Slowing Titanic's flooding...


Brent Holt

It is more complicated than that.............

In my opinion, here is how Titanic should have been designed from the get-go:[/B]
1. Implementation of a double hull to keep water out in the first place, as exemplified by Brunel's Great Eastern
2. Heightened watertight bulkheads, say to D deck (with the critical bulkheads D, F, K, and N being raised to B deck)
3. Elimination of the fireman's passage (just another pathway for water to crawl around the ship)

Hindsight is always 20/20. We know Titanic sank, her designers had no idea.
1. Double hulls, such as that installed in the Great Eastern were not commercially viable. Modified versions, with watertight doors such as on the Lusitania & Mauretania, had their uses but also some major weaknesses. If more than 2 of Lusitania's wing compartments were flooded the ship would have likely capsized. The sinking of the Lusitania was probably at least partially a result of her longitudinal bulkheads. They made her unstable and prone to capsizing.
2. The original design of the Olympic Class called for the ability to stay afloat with any 2 compartments flooded. However, this was a minimal specification and in most cases 3 compartments, and even 4, could be flooded without sinking the ship. This was a more than adequate safety margin for the most likely accident scenarios at sea. More info here: FloodingByCompartment
3. I believe the firemen's passage was used for oil storage on Olympic after WW1.



Oct 23, 2014
In my opinion, this is one of the best topics on this forum. After reading every post here, I submit as a structural engineer that several theories on slowing Titanic's sinking hold quite a bit of water.

-Counterflooding. I have no doubt that a controlled counterflooding would have added precious time to the life of the ship. Flooding in the first five compartments tilted the ship toward the areas that were flooding, allowing water there to more quickly top over the bulkheads. If counterflooding in the stern of the ship were attempted, the bow would not have listed so much, slowing the flooding and allowing the Carpathia to be able to save more people.

-Head on collision. I don't buy the theories that this would have made things worse. Titanic had a larger crumple zone than other ships of the time. Contrary to the flawed physics knowledge of others, hitting a stationary object would impart only twice the kinetic energy on the ship than hitting a non-stationary object of the same size with the same crumple zone.

OF course none of this implicates any of the crewmembers of the Titanic of wrongdoing, since it is natural to try to save the ship from any damage at all rather than attempt a head-on collision. And counterflooding was an unknown concept at the time. Truth be told, the true lack of leadership was due to Captain Smith, who was obviously shell-shocked and failed to take effective command when it was needed most. If he had reacted appropriately to the disaster, which he knew would happen, hundreds more lives would have been saved. Bruce Ismay was instead made the scapegoat, something which he never deserved.

Adam Went

Apr 28, 2003
Hi TR,

Interesting post. I wonder how counterflooding in the stern might have been achieved? I'm sure there are others on this forum who are more familiar with the Titanic than myself who might have a better idea, but i'm not aware of any methods which Titanic had available to her that would have allowed the water to be counterflooded to such a point that the ship would have been back on a relatively even keel.

This idea is similar to one which suggests that the watertight bulkheads should have been left open, therefore allowing the water to flow more evenly throughout the ship and perhaps preserve her for longer. This was actually tested in a documentary some time ago and it was found that, even in calm seas, if such a method had been undertaken it would have only taken a slight movement in the weight of so much water inside the ship for her to capsize. In the to scale test the documentary tested, the Titanic actually capsized at around the same time the bow was going underwater in the real sinking, and she ended up sinking some 30 minutes sooner.

As for the head on collision, I think that it's possible the Titanic could have survived such an impact but the damage would have been significant and she probably would have been a write off. Passengers probably would have been killed by the force of the impact as well.

In any case, as you alluded to, this would have flown in the face of the training and natural instincts of the crew who had to make split second decisions. Therefore they can be little more than "what if" scenarios - nonetheless, kudos to you for your input and thinking outside the square.


Dan Johnson

Jan 9, 2012
I wouldn't be surprised if Chief Engineer Bell actually did move some ballast around in an attempt to slow the sinking. There were trim tanks and fresh water tanks they could move water around. I'd love to know what was on that note Smith sent down.

About Captain Smith himself, I find it hard to believe there was any real lack of leadership. He knew the ship was sinking and he knew there weren't enough lifeboats. There is evidence that he did signal for boats to return to the Titanic but the crews of the boats failed to do so. Was there a lack of communication about the capacity of the boats in the falls? Yes. But there is testimony that people weren't coming out on deck but instead remaining inside. How long do you wait to launch? They didn't even have enough time to launch all the collapsibles - THAT should have been addressed earlier.

