Titanic's NavigationRunning Lights


I

I. M. McVey

Guest
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
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
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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,

George
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
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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
 
Mar 3, 1998
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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.

Parks
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
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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,

George
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
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George,

Despite the complications, though, the IMM regulation still exists.

As do the Rules of the Road. Because of my nautical experience, I choose to believe in the navigation rules of the time. As a historian, you choose to believe in what you found in the historical records.

That's OK...it ensures that we'll have two differing perspectives to contribute to any discussion about eyewitness accounts that involve Titanic's display of lights at night.

Parks
 

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