Hi Patti...in the tecnical sense...yes, it could have been done. But that still doesn't deal with the questions of ease of access throughout the ship. Designers of merchent vessels have to walk quite a tightrope on this in order to make the ship comfortable enough that passengers will book cabins. For ships designed to carry freight, there is also the matter of having enough free space to carry as much cargo as possible.

By any standard however, the Olympic class liners were substantially over-engineered, with the watertight sectioning actually superior to modern day cruise ships. They just couldn't survive having six watertight sections rendered no longer watertight.
There's a lot of discussion on this point in the thread entitled "What if the designers should have raised the bulkheads......." - but no universal agreement.

I think the answer is: capping the forward compartments would have prevented the sinking, provided that 1) the ship's design would prevent the forces generated by the loss of four compartments from causing structural damage, and 2) the watertight decks could be made almost airtight.

The first requirement lies in the how the structural loads imposed on the hull girder were dissipated in various combinations of flooding. I imagine that the "four compartments completely flooded" scenario had represented a worst-case set of design criteria for the structural engineers, so I think it can be safely assumed that partially flooding them (see below) plus flooding Boiler Room #6 to the water line would not have stressed the structures sufficiently to permit the ingress of water beyond the collision zone.

As to the second part of this conjecture, let me first explain why the decks would need to be airtight. The water entering the hull from below the waterline would compress the air trapped in a compartment by a factor of about 2:1 (depending on hydrostatic head, loading, and a whole bunch of other coefficients not available to apply the calculus to). Another way of saying this is that as long as the air was contained, the sealed compartments would only fill to about halfway. The buoyancy provided by this air, PLUS the buoyancy saved by not flooding above F deck in #2 and #3 Holds nor above E deck in #1 Hold would have held her bow above the waves indefinitely.*

The one joker in this deck [pun] is how soon those compartments could be sealed (if they weren't at the moment of collision) and how high the water would rise, which would determine where the new water line was. This, in turn, would have a direct effect on the hydrostatic head working against the bulkhead between Boiler Rooms #6 and #5. If the damage that made this bulkhead fail in the actual event was sufficiently severe, no amount of watertighting of the forward compartments could save the ship. But if ten or fifteen feet of water could be contained by the damaged structure, then Titanic would have limped into New York, Smith would have lost his pension, and James Cameron would be famous for movies about futuristic war robots.

But while we're on the subject, let me add my two New Pence (nuppence) worth to the discussion about minimizing inconvenience to the passengers. First of all, that phrase is code for "First Class Passengers." In the next place, six of the ship's compartments couldn't be sealed on top because they were boiler rooms, and had to have unrestricted space for air to come in and exhaust gases to go out. The engine rooms could have been sealed, but they might not be able to get anyone to work in them. In any event, the 6 holds are about all that could be sealed, and the people around and above them were either crew or 2nd/3rd class passengers. I don't really think their comfort and/or convenience entered into the decision.

*Provided that the nurses hadn't left the portholes open to air out the wards.
Thanks guys -

As usual, your collective depth of knowledge is mind-boggling and I appreciate all your nuppances—and I don't see the implied words "You silly girl. Go back to the galley and fetch me a brew," in your replies, so here is what I actually had in mind. Obviously permanent capping would be inconvenient if not impossible for all the reasons you cited.

How about doors that could be closed horizontally in even just a few compartments? Emergency ceilings, as it were. Perhaps they wouldn't even have to be totally watertight, but enough to provide an impediment so that the pumps could be of some service in keeping the ship afloat long enough, perhaps, for help to arrive. One problem I'm having with this idea is where the door is when it's open. Accordions, anyone? (Kidding!)

It's a good thing I didn't live back then, what with all my cutting-edge ideas. We might all be deprived of our Titanic obsessions, eh, Tom?

Michael, I have heard about the cruise ships being less watertight than some of the old steamers. I just saw that Carnival, who bought out Cunard, is planning or has started building a huge ship more on the order of the QEII. Supposedly it is to be the largest ship afloat. It was a quick blurb and I was just passing through the living room when I heard it, so I may not have my facts straight. Have you heard about it? Wonder how "unsinkable" it will be. Maybe "surface-friendly" would be a better word nowadays!

The horizontally closing doors your referring to are known as watertight hatches. They're standard equipment on any warship, but then for a military vessel, ease and convenience of access are a tertiary concern. It's not enough to have watertight hatches either since you also have to be able to seal off vents, cableways, drainage systems, etc.

It's a lot more complicated then a lot of people realize, and very time consuming to get a crew trained in operating them properly. A miltary vessel drills at this all the time and still manages to get a lot of it wrong.

Could this have slowed down flooding on the Titanic? Very likely yes. One little problem though, they just didn't have anything like that.

The cruise ship you're thinking of is Cunards Queen Mary II, which will weigh in at 150,000 tons. While hardly the worlds largest ship, she'll be one of the largest passenger vessels in service when she commissions in 2004. The keel for the ship was formally laid down on July 4th, 2002 at the French yard of Chantiers de L'Atlantique.
Je nais comprendes pas?

Excuse my bad French! Seriously, can you reiterate your question? I don't understand it, but would try to help if I did.

Best regards,

Mmmmmmmm...The Titanic had plenty of "wall's" otherwise known a watertight bulkheads. They weren't enough to save her. Perhaps you're thinking of a double hull? (Which incidentally wasn't enough to save Britannic.)
Raymond -- do you mean a longitudinal bulkhead running from bow to stern and splitting the hull into a left and right section?

If so, that could have made the problem worse. Water contained on one side of a longitudinal bulkhead will cause major listing, or leaning of the decks to the side with the damage. If that happened in Titanic, it would have prevented launching half of the ship's lifeboats, which were only half-enough in the first place.

-- David G. Brown
Hey, RJ!

I take it you mean "would longitudinal compartmenting have saved Titanic?"

This question has been explored here. The short answer is: probably not.

MC: Is French spoken in Leeds, West Yorkshire?
Hi Raymond,

"...Hey I mean a solid wall horizontily running from bow to stern dividing they ship in two down the middle of the hull..."

Yes, that's precisely what Capt. Dave and Tom Pappas are describing in response to your post of Thursday, 30 January, 2003 - 2:21 pm.

As the Captain pointed out, such an arrangement can produce quite a severe list, and in damage affecting as great a linear area as that which was suffered by the Titanic, this could have even hastened the ship's demise.

Longitudinal bulkheads located on the centerline of the ship were tried in a limited fashion in the machinery spaces of late 19th and early 20th century warships as well as in some merchant ships. In the case of the warships this was obviously done to prevent a single shell or torpedo hit on one side from crippling the entire plant.

In the case of twin screw ships merchant ships, the idea was similar - to prevent the complete loss of propulsion in the event that a collision should breech the engine room. In the few cases I've read about where this happened in such a ship, although the opposite side of the engine room remained dry and functional, the resulting list was quite serious. And, this was the result of flooding only one half of one compartment, rather than 5 or 6.

Scott Andrews
Scott Andrews,when you asked me what a "batt rivet"was a while back,you started me off on a quest.I have found a site on the great lakes,manitowoc ship repair.In the google search engine type in"riveted & caulked steel vessels".They give a good description of the procedures involved,except for two things.The first is why gouge a loose rivet out from the point side & risk the good chance of damaging the csk,when all they have to do is cut the head off.Second,the csk is not a normal engineering csk.A formula comes into play here.For example a 1"dia pan hd the hole is 1 1/16"dia,top of csk is 1 1/5"dia & the head dia is 1 3/5".I hope this fills up a few blank spaces in your book!!!
seven degrees west.