Saving more lives


Jul 9, 2000
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Would all of the people have survived? No.

Would more have survived? Very likely yes. One needs to be mindful of the fact that out of the total complement of 20 boats, 18 were actually launched and the remaining two floated off as the ship went down. In the time they had, getting the 18 away without any major incident or accident is a remarkable achievement. I just don't see them getting away much more then that any more quickly then that. You can only do so much in an approximate two and a half to three hour time frame.

IMO, having boats for all would have encouraged the officers to fill them all and after the ship sank, anything bobbing up that came free of their cradles would have provided a refuge for any swimmers lucky enough to get to one, but that would be it. The sad reality is that in virtually any major shipping casualty, people will die.
 

Erik Wood

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What Mike writes doesn't take into account the logistics of lowering lifeboats. In 1912 the organization that we have today did not exist. Having mass quanities of folks attempting to get to a boat deck which probably could only hold a quarter of the ships company would have been more foolhardy then helpful.

In the pictures that many of us see of Olympic and other ships after the Titanic disaster would have caused (IMO) more problems. Officers would have to lower boats to the deck below, which could hold fewer then the boat deck. The loading of the boats would also be slower as those boarding boats would have to climb the rail to get over into the boat.

There is no doubt that more lifeboats could have saved some lives, but not by beeing successfully launched, but rather by being washed free as the ship sank and providing safe haven for those in the water.
 
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Tom Pappas

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The idea that the accomplishment was remarkable assumes that the deck hands were launching boats as fast as they could, and I don't see that as necessarily being true. The main impediment to the progress of the evacuation effort seems to have been the lack of people to put in the boats, which in turn resulted from the unwillingness of the crew to impress upon the ship's company the urgency of the situation. That deficiency was a consequence of the company's cavalier attitude towards the entire issue of passenger safety. I think it could be stated that

If White Star had considered equipping the Olympic class with sufficient lifeboats to be a high priority, it would also have put in place the requisite training and coordination necessary to a safe and timely evacuation. This combination would have saved all on board.

So just shoving more watercraft at the problem probably wouldn't have helped much (indeed, in the event, about four hundred seats went out empty). But more lifeboat capacity plus the smarts to use it would have helped enormously.
 

Erik Wood

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Tom said: But more lifeboat capacity plus the smarts to use it would have helped enormously.

This is a important thought that has elluded most of the conversations regarding this topic (to my knowledge). You needed two things in order of more life boats to work. More lifeboats, and the smarts on how to organize the situation.

Tom said: The idea that the accomplishment was remarkable assumes that the deck hands were launching boats as fast as they could, and I don't see that as necessarily being true.

I don't totally agree with this statement. I base my comments regarding the feat on safety, not the time factor alone. Lowering lifeboats in the best of conditions (in Titanic's case the ship not sinking) is a extremely dangerous evolution in the best situation. I find that they did this with human cargo and didn't (to my knowledge) loose a life in the process of lowering the boats with antiquated equimpent an remarkable feat.

As for the time frame, I am somewhat inclinded to agree. Although preparing lifeboats the old fashoned way (as Mike and Josh Gulch found out on Saturday) is an extremely time consuming endavour. Uncovering and unchocking the boat, then rising it, swinging it out, loading it, and then manually lowering the boat the old fashioned way isn't exactly light on time.

A reasonable argument could be made that the crew didn't prepare/launch the boats in a hurry. A argument that I don't believe.
 
Apr 24, 2003
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I personally believe that the scenario would have been the same until 1.30. Since then, at the latest, the crew did not have problems to get the passengers in the boat. Remember that the boats 11, 13, 15 were lowered in 10 minutes, between 1.25. and 1.35., and they were, as you know, the only boats filled to capacity. More and more people entered the boatdeck. So since 1.25, it wasn't a problem to fill and lower the boats, if everybody had been permitted to get into the boats.
Between 1.35 and 2.10, there was (IMO) enough time to lower 3 boats per davit, ( of course they needed enough seamen to handle them).
Imagine that they were able to lower 10 or 15 boats more until 2.10, all filled to capacity, than 600 or even 900 people more would have survived.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Between 1.35 and 2.10, there was (IMO) enough time to lower 3 boats per davit, ( of course they needed enough seamen to handle them). <<

And that's the sticking point...isn't it?

They had a problem finding adaquate seamen to man all the boats to the point where they were sending along firemen and even some passengers (Like Major Peuchen) to do the job...and then there would still be the issue of having trained people on hand to operate the davits, uncover, swing out and fill additional boats...

