawing on experience and from the same seamanship manual as would have been used by the officers of Titanic. Nothing whatsoever to do with being 'cozy' Michael. The plain fact was that these men handled the situation regarding lifeboat loading in accordance with the knowledge they had at the time regarding possible outcome of overloading a boat. We call that 'risk assessment' nowadays. The fact that others could not understand the reasoning behind their actions does not make the actions them selves a crime and most certainly does not merit the accolade of 'idiot'.

Sorry to be so grumpy about this but then as an 'old man', that's one 'right' or accolade I do reserve the right to- or should that be 'deserve'?

Jim
 
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>>However if we are going to make comparison between 'real world examples', we must compare like for like. <<

The issue here is how the Titanic's officers handled the evacuation of the ship and it's not out of line to draw comparisions with how others did, and under far worse circumstances then what was faced on the Titanic. Sinking as the ship did on an even keel in a dead flat calm, you would think that they could have done better and it it's entirely valid to argue that they should have.

The problem is that they didn't.

Now with that said, I don't think these guys were idiots. (Your milage may vary on that) but I do believe that there were other variables at work here. The reluctance of the passengers to get into the boats when offered a spot would be a useful place to look. Not the only one but it's a start.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Michael!

Sorry to be so pedantic about this but:

"The issue here is how the Titanic's officers handled the evacuation of the ship "

No it's not! I'm sure you'll agree It's:

"What was the purpose of launching the boats half-filled?"

Not

'why did they do such a stupid thing as half fill the boats?'

The person who asked the original question was curious about the reasoning - if any - behind not filling boats to the gunwales or even higher and lowering them from their original point at the boat deck.

As you know, the process of evacuation a ship involves a great deal more than filling and lowering a boat. For a start off, it has to be done quickly and safely. as far as I can determine this was done. It has to be done in an orderly manner. This too not only has to be done but has to be seen to be done - particularly on a passenger ship or on a warship which I'm sure you most certainly do know. It was done!

There's very little criticism of the officers from the passengers in that direction. Heres' some examples:

Major Peuchin: "The discipline was splendid. The officers were carrying out their duty" and
"AGP064. Was the boat safely lowered?
- Oh, very; the boat was safely lowered."
or from Col. Gracie:
"Lightoller was splendid in his conduct with the crew, and the crew did their duty." or from
Helen Bishop:
" The conduct of the crew, as far as I could see, was absolutely beyond criticism. It was perfect."

Need I go on?

No? Right! I'll shut up then and give you all peace.

Regards,

Jim
 
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>>I'm sure you'll agree It's:

"What was the purpose of launching the boats half-filled?"

Not

'why did they do such a stupid thing as half fill the boats?'<<

As a practical matter, it's exactly the same thing. Stupid or not, there was a reason they acted as they did, likely a lot of reasons they acted as they did. I don't think it was just the officers who were the sole factor either. Passengers made their choices as well, some with fatal results.

But any way you look at it, it all boils down to "why."
 

Senan Molony

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Perhaps it should not be overlooked that Titanic officers and crew had very recent experience of thick manila ropes snapping...

Just look at this stern hawser on the New York...

207344.jpg


"There with great amazement, I saw how the suction of the water caused by the octopus liner’s triple propellers had dragged the 10,000-ton liner New York from the quayside where it was moored with half a dozen stout hawsers, which snapped like strings under the strain..."

Seeing such things a few days previously would have them uppermost, I should think, although nobody specifically mentioned it at the inquiries.

Odd that it wasn't brought out by counsel in London particularly, however.

Yet highly relevant to the question asked at the start of this thread.
 
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The underlying assumption of the argument that the officers did not do enough to fill boats is that everyone aboard had full knowledge that Titanic sank with heavy loss of life; and, that in view of this death toll the officers should have put more people into the boats.

HUH?

How in blazes could anyone aboard Titanic that night have known the future? Do you know what will happen an hour from now? Have any members of this board ever been in an auto accident? If so, we can reprimand you for getting in your car that day because you should have known the outcome of that drive would be a smash-up.

It is audacious lunacy to argue "they should have known." They (Titanic's officers) had no more knowledge of the future than any of us when we get into our cars or board public transit.

Another audacious lunacy is to assume that Titanic was sinking from the instant steel met ice. There is a huge difference from a ship that has water ingress and one that is foundering. Until steel hulls, it was considered normal practice to pump the bilges at regular intervals because wooden hulls leaked constantly. Yet, those leaky tubs made millions of voyages over the last six or seven thousand years because the pumping exceeded the ingress.

People who have never kept a sinking vessel afloat may not realize that science gives bilge pumps a boost. Initially water enters at a rapid rate because of what can be called "head pressure." This is created by the exterior waterline being higher than the level of the water inside the hull. As water rises inside the ship, the ingress slows because the inside/outside differential is less. Ingress stops when the inside level matches the outside waterline.