The big problem was that if they had called everyone on deck there would have been a massive panic for the boats. Likely there would have been many more deaths.

On the design of the ship, yes there were problems. The firemans passage being one of them and the height of the bulkheads another. Still, what other ship, besides Olympic, could float with 4 compartments open to the sea? You plan for the the worst and nobody imagined a collision anywhere except between two compartments.

Hindsight is 20/20.
Mar 18, 2008
A counter flooding would have made things worse. They would have to flood the aft compartments with the result they had to cut of steam which was used for the pumps and light. (It were the first 6 compartments which were taking water and possibly also a 7th.)
I can not see how the firemen's passage was a design problem. If so they would have change it on Olympic and Britannic but they did not. Higher bulkheads would have not help.

Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
Funchal. Madeira
A counter flooding would have made things worse.

But for argument's sake, let's examine the theory.

Only compartments aft of the Center of Floatation would have any positive result as far as decreasing forward draft was concerned. The C of F was about midship. Therefore flooding of compartments aft of that point would contribute to bringing Titanic onto an even keel. However, compartments close to the C of F would contribute mainly to bodly sinkage. Only compartments at a great distance astern of the C of F would have the desired effect. This leaves the main engine room and the Turbine Room. The main engine room contained all the pumping machinery necessary to keep the ship afloat. If in an insane moment Bell did suggest allowing sea water to enter the Main Engine Room he could only have done so in an uncontrolled manner and Smith would have told him to get lost. A decided No-no.
Apart from the severe 'hog' imposed on the already over-stressed hull, such an action also cause rapid bodly sinkage and eventually a great deal of free surface effect. There might come a point when the ship would be upright but I doubt it. Even if she did, her displacement would be getting near to greater than her reserve buoyancy. Additionally she would become 'tender' and lurch to one side. This would aggravate the Free surface effect and she might turn-turtle go down like a stone. The contribution made by Scotland Road would be tiny compared to the free surface effect in a half-filled main engine space.

As for counter-flooding; it was most certainly known about in 1912. Master's were warned against it in certain circumstances which involved flooding the low side rather than the high side when a ship was listed to one side or the other. Captain Smith and his Officers were very familiar with ship construction and stability. They were formally examined on the subjects and would not have obtained their 'Ticket' without a 70% pass.

I'm curious as to the source of the evidence pointing to the claim that Captain Smith was 'Shell-shocked'.

On the subject of lifeboat falls: these were made form natural fibre which had a low tolerance for shock load. A sudden jerk (as when one end was stopped abruptly because it was being lowered faster than the other or when it became fouled on something) would have resulted in the line in question breaking. This would cause the boat to briefly hang vertically from the remaining fall, tipping the passengers out of it before that last fall also parted and the boat would drop on top of any one in the water below it. All seamen knew and still know this. That's why they would try to lessen the chance of a fall breaking due to excessive shock load by judicious loading of passengers.

Jim C.


Mar 28, 2015
Scotland Road did not stop the ship's flooding. All it ever did was stop the starboard list and add a port list. By the time it was flooded, the D Deck reception was flooding, and the bow was underwater, and it was 1:40.


Jan 9, 2016
My initial post will probably make me unpopular with some, but I wanted to address the experiment noted above.

That experiment is fatally flawed. Granted, it's been a few years since I saw that documentary, and I've been unable to find it online since. However, the model they built was NOT an accurate representation of Titanic. It was acryllic (which by itself isn't a huge issue) to show the level of flooding based on time. It was not ballasted that I could see and did not show an accurate representation of weight loading. It was top heavy as a result. While it did represent the watertight compartments and the decks, it failed to show anything beyond that.

They flooded the model from top down...


Feb 13, 2016
Dear Cryshalsing.

I have only just discovered this forum after rewatching the 1953 movie Titanic. You seem to a commentator on the issues that thinks through the facts. I have always understood and believed with many others that the 2 and half hours the ship stayed afloat could have been used to shuttle passengers to the floating ice using the ice itself as extra lifeboat capacity.

But this is my real question. The seas were dead calm. All the engineering states it was a mathematical fact if 5 forward compartments were breached the ship would go down by the bow (this would be with the assumption that all the reamaining compartments aft were not flooded). The process would be that as the water topped each successive bulkhead it would flood the next compartment. But that process is all about the ship losing the evenness of its level stem to stern.