Problems multiply real fast that way.
 
Apr 24, 2003
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Ok, Michael, but at least for the boats 11, 13, 15 they had enough trained seamen to LOWER them. That is a fact! Thats what I wanted to say.
Handling them in the water isnt so difficult, even woman could do the job ( for example
J. Stuart White or the C. of Rothes in Nr. 8).
The main problem is to get them to the water.
Of course it is difficult to guide a boat with no seamen on board, but it is better than a hypothermia in the icy water.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Actually, they did have problems handling the boats. The only reason they weren't all that bad was because for the most part, they had a dead calm in their favour. Being out on the open ocean gives them some wriggle room so mistakes don't tend to come back and bite you in the butt.

Had it been typical North Atlantic weather, the consequences would have been...unfortunate.

You're right though...it sure beats hypothermia.
 
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It's my opinion that the technology of the time limited the rate in which lifeboats could be lowered. My opinion is greatly influenced by my experience as a line handler on the Titanic lifeboat station erected on the Rosarito set for GotA. We lowered a standard lifeboat filled to about 3/4 capacity and for safety reasons, we had plenty of men on the lines. The davits used were similar in construction (built by Wellin) and exact in functionality to Titanic's. Some of the line handlers had previous experience lowering the boats in the 1997 film, but this was a first for me. The lowering evolution was slow, but not for lack of training, coordination, or available manpower. It simply took time to hook the boat to the falls and swing it out. It took time to load, even with the entire lifeboat's complement already assembled on Boat Deck. The actual lowering took the most time, because of the length of the rope needed for the mechanical advantage and the need to keep the boat in proper trim. I would have to double-check my notes for exact times, but I remember thinking at the time that we took more time to lower the boat the distance we did (we did not have the height to lower the boat all the way to the "ocean") than the historical launching timeline indicates. As a result, I developed a respect for Titanic's crew who did a better job than we, and probably with fewer handlers on the lines.

This is not to say that the boats were launched in as efficient a manner as there could have been. There was unquestionably some confusion in the launching and the loose attitude toward boat drills has been documented. However, I have not seen any conclusive proof that these problems were systemic only to the White Star Line, much less Titanic.

My opinion is that the davit technology was the greatest limiting factor in launching more boats, or available boats faster. Before the disaster, the Wellin davit was state-of-the-art technology...its capabilities matched the industry's attitude toward the function of lifeboats. It could be that circular reasoning was in force...the shipping industry's attitude could have been shaped by the available technology. Regardless, it took the Titanic sinking to focus the entire industry to change both the launching technology and prevailing attitude toward a lifeboat's function.

Parks
 
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David Haisman

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I would agree with a great deal of what has been said having experienced lifeboat drill on many different types of vessels over the past 30 years. I think perhaps the most overiding factor is the time involved even when the same exercise has been done many times over with lifeboat drill. On the ''Queen'' liners we would take up to 3 hours with boat drill albeit, not an emergency situation. In Titanic's day, feeding out a 2 or 3 fold purchase fall around a stag horn is a slow process after swinging out Welin davits. If one worm is extended too far at say the bow, those turning at the stern will have one hell of a job to turn the handle. It takes a bit of time to work together. In an emergency, you don't have time.
There is only a certain length of falls which soon runs out when lowering in 3 fold purchase, i.e. to drop 10 feet, you need 30 feet of rope. It has to be remembered that as the stern rose higher out of the water, the greater the urgency to get the after boats away as soon as possible for fear of running out of rope!
On many liners that I have sailed on, all lifeboats had ''bowsing in'' wires with gripes to ensure the boat when lowered, would pull in at the gunwale and lie level with the taff rail on the prom or embarkation deck. A small folding plate on the bullwark in each lifeboat position ensured passengers could step into the boats without too much difficulty. Once the boat had been filled with passengers, the gripes would be slipped and the lowering could again commence. With Titanic, no such luck, and although this was time consuming in my day, imagine those poor souls on Titanic. Enjoy your researches but spare a thought for Titanic's crew and give them some leeway.

All the best,
David Haisman
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Great posts by both Parks and David. There's nothing like hearing it from people who have actually done it to put things in perspective. The Davits we played with on the Boyer didn't have a boat in it, but we still had an "interesting" time with them. Joshua Gulch and I had to keep an eye on each other's progress just so one of us didn't get ahead of the other. (This beast was all manual.)

