Titanic's Masthead Light


Feb 13, 2003
353
4
183
Samuel Halpern: Titanic's Masthead Light
So the answer to our question of whether Titanic’s masthead light could be seen at a distance greater than 14 miles is absolutely yes!
In your article "Titanic’s Masthead Light", are you implying the mystery ship that Californian’s Captain Lord, Third Officer Groves and Second Officer Stone saw was the Titanic?
 
Mar 22, 2003
6,219
1,556
383
Chicago, IL, USA
www.titanicology.com
What I am implying Capt. Collins in my article which can be accessed HERE is that the masthead light of Titanic would be seen as bright as the star Castor in the constellation Gemini if it came above the horizon at a distance of 22 miles from an observer located on the upper bridge of a ship like the Californian. At 17 miles it would appear as bright as the star Spica in Virgo, and at 12 miles it would be a little brighter than the bright star Procyon in Canis minor. If you or anyone else wants to take this further, feel free to do so.
 
Feb 13, 2003
353
4
183
We know, from the evidence, that the masthead light seen by Lord, Groves and Stone was accompanied by starboard and port sidelights. In order for this to occur, the mystery ship had to be much closer than 12 miles.
 
Mar 22, 2003
6,219
1,556
383
Chicago, IL, USA
www.titanicology.com
At 12 miles away, Titanic's masthead light would appear as bright as a magnitude 0.25 star, or almost as bright as the star Rigel in Orion, and brighter than the star Procyon in Canis Minor. The rules in effect at the time for steamers required that a white masthead light be seen at a minimum distance of 5 miles to allow for the use of oil lamps. The minimum distance for sidelights were 2 miles. It is obvious that the reduced sidelight distance in the rules was to acknowledge the absorption due to the concentration of dyes used in the glass to get them to appear as red or green and the sensitivity of the eye to different colors.

Titanic’s sidelights were located at the boat deck level just under the wing cabs of the forebridge. For them to be seen at all from the bridge of the California meant the two ships had to be within about 17 miles of each other. At 12 miles they would be in range.

Just like the masthead light, the sidelights had a total of 32 CP. From close-up photos of Olympic and Titanic it appears that the height of the sidelight lenses were about the same as the masthead light, somewhere about 8 inches. This means that they would appear about as bright except for the losses in the color filters that made them appear as red or green. A typical transmission factor for green filtered light might only be about 35% that of clear glass, or a loss of a little more than one stellar magnitude. (It should also be pointed out that the eye is most sensitive in the yellow-green region of the spectrum, about 570 nanometers wavelength.) But even if we allow for greater loss, say 16% that of clear glass, this would result in a loss of 2 stellar magnitudes (which would be the maximum accounted for under the rules of 2 miles vs. 5 miles). So although it is likely that Titanic's sidelights would be almost as bright as the star Regulas in Leo (mag. 1.34) if seen from 12 miles away, they would not be any dimmer than a typical second magnitude star when viewed at that distance. And remember, the night of April 14, 1912 was perfectly clear and calm with excellent seeing conditions.
 
Feb 13, 2003
353
4
183
And remember, the night of April 14, 1912 was perfectly clear and calm with excellent seeing conditions.

From the evidence it is clear that Californian's Groves, Stone, and Apprentice Gibson flashed numerous Morse lamp signals to the vessel they saw stopped approximately five miles away with all its navigation lights clearly visible.

The evidence given into the Titanic disaster was that neither Fleet nor Lee, the lookouts, reported seeing any ship on the horizon while they were in the crow’s nest between the hours of 10 and 12. George Hogg, who relieved them at midnight and stayed in the crow’s nest until he was called to go away in the lifeboat, also did not see any steamer lights. It must therefore be concluded that no Morse lamp signals were seen.

It is inconceivable that the bridge would not have been notified that a ship was within sight between the time of the accident and the loading of the boats. Since the Californian had stopped in the ice at 10.21 p.m., it is also inconceivable that the lookouts would not have noticed her if she were indeed nearby.
 