A previous contributer suggested they might have been able to slow that process or even stem it by intentionally flooding stern compartments. That suggestion was totally misunderstood in the replies because the phrase was used "keep the ship on an even keel". All the replies talked about the lack of effect of the ship listing to port or starboard. It is obvious the contributer of the suggestion meant keeping the ship level stem to stern. It seems to me that, though it might have rested low in the water, there was plenty of freeboard height to handle it.

I would love to see scientific tests to prove or disprove this theory/

Mark Gidman


Jul 1, 2015
Tacoma, WA
Putting passengers on an iceberg is the craziest idea ever. Far more dangerous. Icebergs are highly unstable, plus its a block of ice, so ice burn and such would be a huge issue (these people were wearing night gowns). landing any craft on or around an iceberg would be extremely hard. If an iceberg had an underwater shelf, than even a lifeboat could become stuck or damaged. Plus ice is smooth. How would the passengers have climbed aboard the ice, and stayed on the ice without slipping and falling. Eyewitness accounts clearly state that even when hearing water splashing on icebergs while in the lifeboats, no one could see them until day broke, therefore to navigate to one, and to get people to file onto on in the pitch black of night, just seems an absolute disaster to me. Plus once you unfilled ur already low staffed lifeboat, whose rowing back to the ship and taking more people off, in enough time. No one knows how far away the nearest iceberg was. Passengers had a hard enough time rowing towards the mystery light, in which they could see.

Counter flooding wasn't even an option back in Titanic's time. Roy Mengot said it best:

Counter-flooding is flooding a compartment if a compartment on the other side of the ship takes on water to keep the ship level. For Titanic, this involves flooding stern compartments as the bow compartments take on water. From the testimony at the enquiry, it's clear that the idea to counter-flood to avoid a severe list was only a theory then. The Lusitania had longitudinal bulkheads, but there is no evidence that any counter-flooding equipment was built in, or that anybody on board had any idea how to counter-flood if the need arose. To that time, it had never been tried.

If counter flooding equipment were available on Titanic, then counter flooding the stern compartments to raise the bow would not have worked. Rather, flooding the stern compartments would have served to lower the stern and increase the stress on the center sections. This would also hasten flooding the ship to the point where the design is compromised and the ship would capsize.
Counter flooding is NOT a good idea.

The ship was doomed, adding more weight to the ship would not have kept it afloat, it would have just made it heavier. The Titanic was wounded from the forepeak tank all the way to possibly boiler room 4, this would have required more than one aft compartment to be flooded, which would only leave a couple compartments un-flooded, which would leave very little buoyancy weight. Like Mengot says, it would have created an unequal weight, leading to the ship to capsize. Evidence (via Wheat) shows that up to E deck, (around 12:50 Titanic sank more towards the starboard side than the port side, so any counter flooding would have to had to been contained to a port side compartment. However Titanic was not built with port and starboard side compartments (except in its double bottom), so adding water in an aft compartment, with a list to starboard, would cause the water to run starboard, and eventually you'd gain both the bow and the stern leaning starboard, causing the ship to capsize. If the ship didn't capsize than it could have possibly caused the ship to fracture sooner.

Overall The inevitable still would have happened, though, counter flooding was not even an option, as the only area to take on extra water was Titanic's double bottom, not by watertight compartments. This is the same reason why opening the watertight doors from stem to stern would not have worked. It comes down to unequal weight and gravity.


Jul 1, 2015
Tacoma, WA
I just remembered an experience I had in Cabo San Lucas. A reality TV show was filming there, and the contest was to hold your hands the longest, on on a block of ice, carved in the shape of the car they were trying to win. You had to have both hands on the ice. You could take one hand off for a limited time, but not both at once. Once you took both hands off you were out. Mind you, the 'ice car' was under a canopy to keep it shaded, but the outside weather was about 87 degrees. Even in this environment, the contest barely lasted an hour, as people couldn't keep their hands on it. people sitting on a block of ice on the night the Titanic sank would have succumbed to frost bite. Plus getting them off the ice, even if they did survive, would have been highly complicated
Mar 18, 2008
Counter-flooding? How will you do that. Putting the list aside, the forward 6 compartments were damaged (putting BR 4 into the list it would be 7). This would mean to flood several of the aft compartments including the turbine and main enigne room with other words power gone and making the pumps useless....