Ship's pumps are seldom large enough to handle the initial ingress immediately after an accident. However, as the water level inside rises, the ingress slows. At some point the capacity of the pumps equals the ingress. As long as the hull retains sufficient buoyancy, it will "float on its pumps" indefinitely.

Which brings up the whole concept of Titanic's lifesaving system. It was a system, not one piece of equipment. Too many lubbers focus on lifeboats and refuse to go deeper into the subject. The system in Titanic consisted of: following standard shipping lanes; the multi-compartmented hull (44, not just 16); the 14 wooden lifeboats; the two wooden cutters; lifevests for everyone; and, finally, the Marconi wireless.

Nobody has mentioned that a major reason for published steamer lanes on the North Atlantic was part of the life saving system. The idea was that if all ships followed these tracks, a vessel in distress would be discovered in short order by other ships on the same track. (This brings up the Californian/mystery ship debate.)

The possibility that other ships would discover Titanic if it were in distress was increased by the installation of wireless. (It worked to call Carpathia.)

The compartmentalization of Titanic was sufficient to prevent the ship from sinking rapidly in the most prevalent accident of the 1912 era -- one ship running into another. The total system of bulkheads and compartments would have protected Titanic against a disaster such as happened to Andrea Doria almost a half century later. (Note that Doria floated for hours after it was abandoned despite a lesser system of bulkheads.)

Finally, the ship was provided with lifeboats intended for the purpose of carrying people to rescue ships. The number of boats which could be used -- 16 -- was based on some simple math. The usual situation of a vessel in distress is that it takes a substantial list. This eliminates the use of boats on the "high" side, leaving 8 boats available on Titanic.

The number of trained seaman was 48. That allows 6 hands per boat. Captain Jim explained the difficulty of lowering boats in falls. For safety, it would require two men per tackle, one "surging" the line on the bitt and the other feeding line and standing ready to help stop a runaway situation. That leaves 2 hands to go with the boat to handle the critical task of releasing the bow and stern falls. More than one lifeboat has spilled its human cargo when a mistake was made releasing from the tackles. It was not a job for an untrained passenger or member of the victualing department.

Titanic actually threw a monkey wrench in this by sinking with almost no list. This meant all 16 boats could be launched. That meant officers had to maintain a reserve of two seamen per boat, or a total of 32 hands. This left only 16 hands on deck to handle the falls. Dividing 16 hands by 4 (two for each tackle) shows that a maximum of four boats could be launched simultaneously.

The boats and the bulkheads were expected to work in tandem. Titanic was not meant to be "unsinkable," but rather it was designed to take a long time to sink. The bulkheads were intended to buy enough time to use the lifeboats to ferry passengers and crew to rescue vessels.

As Captain Jim pointed out, launching lifeboats was dangerous business, especially if it were filled with passengers. It would take a fool to cram people into boats and lower them 60 feet to the sea unless the alternative -- staying on the ship -- was more life threatening.

The only way that staying aboard could have been more life threatening would be rapid foundering accompanied by the breakup of the hull. That happened, but when? It was not happening earlier in the evening when Captain Smith ordered the boats filled and launched. The officers and crew assigned the task apparently did not believe their ship was foundering. They knew it was taking on water, that's certain, but listen to Lightoller's words again. "I had no idea it was urgent."

He was not alone in believing that Titanic would float at least long enough to "act as its own lifeboat" and allow rescue ships to take passengers and crew to safety. It would seem that passengers held to the same belief.

"They called for the women and children to board the boats first. Both women and men, however, hesitated, and did not feel inclined to get into the small boats, thinking the larger boat was the safer." -- James R. McGough.

"I considered that the lifeboats were merely a precaution and upon my wife's suggestion...we then proceeded immediately upward, my wife being rather alarmed. ...but for her I should have remained in bed reading." -- Norman C. Chambers.

"We dressed fully and went up on deck, and there we saw quite a number of people talking; and nobody seemed to think anything serious had happened. There were such remarks as 'Oh, it will be only a few hours before we will be on the way again.'" -- George A. Harder.

"Oh, I don't know, you cannot sink this boat. No matter what we have struck she is good for eight or ten hours." -- Charles M. Hayes.

"My husband cautioned us all to keep together, and we went up to A deck, where we found quite a group of people we knew. Everyone had on a lifebelt and they were very quiet and self-possessed. We stood around there for quite a long time. My maid ran down to the cabin and got some of my clothes. Then we went to the boat deck." -- Emily Ryerson.

"I saw Mr. Ismay with one of the officers. He looked very self-contained. That gave encouragement to my thought that perhaps the disaster was not anything particularly serious." -- Col. Archibald Gracie.