Mar 22, 2003
6,219
1,556
383
Chicago, IL, USA
www.titanicology.com
It is inconceivable that the bridge would not have been notified that a ship was within sight between the time of the accident and the loading of the boats.
The Californian was swinging slowly to starboard. By the time Stone relieved Groves the ship had swung so the Titanic was direct on the starboard beam. Her head was facing ENE magnetic. Before that, according to Groves, she facing about NE magnetic. When he first saw the lights of the vessel approaching about 11:30 it was more than 2 points abaft the beam. The only navigation light that would have been visible would have the stern light which was lower down and dimmer than the other navigations lights. Basically, until the ship swung so that her mast lights and sidelight were no longer shut out, she would have been virtually unnoticed. And we are not talking about 5 miles here. More likely 10-12.
 
Nov 24, 2007
18
0
71
so is there any concrete evidence into the actual separation distance between the two vessels? also, what about the radio calls, it been said that the radio operator was asleep and could not have heard distress calls delivered from Titanic. ANy reference?
 
Mar 22, 2003
6,219
1,556
383
Chicago, IL, USA
www.titanicology.com
is there any concrete evidence into the actual separation distance between the two vessels?
No Darin, there is no "concrete" evidence. If there were, the Californian affair would not be an issue. Most accounts point to subjective estimates. To quote a passage from my four-part article in the THS Commutator, Light on the Horizon,

We cannot, and should not, rely on subjective estimates of distances based on nighttime observations. The only thing that people saw that night were the lights of another ship. From the Titanic they saw lights of steamer that seamed to approach and then turn away. From the Californian they saw the lights of steamer that seamed to have stopped for the night on account of the ice. Just lights were seen. No hull form or silhouette. Most estimates of distances were based on the brightness of the lights, something very subjective and very unreliable...On that very clear, dark and moonless night that prevailed at the time, lights tended to appear brighter than expected, a condition which lead many trained seamen to generally underestimate distances.

What I did was to take a completely different approach to finding estimates for the stopped distance between the two ships. The first was based on the geometry of the approach of the steamer seen from the Californian. The second method was based on estimates of distance to a yellow funneled steamer seen in the morning twilight by Lord of the Californian and Rostron of the Carpathia. The third method made use of the geometry of the ice field seen in the morning and described by Lord, Rostron, and Capt. Moore of the Mount Temple. The fourth method I used made use the disappearance of the red sidelight of the Titanic just before the last socket signal was fired from her deck. All these independent analytical methods indicate a range from about 10 to 14 miles.

As far as Californian's radio operator, he already had turn in for the night before Titanic's wireless distress messages were sent out. The primary reference for this is the British Inquiry, questions 9026-9050. You can read this HERE.
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
6,038
1,096
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Hi everybody,
Is it know what distance the Titanic's masthead lamp was able to lit up?
Hello Mila.

The regulation distance was 5 miles with the naked eye. It was visible around the horizon for 225 degrees...112.5 degrees on either side of right ahead.
In practice, it would have been visible a great deal further with binoculars or a telescope. You will see claims on this and other sites that it was seen at distances greater than 12 miles but in practice, even in the best of conditions. that would have been highly unlikely.
 

Mila

Member
Sep 28, 2016
971
71
73
Hello Mila.

The regulation distance was 5 miles with the naked eye. It was visible around the horizon for 225 degrees...112.5 degrees on either side of right ahead.
In practice, it would have been visible a great deal further with binoculars or a telescope. You will see claims on this and other sites that it was seen at distances greater than 12 miles but in practice, even in the best of conditions. that would have been highly unlikely.
Hello Jim,

I probably did not formulate my question correctly.
I was asking for how many kilometers or meters the Titanic's masthead light was able to lit up the ocean ahead, allowing the lookouts to see something in the dark?
I now believe that they saw the iceberg only, when it got lit up by the masthead's light.
Remember Fleet testified it was at first small as two tables put together. It was the part lit up by the light.
I believe that Lee's black mass getting out of the haze was actually that iceberg getting lit up more and more by the masthead's light.
I believe that black mass in a strong stream of light surrounded by the darkness might have been perceived as it was coming out of the haze.
Agree?
 
