The role of the lookouts


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steve b

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since im relatively new here, i would like to thank the wonderful people who posted on my previous thread regarding the reversing engines.based on the knowledge i gained from that healthy debate, i guess i would now like to know the role of the lookouts in the moments leading up to the sinking.it has been debated about whether they actually had first sight of the berg, or possibly Murdoch had the same view almost the same moment they did.i guess this seems like a trivial aspect of the whole tragedy, but to me, im finding more and more that its the trivial aspects, the small things, that built up to the big event, if that makes any sense. i guess my first question would to be to go into basics of understanding theyre duties..so i ask those in the know, what was theyre average shift? ive thought ive heard 2 hours, but that seems like its too short, and im guessing im way off base on that.the second thing i would like to explore is the exact question, and see if we can come up with an educated guess on, who was actually first to spot the berg. again as i previously noted, some here suggested that its quite possible Murdoch saw it the same time they did. upon looking at some photographs, im inclined to agree with that.and i am because looking at photographs, it does not appear as though the crows nest was much higher than the navigation bridge.does anybody know what the height difference between the 2 is? and lastly, does anyone here think the binoculars that were missing could have made any difference had the men in the crows nest had access to them? i look forward to hopefully hearing everyones thoughts on this subject, and as always, god bless
 
Jul 9, 2000
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A lookout, even in the day and age of radar, has a very important role in that they literally keep a sharp eye out for any sort of danger that may pose a hazard to the ship. The reason that their watches tend to be short is partly due to the problem of fatigue aggravated by exposure to the elements. While that may seem short, when you spend two hours out in the cold, wind, and seaspray, it can seem like an eternity. Fatigue sets in mighty fast and you have to be alert as you never know what's going to pop up out of the fog.(Ask the crew of the Andrea Doria or the Empress Of Ireland)

Radar is no gaurantee of safety for a lot of reasons. A vessel like a submarine is low enough in the water that it can and often is easily lost in the clutter of of returns from waves or is simply below the beam. Small fishing craft and boats may not show up at all. When that happens, it's up to the old Mark 1 mod 0 eyeball to keep you from running into greif...or the rocks.

I know. I've stood low visibility watches all the way up on the bow of a frigate in the northern reaches of the Pacific in November in heavy seas. All the hot coffee and chocolate in the world can barely keep the elements at bay.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Under U.S. Admiralty case law, Lookout is the single most important job to be done by any member of the crew. I believe the quaint wording is, "Upon no one else does the safety of the vessel so much depend."

A lookout must be specially trained and have no other duties that would interfere with the job of keeping look out. White Star Lines comes off quite well here, both Fleet and Lee (on duty in the crow's nest) were professionals and their position allowed them no other duties but watching for quite literally everything.

It took about a third of my book, "Last Log," for me to explain why, but I believe that Fleet and Lee performed reasonably well that night. They reported the "dark mass" that turned out to be the deadly iceberg well in advance of the collision. Fleet apparently recognized that the "dark mass" was really an iceberg first, but both lookouts instantly recognized the situation. Fleet rang the alarm bell and talked to Sixth Officer Moody, "Iceberg Right Ahead!"

The real question is why Titanic had only the two men in the crow's nest on duty that night despite the obvious presence of ice. At the time of the impact, only Fleet and Lee were actually keeping lookout while Murdoch was alone on the bridge. Contrast that with the rescue ship Carpathia that had at least nine sets of eye looking out during its dash to the lifeboats.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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I would tend to agree with Mr. Browns question. As a Captain if you are in a known field of ice or in some cases fish markers you need more then two look outs. Radar has really replaced the actual look out on most ships and the officer of the watch as well as the watchman JO and throttleman all do the job.

When I am in tight areas I usually station officers around to give me proximity readings on how close I am to this or that. Ususally six three on each side. Forward middle and aft.

Erik
 

Tracy Smith

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Nov 5, 2000
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Radar didn't do the Andrea Doria a whole lot of good
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steve b

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just for the record, i happen to agree the role othe lookouts is the most imortant d thankless job there was.. in fact as dumb as it sounds, i feel as though they should be employed today in some capacity or another, for as we all know, there are some things sight can tell you and radar cant..but 9 lookouts versus only 2? thats just simply an incredible thing!! was this standard procedure throughout titanics voyage?
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Steve, look at the record --

Californian -- posted extra lookouts, including a man on the bow. Captain also on bridge. Ship ran into ice, but was undamaged.

Carpathia -- extra lookouts posted on bow and bridge wings. Extra officers on bridge. Captain on bridge. Ship navigated at high rate of speed through same ice that proved fatal to Titanic.

Titanic -- standard watch of two lookouts. One bridge officer inside pilot house. Officer in command doing his own lookout. Captain not on bridge. Ship experienced fatal encounter with iceberg.

-- David G. Brown
 
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steve b

Guest
i understand and agree with you completely mr brown, please do not take what i was saying the wrong way.to put it simply, i was unaware of the situation on other ships, and what you have said here is quite simply amazing. thats why i asked if it was standard procedure. was this ever called into question during the inquiries? from what i read, the practice that was being used that night was one that was in place and widely accepted from some 20 years proior, and a fatality had never resulted from its use. of course afterwards its flaws were readily apperent.but just to make sure im not misunderstood here, i agree with everything you have stated, and the information you have relayed certainly causes one to pause and be taken aback
 
Mar 3, 1998
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No time for a full posting, just quick thoughts:

Californian lookout posting can be considered normal for the conditions she found herself in. Rostron took extraordinary precautions because he knew Titanic had struck a berg. In my opinion, Titanic was one lookout short (should have posted an additional man in the eyes of the ship).