And, this brings us back to that audacious lunacy of saying, "they should have known." No, they should not. None of the passengers were known to be carrying a crystal ball that works any better than the one on your desk or mine. The future is always clouded to mere mortals.

Perhaps we should be discussing why Captain E.J. Smith had the guts to begin launching lifeboats in the dead of night when his ship was still not foundering. Smith was taking a huge risk with the lives of passengers and crew by doing so. He might have been brought up on charges if the ship did not sink and someone died as a result of his rash decision.

-- David G. Brown
 

Jim Kalafus

Member
Dec 3, 2000
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Senan- a hawser snapping because a massive liner sailed past the ship it was attached to at too high a speed in a relatively enclosed area is completely irrelevant to the issue of the lifeboat lowering. Hawsers are not MEANT to survive forces like that, (at least under normal circumstances, which is why particular care has to be exercized with ships tied down during extremely high winds) whereas the ropes on the lifeboats were chosen because they COULD bear up under the weight of a certain load. And the crew knew that, just as they knew why the New York hawsers had snapped ~ that particular rule of physics had already been drummed into them in court.

Of COURSE the New York incident wouldn't be brought up in court in that context. Its limited relevance is more than outweighed by the fact that introducing it would underscore yet another example of just how inept Smith was~ this, as you might know, was not his first time at nearly wrecking a major White Star Line ship by steaming too fast and too close past a smaller vessel. No lawyer in his right mind would want to open that particular door.

You DO also realise that if the officers truly feared snapping ropes, then they would not have commenced filling and overfilling boats at the halfway point. Killing 60 or more people in the latter half of a disaster is just as bad as killing them at the outset. If they sincerely believed that there was a danger of snapping ropes, then all the boats would have been underfilled.

Jim- you need not explain the relationship between captains and officers, nor hierarchy, to me. You see, I grew up around officers and understand fully well how hierarchy works AND also understand what separates a good officer from a bad one. What I see amongst the Titanic's senior officers is a weak and untrained group that did NOT function well as a whole, committed gross errors that ~ as George Bernard Shaw pointed out~ would have gotten them strung up in a military court, and killed one third more passengers than necessary thru their lack of cohesion and general ineptitude.

In fact, one of my best friends is ex-Navy, and such a stickler for 'by the book' and protocol that he recently reduced a cocky young Marine to tears, in public, by dressing him down for conduct unbecoming. Get this particular friend going on the subject of just how inept and unprofessional the Titanic's senior officers were, and an hour later you'll STILL be hearing examples. He, better than most, knows what he is talking about.

Quoting Candee, Peuchen et al about the 'magnificent' crew is not a good idea for two reasons. The obvious one is that Candee, in her own account, comes across as a disturbed individual ("Were it not for me, glorious me, shouting orders to the lowering crew, certainly the terror ride we were engaging in would have ended tragically" uhhhh....Helen, nobody but you noticed that particular detail. Repeat 40x during the remainder of her account) and Peuchen had GREAT reason to keep on the good side of the crew~ he saved his life by claiming to be a boatsman, yet did not do a single thing all night that could not have been done better by someone younger, stronger, and married to someone in boat 6. Which might very well have been made clear to him in a public forum had he badmouthed anyone other than the unpopular- but correct- Hichens.

The not quite as obvious factor, which I tend to harp on, is that the book for this not particularly compelling bit of Gilbert and Sullivanesque hero worship kitsch was writen LONG before the Carpathia arrived in NYC. The officers and Anglo-American men (and "better class of Swedes") WERE going to be portrayed as heroes, and something quite disturbing and disgusting WAS going to become a stirring and glorious affair. Which is why the garbage contained in stories written April 16-18 1912 so closely matches the garbage to be found in interviews that appeared from April 19th onward.

The populace on two separate continents were engaging in a delightful form of frottage, building towards a screaming climax of Anglo-American pride, and it would take a VERY special survivor to say IT WASNT LIKE THAT AT ALL. A widow who said "My husband was murdered by a rule selectively enforced by an untrained crew" would be viewed as an ingrate- just as wives and mothers of people killed in the current military action who dont toe the BATHED IN GLORY party line are. The fact that the intelligent Mrs White, the lone angry voice, is most often portrayed as either an indulged hysteric or an outright loudmouth despite the fact that everything she said was accurate, while the hysterical seeming liars Mrs. Candee and Mrs. Brown are held up as heroes, even today, reenforces my belief on this point.

The senior officers were given conditions that, as far as I know, were unmatched in ANY previous disaster, yet produced results equal to the toll in ships that sank in a MINUTE or burned in such a way that no boats were lowered and non-swimmers had to jump into Hells Gate without life preservers. This is not Monday morning quarterbacking. They failed, and they failed disgracefully. And, no amount of YOU WERENT THERE or THEY DID THE BEST THEY COULD bombast and blather can change that.