Titanic's NavigationRunning Lights

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RMS Titanic, Inc. was granted salvor-in-possession rights to the wreck of the titanic by a U.S. Federal Court order in 1994, reconfirmed in 1996. The court award includes the exclusive rights to own all of the objects recovered from the Titanic wreck site. To date, RMST has recovered over 6000 items from the wreck and put those items on display as it sees fit.

That much is paraphrased from their website at http://www.titanic-online.com.

To lodge your complaint personally, contact either Arnie Geller or Dik Barton at:

RMS Titanic, Inc.
3340 Peachtree Road NE
Suite 1225
Atlanta GA 30326

You can complain about their taking the masthead light, but I would suggest that you not mention your thoughts on how the masthead light could have been used to avoid a collision.

Hello Dave,

Actually, I was rather thankful that you took the time to spell everything out for me. With me on the Board, you must have polished up your typing skills by now eh?

Okay I understand your point of a ship "headlight" having an approximate beam straight ahead and would not capture anything on the sides of the beam. So ~ with that said and done, in Titanic's case the night of the 14th, a large beam would have prevented the collision, because the iceberg WAS right straight ahead for the beam to capture ~ perfect for the lookouts to see ahead of time and avoid the collision. So what's wrong here? (I'm sure you'll tell me, but let me guess. Titanic didn't have a large beam, from what Standart's post above states. Ah geez.....!

<<Those big spotlights on U.S. ships following Titanic were monuments to ignorance of the reality of life at sea.>>

I still think ANY light is better than no light, in dark seas.


I understand RMST has been given salvor-in-possession rights. But I'm sitting here wondering if "objects recovered" includes "objects ripped off the vessel" in the "salvor-in-possession rights" document. I always understood RMST had the right to remove loose items in, around and on the ship, but never to take the ship itself apart.

I will be sure to write them in my best business english and to request a copy or a portion thereof, wherein it states they have the right to take the ship apart. I cannot picture RMST illegally taking the ship apart, but I'm going to find out. Thank You very much Parks, for posting their address. And I will not mention how the masthead light could have been used to avoid a collision.


>>Didn't the Titanic have a large "flashlight" for the lookouts to use?<<



This thread is about navigational lights, so if you want to continue talking about flashlights and such, please start another thread. Your theories aren't contributing to the conversation about masthead and running lights. If you're not aware of the difference between your 'flashlight' and nav lights, I suggest you go pick up a basic seamanship manual from the book store and do some reading.


Back to where we were before the distraction...the only published author I'm aware of who states that Titanic had only one masthead light was Leslie Reade, in The Ship That Stood Still. This is ironic, because it is in that same book where we find Steward Hayland's sketch showing two. But Reade states at the beginning of Chapter 3:

Standing alone on the bridge and watching the ship, after some minutes Groves saw that it was a passenger ship which was approaching them. "She had a lot of light," he later testified at the London inquiry, and he saw two masthead lights. 45 years later, in his memoirs of the middle watch, Groves mentioned only "a light" and he was probably right then.

The Titanic had only one masthead light in her foremast. The misconception that she had two masthead lights may have arisen from an exchange between Lord mersey and Sir Rufus Isaacs. Captain Lord had told the Attorney-General that he had seen only one masthead light, but he added: "The third officer said he saw two."

"Now, that is important," Sir Rufus said.

"That is very important, because the Titanic would have two," Lord Mersey agreed.

"Yes, that is it -- two masthead lights," Sir Rufus confirmed.

The two learned gentlemen were wrong and were probably quickly informed that the Titanic had only one masthead light. The description of her 'Mast and Rigging' in the Mersey Report and her 'Rigging Plan' do not mention or show a masthead light in her main (after) mast. On photographs of the Titanic, the masthead light in her foremast can, in some cases, be seen, but on none that has been closely inspected does her main mast reveal such a light.

Reade goes on more a bit more about how the misconception of two masthead lights has grown and taken hold, but I think you get the idea.

So, I'm not the first one to notice the discrepancy. If you don't have Reade's book, you should look around the used book bins for a copy...there's a good diagram in there about 'porting round a berg.'


