What if all of the lifeboats went back after the ship foundered


Matthew Farr

Member
Apr 14, 2010
274
1
71
37
Lansing, Michigan, United States
I have been thinking about this for the last couple of days and I wanted to get someone else's opinion on it.

I am sure that it has been said that if more of the boats went back immediately after the ship foundered more lives could have been saved. My question is this:

If all of the boats went back, how many would have made it back to the site before hypothermia kills the swimmers and how many swimmers would those boats be able to take aboard safely? (Assume for this question that going back into the swimmers would not pose the risk of the boats being swamped and overturned. )

I welcome your thoughts.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,608
641
483
Easley South Carolina
>>(Assume for this question that going back into the swimmers would not pose the risk of the boats being swamped and overturned. )<<

Since it's not realistic, I would assume nothing of the kind and if you want any sort of opinion to be just as realistic, I submit that you shouldn't either. In point of fact, it was for exactly this reason that was one of the reasons most of the boats didn't go back. It was a completely valid concern as well. Trained seamen who could have carried out a rescue were in very short supply and a waterlogged body...alive or dead...can be rediculously difficult to handle, especially in an open boat that wouldn't need a lot of persuasion to roll on you.

They might have been able to pull a few dozen people alive from the water, but that would have been outweighed by the potential for just as many if not more to end up in the water had any of the boats been swamped. The first duty the crew had was to the people in the boats and it would have been reckless to gamble with the lives in their trust and care.
 

Matthew Farr

Member
Apr 14, 2010
274
1
71
37
Lansing, Michigan, United States
>>if you want any sort of opinion to be just as realistic, I submit that you shouldn't either<<

I admit this is not a realistic scenario and I agree with you that they did the right thing in not going back. Doing so would have been suicide and would have just added to the death toll.

I should have phrased my question better. I was putting forth a hypothetical scenario. What I am looking for here is which boats could have made it back in time and how many people could those boats have taken aboard to put them at full capacity if they weren't already?
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,608
641
483
Easley South Carolina
>>how many people could those boats have taken aboard to put them at full capacity if they weren't already?<<

Probably not as many as you might think, even if you could get to all of them before they froze to death. The cubic feet allocated for each passenger assumed statistical averages and in the real world, the ideal never measures up to the reality. The boats were scattered all over the place and for those close enough to do anything, the trick would be finding them in the dark. Unfortunately, it's not possible to know which or even how many boats were close enough to make a difference.
 
Jun 12, 2004
2,131
12
161
Don't get me wrong, Mike. I see and understand the concern, so I agree that they did the right thing by not going back--at first.

I know that Lowe said this in Cam's movie, but didn't either he or someone else say in real life: "We waited too long"?

There is a chance that they could have safely gone back earlier than Lowe had in 14. The people in the water who weren't yet dead had grown weak, perhaps too weak to cause swamping, so going back earlier than he had would have likely rendered Lowe more survivors.

IF a few other boats had considered the same thing . . .

This would have been the extent of that possibility, though.

Still, that's a "What if" scenario that cannot be applied to Titanic because it didn't work out that way.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,044
87
308
UK
Most of the boats were at least half a mile away when the ship went down, and with inadequate crewing could not be moved quickly or precisely. Even if all the boats had started back immediately, it's likely that the majority of people in the water would have been too far gone by the time they were located. Boat 4, which didn't need even to go back because it was already on the scene and was better crewed than most, pulled only a handful from the water after the sinking. Of those, at least one was already unconscious and two died in the boat from the effects of exposure.
 

Will C. White

Member
Apr 18, 2007
267
2
111
The trick is to have faith in the brand new boats and load them to rated capacity right from the outset. Many were certain to die, as there was not enough space, but a number of various failures caused many extra deaths.
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
60
308
quote:

I know that Lowe said this in Cam's movie, but didn't either he or someone else say in real life: "We waited too long"?
He never actually said that, or anything similar, that has been recorded - on the contrary, he always stated that he had to wait as long as he did. The closest comment on record to expressing regrets is a remark he made later in 1912 saying that he wished he could have saved more lives. His son, however, did believe that his father wished he had returned sooner, and according to some of accounts from the lifeboats under his charge he had expressed a wish to return sooner than he did, but encountered resistance to the idea.​
 
Jun 12, 2004
2,131
12
161
quote:

Boat 4, which didn't need even to go back because it was already on the scene

Um, Bob, wasn't boat 4 one of those in Lowe's flotilla? I presume that you mean this boat was on the site of those in the water before meeting up with Lowe and the rest?​
 
Dec 29, 2006
733
10
123
Witney
I am not entirely sure what this question is about. Is it in fact TWO questions, that is to say:

1) What was the maximum capacity of all 20 boats if they had been properly filled in the first instance?

2) How long can one stay alive in the North Atlantic?

If the question is the latter one, the answer would seem to be simple. I believe that The Royal National Lifeboat Institution have calculated that those in the water after a marine accident will be dead (or at least beyond all hope) within 5 to 20 minutes.
 