Apr 7, 2016
Possible way to save the ship from sinking

The ship could have likely been saved from sinking by doing the following.

1. Not moving forward for 5 minutes after the collision.
2. Wake passengers starting in forward areas of the ship on lowest levels and have them moved with luggage to any unused rooms on upper levels that were not in use because the ship was not nearly at full capacity to move them away from at risk areas. All portholes would have been closed and locked, then the doors to those rooms locked so no chance of portholes being reopened would exist as open portholes were causing the ship to take on additional water.
3. Have the crew use the fire system to quickly flood the rear watertight compartments to full height(most likely the back 4 or 5). The food storage cooling units may have been required to flood but with temps under freezing and water temps well below freezing, there was little chance of food going bad. If the flooding of the first 5 compartments in the front caused the aft area of the ship to pull completely out of the water, doing the opposite would have been easier because like with most vehicles, the weight is where the engines and other equipment was located(the front of the ship other than storage would have been fairly light in weight without cargo storage) the middle and back of the ship(where most of Titanic's weight was. Flooding behind the power plant area would be ideal to avoid power disruptions.
4. Attempt to lift the front anchors out of position with the cargo loading cranes and placing them in the middle or back of the ship, or release the front anchor(s) and chain if possible to remove excess weight from the front. The best outcome of lifting the front of the vessel out of the water would be to get the damage areas of the first number of compartments out of the water, thus allowing all the front compartments to partially or completely drain. A lifeboat could be launched from the back with Andrews and any structural team members to view the damage just above the waterline. It may have even been fixable with the right tools/people on board. Even if a few middle compartments like boiler room 5 or 6 still had some or full water levels, the ship could have easily stayed afloat and functioned normally and even sailed since the rudder and propellers would have been deep in the water. The bridge would have been facing slightly upwards at an angel of 5-10 degrees but should have still functioned. The difference with this solution is that there wouldn't be more than 5 flooded compartments in a row in any place because the front compartments would have lifted out of the water high enough to have them empty back into the ocean, so the angle would have stayed below 12 degrees which was the angle of where the hull failed. Canvas or other materials on board could have been dropped next to the side of the ship ship into the water near the steel plates on the right side to try to slow down taking on water until the above steps were completed.
5. The Olympic was nearby, and passengers could have been moved over to that ship to continue on to New York, while the Titanic could have returned to Belfast without sinking for repairs or the ship could have continued with another ship sailing nearby and passengers would have simply had to deal with sailing at a slight angle to the back. The risk of continuing to new York is the chance that the hull would further continue to fail due to cold water temps and stress of sailing at an angle to keep the front compartments from flooding by keeping the front compartments slightly above or even near the waterline. The ship could have moved in reverse to eliminate flooding also but it would be difficult to operate backwards since the bridge faced the opposite direction.

Rob Lawes

Jun 13, 2012
Apart from the obvious issues with your plan Jake, such as the fact filling the rear 5 or 6 compartments with water would cause the ship to sink like a stone in much the same way as filling the front compartments did (remember, Titanic could only flood the front 4 compartments before the effect of the flooding would spill from one to the next) or the fact that there is no way you could get that much water into the ship that quickly to counteract the flooding forward and raise the bows out of the water, I have, while enjoying my lunch, actually done a bit of maths.

Let's assume it would be possible to flood enough compartments aft to pivot reverse the sinking bow and raise it out of the water. Let's also assume that the pivot point about which this takes place is roughly the centre of the ship (it would actually need to be further forward but the centre will do for now) and on a line level with the damage. (higher due to the weight of all the water but this gives us a minimum figure for the required height you would need to raise the damage).

From testimony and various models, we will use the supplied figures for the extent of the damage as being 7.5m below the water line and extending 91m aft from the bow.

In order to raise the aft most area of damage we take the distance between the centre point of the ship from the bow which would be roughly 134.5m and subtract that from the distance of the last known area of damage which is 91m. This leaves us 43.5m. Now that point needs to be raised by 7.5m. Using Trig we know that the tangent of the Angle is = opposite / adjacent which ( 7.5 / 43.5 ) gives us an angle of 9.8 degrees. Now to work out how far down the bow would have to be at that point we take the distance from the pivot point, 134.5m and using the angle we know that Tan 9.8 degrees = X / 134.5. A quick bit of re-arranging gives us a figure of 23.23m. Or to put it another way, the stern section is completely under water.