Kathy Savadel

Former Member
>> I suggest you go pick up a basic seamanship manual from the book store and do some reading. <<

Hello, Parks -- What an excellent idea. Do you -- or anybody else -- know of one in particular that you would recommend for a layperson with little or no background knowledge of seamanship, or would any general manual do?


Kathy Savadel
Kathy -- As the chief writer on the 62nd and 63rd editions of Chapman: Piloting, Seamanship & Small Boat Handling, I feel duty-bound to recommend this book. Get the 62nd or 63rd edition not because of my work, but because the earlier ones have changes and updates. Library copy only. Don't buy this expensive book unless you plan to also buy a boat to go along with it.

For big ship information, nothing beats Knight's Modern Seamanship, any edition. Again, this book is expensive. A library copy is recommended. You will probably have to get it through inter-library loan. Knights is written for professional mariners on commercial ships, but the language is not intimidating.

--David G. Brown
Kathy -- Please e-mail me privately regarding the material you sent about the 1913 Great Lakes storm. The e-mail address I have for you no longer works. Thanks

-- David G. Brown
Kathy, I checked Barnes & Noble.com to see if they have Knights and they do...although at $120.00 a copy, it's a tad pricey! Well worth it though if you want to know how and why things work as they do on a ship. (I bought my own copy several months ago.)

Another good general reference with quite a bit of histroy thrown in is "The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea." While not as technically oriented, it has a lot of good information in it, and at $29.95+tax, it's not as brutal on your budget.

Michael H. Standart
Well, if you're going to look for Knight's, check bookfinder.com for a used edition. With a little luck, you can find one from Titanic's era for much less than you would pay for a new one today. As a matter of fact, I have a WWI-era copy at home that includes a nice full-page plate of Olympic that I will sell to anyone who is interested (e-mail me privately).


Erik Wood

While Dave is quite correct about spot lights it may be of interest to point out that ALL freighters on the great lakes and all the Coast Guard Icebreakers attached a pare of head lights to the stem of the ship during the winter. Mainly to show tracks carved by other ships.


I. M. McVey

Former Member
Dear Friends,

I must confess that I have seen this topic come up before, in a couple of venues, and I meant to put in my tuppence worth at first go, but didn't have the time. I admit, I'm surprised that such a thing has made cause for debate, as the matter is rather black-and-white to a working mariner, but I'm also very aware that a lot of what I take as 'common knowledge' cannot be found in memoirs, archives, letters, etc. Even the most diligent, devoted, and fair-minded researcher will not find everything that he or she needs to interpret day-to-day life in a ship in any documentation other than a mariner's head -- which is oft full of fluff! I beg your pardon for not writing earlier on this matter, but I can only plead a high workload. I had a thought that another mariner could clarify, since there are supposed to be several about. As that has not been the case, I truly do hope that the following will help clear up the confusion, and that the published source I use to back up my statements will be sufficient documentation for those desirous of such things.

When I first saw this matter come up, my first thought was, 'Well, we're always required to carry a few outmoded things, but that doesn't mean we actually use them! We just have to have them on hand as back-ups, and this matter of the oil mast-head light is no different!' I was quite surprised, then, to see the interest invested in this topic, and whilst it is heart-warming to see such keen interest, I have felt bad for not replying the sooner.

Any BOT regulation requiring WSL ships to carry oil mast-head lights meant just that: carry. Not necessarily use, but carry as a back-up, usually in the Bosun's locker in a freighter, or the lamp locker. My industry takes on certain kinds of change a wee slowly: we are long on tradition, even whilst we embrace the very latest in technology -- and we do use modern things that would make your eyes bug out! But whilst we have the latest technology on the Bridge or in the Engine Control Room, we also follow regulations that (often sensibly) require us to carry the older, more traditional items on board, in case our modern wonders fail. And, trust me, modern 'wonders' fail fair regularly, as any computer owner knows! Anyway, here's hoping the following will clear the matter up a wee...