Matthew Farr

Member
Apr 14, 2010
274
1
71
37
Lansing, Michigan, United States
>> I am not entirely sure what this question is about. Is it in fact TWO questions<<

No, although the second question does play a part in it. If a person can stay alive for no more that 20 minutes in the water, which boat(s) were still close enough to them after the ship went under to get back in less than 20 minutes and how many could said boat(s) take aboard to reach the boat(s) rated capacity.

For example, Bob Godfrey said in his post above that most boats were at least 1/2 mile away. Could a boat that far away have made it back to the swimmers in under 20 minutes. If it could make it back in that amount of time and had say 40 passengers out of a possible 65 it could conceivably save as many as 25 people.

I know that most of the boats were probably too far away to get back in time but I want to know which ones (if any) were close enough and how many each one could have taken aboard. As I have stated before I know this would never happen in reality because it would have been suicide.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,044
87
308
UK
Matthew, the point about boat 4 is that it was already in position to take swimmers aboard and was doing so within minutes of the sinking, but even then they didn't find many in the darkness and those that did reach the boat were close to death and some could not be revived. Even if Lowe or any other boat commander had started back from their more distant locations with no delay at all and with a crew of Olympic rowers they would have been too late for the majority of those still in the water. The number of empty seats does not realistically equate with the number of people who could have been saved.
 

Matthew Farr

Member
Apr 14, 2010
274
1
71
37
Lansing, Michigan, United States
>>Even if Lowe or any other boat commander had started back from their more distant locations with no delay at all and with a crew of Olympic rowers they would have been too late for the majority of those still in the water.<<

Bob, I was pretty sure that that was the case but being that I am just an enthusiast I wanted to get the opinions of more knowledgeable people such as yourself.
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
60
308
To elaborate on Bob's excellent responses and to answer your question, Mark, Lifeboat 4 pulled survivors from the water before it joined up with Lowe's flotilla of boats. It was close enough that some swimmers recalling making for it, whereas others say that the did row back a bit for survivors before pulling away and joining the other boats.

Intriguingly, one survivor recalled that Lowe was initially reluctant to pull too far from the sinking vessel as he wished to be in a position to pick up anyone coming over the sides.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,608
641
483
Easley South Carolina
>>The trick is to have faith in the brand new boats and load them to rated capacity right from the outset. <<

The rated capacity was none too realistic in the first place since it assumed that a given passenger would take up a given amount of space. An assumption based, as I said, on statistical averages. A couple of big fellas could easily take up the space that would be occupied by three or even four average guys. Even if everybody had been "normal" the boats still would have been overcrowded.

>>For example, Bob Godfrey said in his post above that most boats were at least 1/2 mile away. Could a boat that far away have made it back to the swimmers in under 20 minutes.<<

If fully manned up by a completely trained crew which knew what they were doing, it's at least hypothetically possible that they could get there. The catch is that they weren't. The problem was severe enough that the boats had to be crewed with scratch crews of seamen, engineers and even passengers. Hardly the sort suitable for boat races on the North Atlantic, and way over their heads as far as rescue operations go.
 
Jun 12, 2004
2,131
12
161
quote:

to pull too far from the sinking vessel as he wished to be in a position to pick up anyone coming over the sides.

. . . which is also likely why Boxhall took boat 2 around to the stern--to be there for the eventuality of people jumping from the stern. He was thinking ahead.

Attempting to get to the doors on the starboard side (which is what I have read) was a weak directive for Boxhall to follow, and I don't buy it.

I say this for three legitimate reasons:

(1) The boats lowering on the starboard side were closer and more appropriate for that.

(2) Since he was on the port side, why not get people from the port side doors? That's where he was after all.

(3) If he were going around to the starboard doors, curving around the bridge would have been a quicker and shorter path than pushing all the way to the stern and then back up the other side, especially since time was of the essence. Heading to the stern, then, wasn't likely for this purpose.

It would seem ironic, then, that his boat was too far away not to have come back, unless his was a case of resistance due to fear of swamping.


quote:

they would have been too late for the majority of those still in the water.

The boats didn't have a capacity for everyone on board, so even if all had gone back earlier than Lowe, the majority of people would have been out of luck anyway, freezing or no freezing water. Some people would have been saved, though, and that's the point.

The fact that the water was a freezing 28 degrees would have served as a benefit to those in the boats because, as said, by the time of any return, those in the water who were not already dead would have been too weak to swamp the boats. This wouldn't have been the case for going back right away, of course, but definitely before the actual point that Lowe was known to have gone back.

In the end, going back earlier would have probably made a difference.

Still, as said, I understand the fear factor. Swamping [early on] was a very real concern.

No doubt, too, that resistance had to do with the fear of seeing the bodies of the dead. Hearing their screams was one thing; seeing their bodies was an entirely different prospect altogether.


quote:

to answer your question, Mark, Lifeboat 4 pulled survivors from the water before it joined up with Lowe's flotilla of boats.

