I have to disagree that Captain Smith acted as if he were in a daze. In my view, he acquitted himself quite well after the iceberg.
He appears to have moved his ship closer to the shipping lanes where, presumably, distress rockets would have been more effective. Remember, it was 1912 and more ships were not radio-equpped than carried radio receivers. Prudent seamanship required getting Titanic within visual range of the shipping lanes before the flooding made moving the vessel impossible.
Smith made a thorough sounding of the ship, which early on gave the appearance to be floating on its pumps. Despite this reassurance, he ordered radio distress calls but not rockets. In effect, Titanic could manufacture an unlimted number of radio distress messages, the actual number only being cut off by the eventual foundering.
However, Captain Smith did not waste distress rockets on an empty horizon. One rule of pyrotechnic signals is not to shoot them until you see a potential rescue vessel. Californian was not seen immediately, and the decision to first use the Morse light after spotting that ship was prudent in view of the uncertainty of what was being seen. Had Californian been steaming across the horizon, I am sure that the firing of rockets would have begun immediately. Under the circumstances, however, Captain Smith showed good discipline in the use of his limited pyrotechnic resources. Once a rocket was fired, it could not be used again.
E.J. Smith's biggest decision of the night was also the hardest of his life. It was to not do do the one thing that most people would think was imperative under the circumstances. Smith prudently chose not issue an "abandon ship" order.
He knew the panic that had resulted on other sinking ships and wanted to avoid it for as long as possible on Titanic. The 700+ lives saved may be in large part the result of maintaining order on the boat deck. This meant that only those people who were smart enough to go to the lifeboats...and who found their way (a problem for third class)...were available to board. Rather than wait, Smith got the boats down and saved those people he could. It was a gut-wrenching decision that saved lives even though it was counter-intuitive.
Captain Smith's shining hour came when he realized that he had to let die those who he could not save, and instead he had to concentrate on the few people that he had the resources to save. If he had acted from his heart--and ordered "abandon ship"--instead of from his head and logic, the chaos might have limited the survivors to no more than a lucky handful.
Smith's instructions for the lifeboats to "row for the light" (apparently Californian) was also smart leadership. The mission was impossible, the light was too far away for a lifeboat to reach, let alone reach and return. However, ordering the boats to row toward the light was an effective way of geting them away from the ship, away from the eventual panic as it foundered, and away from the scene of possibly 1,500 people dying on the water that he knew was coming. The captain undoubtedly knew the boats could not reach that light--he just wanted to give them a target to organize their efforts and prevent panic from occuring within the lifeboats as Titanic foundered.
Captain Smith wisely stayed within his cadre of officers and seaman. He knew that his very presence could be a catalyst for panic within the passenger accommodations. It was best that he face questions from passengers because everything he might say or do (or not say, or not do) could incite panic.
Smith worked closely with his officers and seaman and that helped keep order among the efforts to launch lifeboats. (Ask Captain Erik about how dangerous this procedure can be.) It was a stunning accomplishment of seamanship to launch 16 boats from the slanting decks...then rig and launch collapsibles...all without serious incident. Smith's presence seemed to instill confidence among men who by doing their duty knew they might be sacrificing their lives.
Given the limited options facing him, I believe that Captain E.J. Smith performed extremely well that night during the hours after the iceberg. His actions were not perfect, but at least he did not lower himself in the first lifeboat and run away like a captain a few years back whose ship caught fire and sank. Captain Smith stayed in command of Titanic until there was nothing left to command.
-- David G. Brown