It is not at all uncommon, in the Edwardian era or now, to have a few old laws and/or regulations on the books as far as ships' provisioning and practises go. It's easy for someone like me to scan down a list of required safety items, for instance, and be able to immediately differentiate between things that I am required to have in place for actual everyday use, and things which are required through law and tradition (and practicality) as back-up items. These sort of items are usually stowed neatly away in a locker somewhere -- out of the way enough not to interfere with things, but handy enough to reach when needed. This is why in my last ship, the fog-gong finally found a home under the wee sink in the chart room abaft the wheelhouse. It lived happily there with tins of coffee and tea, paper towels, and the like. Neatly stowed, of course...

When I first saw this discussion last year, I was really tempted to write a post with my own supposition in it: that the oil lamps were only meant as back-ups, and not meant to actually be used on an everyday basis, and that when Titanic went down, the mast-head light seen was the electric version, and that the mentioned oil lamps were required by the BOT to be on board and accounted for, but were not required to actually be used on the mast-head along with the electrics. Of course, I also know that folk in these discussions require paper proof, so I went and found me some of that, too, and it is as follows, from Sir James Bisset's "Tramps and Ladies", page 19. At this time, he is in a steamer, SS Rembrandt, and the year is 1905. Rembrandt was not the finest or richest of ships by any road, but this little explanation applies to steam-ships in general in 1905. It will apply just as much (if not more, being 7 years later) to ships in 1912, and to Titanic.

"In the SS Rembrandt the lights were electric, including those on the mastheads; but the Board of Trade Regulations required every steamer to carry a spare set of oil-lamps, filled, trimmed and ready for instant use in case of any breakdowns in the electric lighting system.

"The AB in charge of the oil-lamps was known as the Lamp Trimmer, or 'Lampy'. He was an old Cape Horn sailor, who, in addition to looking after the lamps, did any sailorising work that might be required, such as splicing ropes and wires. I went to the lamp locker, and found Lampy already there, testing each of his lamps in turn, by lighting and trimming their wicks. He knew his work better than I did, but as a matter of routine, I stayed with him until all the lamps were tested.

" 'These 'lectric lights ain't reliable,' he growled. 'Can't beat the old oil-lamps and the old salts, sir! What do they do when their lights go out? "Lampy, Lampy," they sing out, and I get the spare oil-lamps hoisted up in a jiffy -- or where'd they be? Sunk, that's where they'd be!' "

Hope this helps matters, and also hope this finds all well. Kindest regards,

Ilya M
Hi, Ilya!

Bisset said:

>"In the SS Rembrandt the lights were electric, >including those on the mastheads;....

Was the Rembrandt an IMM vessel? (If not, the company's regulations did not apply to her.) In any case, though, the Rembrandt seems to have had a different masthead light configuration than the Titanic (i.e. Rembrandt had electric masthead lights on *both* masts, whereas Titanic did not.) To reiterate, according to the IMM regulation, if Titanic *had* carried masthead lights on both masts (like the Rembrandt apparently did), Titanic's second light would have had to be fueled by oil.

>but the Board >of Trade
> Regulations required every >steamer to carry a spare set of oil-lamps, >filled, trimmed and ready for instant
> use in case of any breakdowns in >the electric lighting system.

I have no doubt that that is true, but -- in this particular instance -- the IMM regulation we've been discussing is not referring to emergency backup masthead lights.

All my best,


Inger Sheil

G'day Ilya -

Many thanks for that contribution, an invaluable source for we lubbers aboard :) Good to see you posting again with your usual splendid clarity. Thanks for drawing our attention to the continuity of practice both then and now. Interesting to see how your experience and some of Park's comments relate to each other.

~ Ing
Well, it looks like we're back to Square One. George, if your quoted IMM regulation was followed in the manner in which you have interpreted it here, then any IMM steamer following that regulation violated the International Rules of the Road of that time (and of modern times, for that matter). I wish there was some way in which you could explain why that would be or how that was allowed to happen, because I simply can't make sense of it.

Hi, Parks!

I can't either, and therein lies the rub. Despite the complications, though, the IMM regulation still exists.

And, as you said, we're back to square one.

All my best,

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