Mine were rhetorical questions, Inger, as I was actually clarifying that point, but I appreciate the acknowledgement anyway. Thank you.​
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,044
87
308
UK
Mark: Boxhall testified that he initially pulled off about 100 yards from the port side, then proceeded to the starboard side aft because he had been ordered to do so (by a megaphone call). It wasn't his decision. Why the starboard side? Because that's where the officers expected the gangway doors to be open. (Lightoller: "there was a huge gangway door through which you could drive a horse and cart on the starboard side aft"). This is a reference to the 2nd class entrance on E deck, which could be opened on either side. Earlier, Pitman also had been told to make for the same door. From Boxhall's initial position he was no closer to his intended destination by going via the bow than the stern. and since he expressed concerned about suction and it was the bow that was sinking that would have been the route to avoid.

As to what happened when he got there, you can take your choice from his 1912 testimony that he didn't remember if the doors were open (!!) or his (much) later recollection that they certainly were open on the starboard side and "I found that there was such a mob standing in the gangway doors really I daren't go alongside because if they'd jumped they would have swamped the boat. And I pulled off and laid off until I had pulled away about a quarter of a mile I suppose." He was of the opinion in any case that he could not realistically have hoped to get more than 3 extra people into his boat, and at the risk of losing all those who were already there. So he pulled away. And that was a very typical decision on the night.
.
 
Dec 4, 2000
3,242
529
278
Some random thoughts from somebody who has "been there" and "done that" with regards to rescuing nine people out of the water.

First, it is extremely hard to judge distance on the water at night. Judging by the lack of trained oarsmen and the clumsy nature of lifeboats that Titanic's tiny fleet was probably closer to the sinking ship than they thought. Of course, perception is reality.

Another thought. Of the nine people I've hauled from the water, none were shouting. In fact, they were all virtually silent. When they were able to communicate by voice, their words tended to be spoken in gasping syllables separated by deep breaths.

I know this is contrary to what was said at the time, but my real-world experience tells me that the shouting reported by lifeboat survivors occurred mostly before the stern submerged. That is, the shouting in the dark came during that period of time after the ship's lights blinked off and when the stern went under. Once the mass of people was in the water, I would gauge the shouting trailed off within a minute or two, if not sooner.

No matter what the distance, only a few of the boats were close enough to effect rescues without rowing back to the scene. I suspect the will to row ended when the shouting trailed off. The message would have been clear. They were no longer on a rescue mission, but a body recovery effort.

Another observation, I've been within 20 feet of a swimmer in broad daylight and lost sight of his head. It is really much more difficult to spot people in the water than you can imagine without having tried to do it with lives on the line.

Finally, hauling a hypothermic human being out of the water and into a boat is difficult and time consuming. The victim weighs virtually nothing while in the water, but gains weight as his body is pulled upward into the air.

This would be even more true with a woman whose clothing would trap a lot of heavy water. Her clothing would be slightly buoyant, helping the woman float. However, a full skirt would be really heavy and cumbersome when trying to swing her legs into the boat. Several years ago I helped film a reinactment of a Titanic-era sea disaster. The women had little trouble with their clothes while fully in the water, but we had extreme difficulty getting the back out and into the boats after filming.

Man or woman or child, human beings do not come with handles. Wet skin can be slippery as wet ice. Victims are generally unable to help themselves, but they struggle anyway. This struggling often causes rescuers to lose their grasp and the victim splashes back into the water.

My experience is that it takes at least three people hauling from inside the boat to pull one victim from the water. One person alone cannot do it.

Again, just random thoughts based on experience. Make of 'em what you will.

-- David G. Brown
 

Adam Went

Member
Apr 28, 2003
1,194
11
233
The issue was not with what occurred after the sinking with the lifeboats, the problem started much earlier than that, when the Titanic was still afloat.

The lifeboats should never have been allowed to leave the ship until they were fully loaded, or very close to it. If passengers didn't want to go, get rough about it and throw them in. Allow men to get in the boats as well if there were no more women or children.

The Duff Gordon's boat, 12 people in a boat designed for 40, is a perfect example of this. In that one boat alone, 28 more lives could have been saved.

There was never going to be boats for everybody, so for those unlucky enough to be left on board, brandy/whiskey should have been given out as much as possible - much like Charles Joughin did, and it saved his life.

Those left on board should also have thrown everything they could find that was big and buoyant off the ship, to use as rafts to float on or with once the ship had gone down. In the heat of the moment, this was more left to what fell off the ship in the final stages of the sinking than what was actually meant to be there.

As unfortunate as it is, the officers and crew were right that it was simply too risky to row back immediately after the sinking - you would have had stronger swimmers swamping the boats and quite likely flipping them over, signing dozens more people to their fate, while the less strong swimmers stayed yelling for help, out of reach.

For more lives to be saved, it needed to start when the first lifeboat was lowered, not at 2.30 AM.
 

Similar threads

Similar threads