Regards Rob.
Dec 4, 2000
From time to time the idea of counter-flooding is proposed as a way of keeping Titanic afloat. Looking through the posts on just this thread produces a substantial argument against this concept. The idea jettisoning the anchors is a similar idea. There simply wasn’t enough manpower to spare from launching lifeboats and the amount of weight to be lost was relatively inconsequential in the overall picture. Even so, I don’t blame people for coming to wrong conclusions when trying to find creative solutions to an apparently overwhelming problem. In fact, sailors have often found oddball ways of saving their ships and their lives. This has been particularly true during wartime.

My real quibble is with the assumption that the ship was fatally damaged from the outset. The physical and testimonial evidence is against this time-honored assumption. Once again, what “everybody knows” is fiction. From the records of both inquests, we know that the peak tank took on water so rapidly that air hissed out of its vent pipe (per bosuns mate Haines and lamp trimmer Hemmings. We also know from a number of sources that holds #1 and #2 flooded as a result of damage. Hold #3 seems to have been the fastest compartment to flood to the point where the inside waterline reached that of the ocean outside.

According to testimony from stoker Beauchamp, boiler room #6 did not appear to be flooding for nearly twenty minutes after impact on the iceberg. His testimony about closing dampers and then raking down fires during those minutes is backed up by that of his immediate superior, leading stoker Barrett. It was only after the boilers had been made safe that Beauchamp saw water coming out of the bunker behind him (after end of boiler room #6) and flowing across the stoker plates on which he stood.

The rate of flooding in #6 is consistent with the ingress reported by Barrett coming into an empty bunker. Yet, that same man told Senator Smith’s inquiry that the whole side opened up in boiler room #6 and that he had to duck under the falling watertight door leading to boiler room #5. Hmmm..??? How could that be if Beauchamps never saw the side open up and worked in an apparently dry compartment for 20 minutes after impact? And, how could Barrett possibility have been in #5 when he issued orders to Beauchamps who recalled them in the exact same words as the leading stoker used? Obviously, there is something amiss with somebody’s story.

If we look at boiler room #5 we find the events there as described by Barrett were only possible in a dry, undamaged compartment. He tells of being told to lift a manhole so engineers could reach the plumbing beneath the stoker plates. It was into that manhole that engineer Shepherd tumbled, breaking his leg (again reported by Barrett). It would have been a fool’s errand to open that manhole if the space beneath was flooded with sea water. Reasonably, nobody could have held their breath and worked in freezing water. Yet, Barrett said the water coming into a bunker was in boiler room #5. This flooding is what leads to the conclusion that Titanic was fatally wounded. When you look at everything Barrett said, and how it dovetails with Beauchamp and the actions in boiler room #5, however, it’s obvious the flooding was forward in #6.

This was the conclusion that naval architect Wilding came to during the British hearing. His original calculations of damage and water ingress did not cause the ship to sink in the manner that actually took place. So, the man in charge of the British inquest, Lord Mersey, sent Wilding back to figure what would happen if damage extended through the full length of boiler room #6 and into the head of #5. Wilding said the ship would sink. Mersey published that theoretical exercise as fact and a great Titanic myth was born. But, the reality is that the men who were there said “No.” They reported damage only from the peak tank to the head of boiler room #6.

So, in theory Titanic should not have foundered. That was Wilding’s conclusion based on the facts as displayed in the various testimonies of survivors. Contrary to what the survivors said, Mersey created the fiction of the damage extended a full compartment farther aft and resulted in a fatal wound to the ship. We can speculate on Mersey’s reasons for doodling with history. That’s another thread on this forum. The fact is that Wilding’s numbers based on the testimony showed that no extraordinary measures -- counter flooding, etc. -- should have been necessary to keep Titanic floating at least long enough to rescue all souls on board.

-- David G. Brown


Dec 11, 2012
David, I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that something else happened which caused the Titanic to sink?
Nov 13, 2014
Oh, where did I hear this before... A claim that the 'Slow speed ahead' order Captain Smith gave after the collision caused additional damage to the weakened hull, and Titanic would not have sunk without this additional damage.
My answer? Captain Smith knew they hit something and the possibility of the ship being wounded was real. He also knew that running the engines of a wounded ship can increase the existing cracks, so he was careful and only gave a slow order to minimize the additional damage. The only reason he gave that engine order was to get the ship back on course, then they could inspect the damage and determine their next move: carefully continuing to New York or reverse engines and return to Belfast.