A

Aaron_2016

Guest
Not sure if the light could illuminate anything ahead. If it did, then it would hamper the vision of the lookouts which is why the forward deck had to be dark during the night. Regarding the distance that her masthead light could be seen. I have seen ship's lights appear more than 20 miles away when there is refraction. Or is the correct term 'looming'? Lightoller mentioned how lights could be seen 60 miles away when they are looming above the horizon.


Q - The man on the look-out is not always standing with the binoculars up to his eyes?
A - No, certainly not.
Q - They are there for use when he thinks it desirable to use them?
A - Precisely. You see, if I may point out, binoculars, with regard to lights, are extremely useful; that is to say, there is no doubt you will distinguish a light quicker. If you set a man to look out for a certain light, and he reports a light it is quite a matter for us to ring him up on the telephone and ask, “What character is that light?” The man may, on a clear night, see the reflection of the light before it comes above the horizon. It may be the loom of the light and you see it sometimes sixty miles away. He may just make sure of it with the glasses, because there is any amount of time - hours; there is no hurry about them on a clear night at all. You make absolutely certain then about the light, and so as to be in that position we ring him up to say exactly what it is; but when it comes to derelict wrecks or icebergs, the man must not hesitate a moment, and on the first suspicion, before he has time to put his hand to the glasses or anything, one, two, or three bells must be immediately struck, and then he can go ahead with his glasses and do what he likes, but he must report first on suspicion.




original-20773-1405442111-25.jpg


2014_07_16_14_12_18flying-ship.jpg



.
 

Mila

Member
Sep 28, 2016
971
71
73
Not sure if the light could illuminate anything ahead. If it did, then it would hamper the vision of the lookouts which is why the forward deck had to be dark during the night.
Hi Aaron, then according to you I should turn off the headlights off my car, when I am driving at night time because they hamper my vision?
I don't think so. My vision is hampered not by my headlights, but the headlights of the cars that are moving in opposite direction, towards me.
I understand that some other lights could have impacted the vision of the lookouts, but the masthead light much above their height would probably have not. I cannot find it now, but I believed somebody from another ship did testify they only were able to see an iceberg, when it was lit up by their navigational lights.
The looming has nothing to do with spotting of the iceberg. No matter how much it was loomed (and it probably was not) it could not have been spotted before it got 1/4 miles to the Titanic anyway. BTW Fleet stated that binoculars, if he had them, would have helped him to see the iceberg earlier.
 
A

Aaron_2016

Guest
Hi Aaron, then according to you I should turn off the headlights off my car, when I am driving at night time because they hamper my vision?
I don't think so. My vision is hampered not by my headlights, but the headlights of the cars that are moving in opposite direction, towards me.
I understand that some other lights could have impacted the vision of the lookouts, but the masthead light much above their height would probably have not. I cannot find it now, but I believed somebody from another ship did testify they only were able to see an iceberg, when it was lit up by their navigational lights.
The looming has nothing to do with spotting of the iceberg. No matter how much it was loomed (and it probably was not) it could not have been spotted before it got 1/4 miles to the Titanic anyway. BTW Fleet stated that binoculars, if he had them, would have helped him to see the iceberg earlier.

Headlights are important but the Titanic was not fitted with headlights. Merely navigational lights so that other ships could see her, and were not intended as a means to illuminate the area around the ship. It's like holding very bright torch 145 feet above sea-level. Too high to light up the sea around the ship. If she had a searchlight as bright as a lighthouse then that would be a different matter. The looming or refraction (which was recorded by other steamers) would create the impression the black mass was just a low cloud which covered a cluster of stars. This could be the reason why survivors on the Carpathia said that Fleet had warned the bridge several times and they ignored him and why there was so much confusion aboard the Californian. The iceberg was completely black until it passed the starboard side. Reginald Lee looked at the iceberg after it passed him and he saw the ship's lights shining on it.


"It was a dark mass that came through that haze and there was no white appearing until it was just close alongside the ship, and that was just a fringe at the top."

Q - It was a dark mass that appeared, you say?
A - Through this haze, and as she moved away from it, there was just a white fringe along the top. That was the only white about it, until she passed by, and then you could see she was white; one side of it seemed to be black, and the other side seemed to be white. When I had a look at it going astern it appeared to be white.
Q - At that time the ship would be throwing some light upon it; there were lights on your own ship?
A - It might have been that.