Considering what they had to work with and what they had going against them, the Titanic's crew did a damned good job.
 
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Jacquelyn Nickles

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Does anyone know what time the first lifeboat was launched?

Were there already lifeboats out before the first flare was sent? And why did they wait nearly an hour to send the first distress flare if they knew they were sinking?
 
Apr 24, 2003
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Jacquelyn, the first lifeboat was launched around 0.35 A.M. ( Number 7 with only 28 people in it)
The first distress flare was sent around 0.45.
I think they sent the flares to give a signal to the mysterious ship on the horizon they saw at that time, possibly the "samson", a norwegian sealer ship. They didnt recognize it before.

Hope that helps.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Actually, what they used were socket signals which are a lot like the fireworks you see today in function. They go up and burst sending out a bright shower of stars.

Sorry about the Samson, but she wasn't there and in no way could she have possibly made it there and back to the port call she made in Iceland. If you wish to check this story out, click on The Titanic and the Mystery Ship and scroll down to SAMSON in the frame on the left. This is a story that nobody buys. Not even some of Captain Lord's staunchest supporters.
 

Don Tweed

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May 5, 2002
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Just spit-balling here, I wonder if more boats may have created even more havoc?
Hear me out here, if the additional boats layed alongside the 18 in the davits took up even more deck space I see a real problem arising with the hundreds of people swarming the decks. And in those final 40 minutes or so when the true reality of the situation sank in I see people trying to pick these boats up and launch them any way they could and maybe dissrupting the orderly launching using the davits. Now this all depends on if the original 18 were launched in an orderly and timely fashion. Still, 20 more boats just floating around after the foundering, would have saved lives. How would it have changed the activity on the boat deck that night?
I guess that's my question.
Thinking out loud, Don
 

Erik Wood

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I think that the question that Don asks is one that can't be answered. We can't know how a situation would have developed differntly under different circumstances because it didn't happen.

Adding more lifeboats to the boat deck would have created more obstacles for those launching and filling the boats. As I said earlier in a post, I have no doubt that more boats would or could have saved more lives. But it wouldn't be because the boats where properly launched it would be because they where washed off and made a safe haven for those in the water.

Abandoning ship in the best of circumstances is a labor intensive and very dangerous operation. Titanic's officers and crew that night filled 18 boats (Granted not all of them where filled to capcity) on a sloping deck and kept order for the better part of the evening. In addition to this they where able to do it safely. They didn't dump a boat, nothing. For those who say that the crew was untrained the safety record reguarding the lowering of the lifeboats puts a big hole in the theory that the crew was for the most part untrained in my mind. A sailor is a sailor is a sailor and knowing how to feed line through bits or block and tackle is something the lowest deckhand learns quickly how to do. Cranking out a lifeboat and getting it to the hip, isn't rocket science, especially using the welland system. Ask Mike and Josh Gulch they have done it (without a boat but used the equipment) and to imply that the crew couldn't figure out what was going on and how to operate it in mind makes them out to bad sailors and incompetent, which in my opinion they weren't.

There where trained officers and crewmen who knew what they where doing, granted not all the men on the davits where well trained, but you have to remeber that on a ship every action has a reaction on the out come of the event and that you have to be a qualified sailor and lowering lifeboats isn't a mystical art.

Not filling the boats to capacity (whether right or wrong) meant that more people would not make it, and that the officers later on in the evening would have more people to deal with, then had they filled the boats but it also may have perserved order.

Some (including me) would say that Captain Smith's decision (although there is no proof of a decision being made, I still foolhardly perhaps believe he made it in his mind) not to issue a general abandon ship order to the entire compliment onboard saved lives.

These are all opinions and thoughts that can be argued and disagreed with, which I am sure the majority of folks will, but I thought I would post it anyway.
 

Don Tweed

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Erik, I almost ended my last post with the addition that we will never know the scenario of more boats. To many intangibles creep into the equation. More boats may have kept officers and crew from filling the boats prtoperly, thus off-setting the lives saved in the end.
To much of a good thing?
As you said, we will never know.
Best regards, Don
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Cranking out a lifeboat and getting it to the hip, isn't rocket science, especially using the welland system. Ask Mike and Josh Gulch they have done it.<<

You're right. It isn't rocket science...just tough on one's back, and it does require some good attention to detail to co-ordinate properly. Still, the Welin system was one hell of a lot better then what just about anyone else had out on the ocean. Can you imagine the "fun" they would have had with the older style davits like what were on the Lusitania and Mauritania?
 

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