We don't know for a fact that Captain Smith was not on the bridge during Murdoch's watch...we assume he wasn't because neither Boxhall, Olliver or Hitchens (the surviving watchstanders) testified to his whereabouts. However, around the time of the collision, the former two were off the bridge on rounds and the latter was in the wheelhouse with shutters raised.

Radar has not replaced lookouts in the U.S. Navy. A mishap board would never accept reliance on electronic devices as a mitigating factor in a collision.

Parks
 

Inger Sheil

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Feb 9, 1999
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Good points on the lookouts - this is one area where I do believe the Titanic's watch officers failed. Given that they had already taken some rudimentary precautions (darkening the area before the bridge etc.) I would think it would be advisable to, as Parks says, post at least one other lookout in the eyes of the ship.

Inger
 
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steve b

Guest
i guess im stating the obvious here, but i will always be confused as to why titanic did not slow up for the night, given that the crew had numerous warnings about bergs in the area..it just makes sense for a lot of reasons, most notable being the ability to spot and steer clear of it.so what if time was lost due to it? but then again, those were different times, and the pressures placed upon some must have been enourmous
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Tracy, what's interesting is that the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm DID see each other on radar, but then proceeded to make bad decisions based on erroneous assumptions about what they THOUGHT the other ship would do.(As we say in the Navy, note the first three letters in the word 'assume')

If I recall, there was also a point mooted about the range scale on one of the ships being set wrong so that they thought they were further apart then they actually were. And the rest, as they say, is hysteria...uh history.

Radar is a great tool, but far from foolproof, and one that takes some training to use properly. Lookouts are extra insurance in areas of low visibility or areas where the manuevering room is tight.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Oct 28, 2000
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In my Captain's License Prep classes we describe the Andrea Doria/Stockholm incident as, "History's first radar-assisted collision."


-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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Perhaps we are looking at this question the wrong way. We all know what didn't happen and we all know (for the most part) what did happen. But we still don't and we may never know what really happened. One could argue the case that Smith was thinking a variety of things.

1. He had made a southerly course change to avoid the majority of the ice
2. With the aid of that course change as well as the old labrador current he may well steer clear of the ice.
3. Small sheet ice even as thick as a inch or two may slow Titanic down but would not and should not stop her from sinking.

a. This is part of that arrogance that I speak of in another thread. Smith is thinking that his ship is invinceable and small sheet or pancake ice should be effecting his speed.

4. If something large does come along his lookouts (although there are only two, and two should be more then enough. They did spot the berg in time for some kind of manuver.)would be able to spot danger and his officers would be able to manuver out of it.
5. If he did hit with any kind of force he could close the doors and delay or possibly prevent the sinking altogher.
6. All of Smiths time at sea was telling him that there would be no ice in his path. So one of mans best mental skills experience failed him. It lead to complacency he assumed but did not prepare for.

The decision to add or take away lookouts was Smiths and Smiths only. By todays standards if a watch officer feels it necessary to add to a watch it has to get the Chief Officers approval and the Chief will go to the Captain most likely. Lightoller had spoken with Smith about the sea state and the fact that it would be hard to spot bergs with no breaking water. But Smith for any variety of reasons decided he had what he needed and nothing further was needed. A decision that cost Smith his life and the life of his ship as well as 1500 of its occupants.

In a more broad scope lookouts today are only used when you are in tight quarters. With the way ships handle these days as well as modern navigation tools satillate for weather and such to have a post for something that specific is just not very feasible nor economical and unfortunatly companies base decions on money and not safety. Nowdays for the most part unless other wise decided by the Captain the bridge crew acts as the lookout. Radar is relyed on and in my opinion somewhat too heavily. The Andrea Doria and Stockholm incident is one that every Captain has probably gone through in a simulator at least a hundred times. Collisions still happen people don't read the radar right. Whenever you put a humam in a job there will be errors because to error is human (sorry for the really bad joke). As Mr. Standart pointed out when you assume you make a [email protected]# out of YOU and ME.

These are just some of my thoughtless ramblings I hope that they are of use of some kind.

Erik
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Not so thoughtless Erik. I seem to remember that "assumption is the mother of all f***-ups" was a common enough axiom in all branches of the military. I'm a bit leery of relying on radar as some in the merchent services seem to if only because it's a far from perfect tool. When we were standing into San Diego on the USS Comstock about ten years ago, we almost ran down a submarine that was on her way out. Radar never saw it as it was too low too be picked up by the beam and too close. It was one hell of a sharp eyed lookout up on the forepeak who saved us all from some considerable greif that day.

Small craft are also difficult to pick up as you well know. They're too low in the water and some of the materials used such as fibreglass and/or wood don't reflect well if at all. Then there is the problem of clutter from the waves which can give false echos.

Radar's nice, but lets keep the lookouts!
wink.gif


Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Another good point to bring up during this whole thing is if you had other look outs where would you put them? If you but any more forward of the crows nest and lower they might have seen it. If they did how would they comminicate what they say the bridge?

Erik
 
Jul 9, 2000
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No walkie talkies, but they did have telephones way up on the Titanics bow. I saw two such positions in the detailed CAD plans that I have. The Titanic's officers could have easily put somebody all the way forward if they had wanted to.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Mr. Standart,

I had wondered about that. I know that on ships in the present walkie talkies are used however soundpowered phone jackes on just about every where.

Perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me were you got you CAD plans.

Erik
 

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