This would suggest that the masthead light had little or no effect on illuminating the iceberg before the collision.


.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Mila

Member
Sep 28, 2016
971
71
73
Headlights are important but the Titanic was not fitted with headlights. Merely navigational lights so that other ships could see her, and were not intended as a means to illuminate the area around the ship. It's like holding very bright torch 145 feet above sea-level. Too high to light up the sea around the ship. If she had a searchlight as bright as a lighthouse then that would be a different matter. The looming or refraction (which was recorded by other steamers) would create the impression the black mass was just a low cloud which covered a cluster of stars. This could be the reason why survivors on the Carpathia said that Fleet had warned the bridge several times and they ignored him and why there was so much confusion aboard the Californian. The iceberg was completely black until it passed the starboard side. Reginald Lee looked at the iceberg after it passed him and he saw the ship's lights shining on it.


"It was a dark mass that came through that haze and there was no white appearing until it was just close alongside the ship, and that was just a fringe at the top."

Q - It was a dark mass that appeared, you say?
A - Through this haze, and as she moved away from it, there was just a white fringe along the top. That was the only white about it, until she passed by, and then you could see she was white; one side of it seemed to be black, and the other side seemed to be white. When I had a look at it going astern it appeared to be white.
Q - At that time the ship would be throwing some light upon it; there were lights on your own ship?
A - It might have been that.

This would suggest that the masthead light had little or no effect on illuminating the iceberg before the collision.


.
Well, as you probably know Fleet gave an absolutely different testimony in regards to the haze and in regards to the spotting of the iceberg, and his testimony is consistent with approaching of an iceberg that was coming into view due to being lit up more and more by some kind of lights. That's why I asked how many meters ahead were illuminated by the masthead's light. Fleet has never testified he warned the bridge a few times. Why did not he, if he did. Such testimony would have been helpful for him, would it not?

Aaron, an iceberg is not a light, and no matter how much it was loomed, it could not have been detected earlier than it was. Many polar explorers spent polar nights (a few months in a row) in the areas known for strong refraction phenomena to occur. Yet, there is no single record of anybody observing any refraction phenomenon (that do not include lights or the Moon ) during a night time. If you know otherwise, could you please provide the info? BTW do not forget, the nice image you posted above was taken with a telephoto lens. You yourself observed such phenomena on the horizon. You know how they look even with big ships during day time and a telephoto lens.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Oct 28, 2000
3,242
539
388
One of the classic mistakes in researching Titanic is to take automobile experience to sea. A ship is as different from a car as a rhino is from a clam. But, we have all grown up with cars for transportation while few have had serious "bridge time" at sea.

This "car to sea" mistake is not confined to amateurs. When I presented the Grounding White Paper to the Society of Naval Architects, one of the august members described how by turning to the left Titanic had pulled its bow clear and the stern naturally followed. While I'm sure the man knew Froude's Law and how to calculate G-Z, he hadn't a clue about how his creations acted in their natural element.

Navigation lights have the primary purpose of preventing collisions at sea. They are not designed to illuminate anything. The lamps in them and the lenses are all designed to shine a narrow beam with little or no "spill" light, not provide general illumination.

Ever since Ralph Nader's book, "Unsafe At Any Speed," cars have been equipped with small lights that can be seen from the side. These illuminate nothing, but do provide information about the size and direction of the car to another driver approaching an intersection. On a less formal level they do the same job as navigation lights.

On land, a car is confined to a relatively narrow roadway. It is necessary for the driver to have as much information about the twists, turns, and pot holes of that road as possible. In rural areas drivers need to know when a stray cow is lounging on the pavement. Headlights are the answer. The driver's night vision is not as important as illuminated a narrow stretch of highway for a few hundred feet down the road.

Night vision is the name of the game when operating a vessel at night on the open sea. There is no confined highway, only trackless ocean. Dangers can approach from well outside the field of view provided by headlights. The only way to be certain of seeing such dangers is the properly dark-adapted eyeball of a trained observer (i.e. a "lookout") And, in this case training is critical. Not many people have honed the ability of seeing at night. After all, there is little need in our everyday, car-infested life style.

If the looks had constantly been switching from an illuminated patch of ocean to the darkness of the surrounding swells, they would have constantly compromised their night vision. Worse, even the best nautical "headlight" (a carbon arc spotlight used on America's western rivers) has only limited range. Lookouts in Titanic's crow's nest would have been effectively blind to objects dead ahead, but beyond the illuminated area. Robbed of their night vision, they would have been less able to spot a danger on the horizon, so the officers in charge would have had less time to choose the proper course of action to avoid an extremis situation. Bottom line, a ship with headlights "on" would be in more danger, not less, than Titanic with its well dark-adapted lookouts in the crow's nest.

Those carbon arc spots ... They are used for three primary purposes. One is to illuminate lock entrances when approaching with a stick of barges in tow.

The second is to illuminate the river bank to one side of the ship. By keeping the circle on where water meets land, the towboat skipper can stay fixed distance off the mud even though the river twists and turns.

And, the third use is to mortify small pleasure boats who tend not to realize the danger of getting in front of a few million pounds of coal or grain.

I've never seen a carbon arc spot used to illuminate the river like headlights on a car.

-- David G. Brown
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
A

Aaron_2016

Guest
Yet, there is no single record of anybody observing any refraction phenomenon.....

The elements at play that night were unique. There was a large ice field perhaps more than 20 miles long and temperatures recorded by passing ships were going up and down significantly in relation to the proximity of the ice which I believe was a contributing factor to the refraction. The SS Marengo passed the area on April 14th - 15th. Her logbook shows great refraction in the area that night.



Marengo1.png



Her logbook for that day and night - Photo stills from the documentary - Titanic: Case Closed.

logbook1.png



Iceberg ahead, or is it a cloud?

lookouts1.png


Fleet saw a strange black mass blocking out the stars. With no idea what he was looking at (a low cloud or a natural gap in the stars?) and with nothing to focus his eyes on (making binoculars useless) he would try to focus on this black mass until whatever it was (if it was anything) came within sight so that he could identify it and report it to the bridge. Fleet said he would have seen the iceberg sooner if he had binoculars. I believe he was referring to the stars that were low down because if Captain Lord was mistaking these stars for other ships then Fleet and Lee may have been scanning the horizon and trying to guess what may or may not be a ship out there, and without binoculars it made their job much more difficult. The refraction would also distort the image and elevate the horizon. Lookout Hogg was asked:

Q - As soon as you see anything, you signal the officer on the bridge, do you not?
A - Yes, sir; you would strike the bell. But you would make sure, if you had the glasses that it was a vessel and not a piece of cloud on the horizon. On a very nice night, with the stars shining, sometimes you might think it was a ship when it was a star on the horizon. If you had glasses, you could soon find out whether it was a ship or not.

According to Mrs Crosby it was well spoken on the Carpathia that Fleet warned the bridge several times and they took no notice. It is unclear if Murdoch was caught out by the refraction and mistook the black mass for a cloud and dismissed it until it was too late, or possibly they turned away from that berg only to strike another one.


.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Mila

Member
Sep 28, 2016
971
71
73
Fleet saw a strange black mass blocking out the stars
Is this your imagination or Fleet said he saw something like that? Why to speculate what Fleet could have seen if IIP clearly states that an iceberg cannot be spotted before it is 1/4 miles away?
The Captain of the Carpathia testified they had a few lookouts, and their elevation was lower than the Titanic's lookouts, and they were looking for icebergs all right, but still they were unable to see them closer than "a mile and a half to two miles away", and maybe by that time there were some waves breaking over them, which makes them much easily to spot.

I know about this record in the log of SS Marengo. It adds nothing to confirming a presence of a mirage. I know that some call ice-blink a refraction. Maybe it was what they saw. At least ice-blink for sure could be seen at a night time.
The bottom line is that there is no single confirmed record about anybody anywhere in the world observing any mirage (except the ones that involve light source) at a night time.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Similar threads

Similar threads