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


Mark Robert Hopkins


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.


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.


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

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.
David G. Brown

David G. Brown

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
Augusto Félix Solari

Augusto Félix Solari

But they could transfer passengers from a lifeboat to another! As a result they would have a large amount of almost empty lifeboats crewed by experienced sailors and oarsmen ready for the rescue just after the ship had sunk!

Adam Went

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.

Jim Kalafus

> 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.

Not necessarily. At least three of the lifeboats from the Lusitania were literally beside the wreck when it sank. Harkness's boat, with a hair under 80 people in it, self-launched (the water rose up under it) was swept across the boat deck and in to the funnel stays, and was then washed clear as the ship began to right herself for the final time. The passengers were soaked, but the boat survived.

The boat, as well as the next boat aft, was in the midst of those who sank with the ship. To the 77-83 people already in the boat were added between 20 and 25 more, from a grand total of 103. The boat sank VERY low in the water, but in the perhaps 40 detailed accounts left by occupants, no one mentioned ANY danger of capsizing after the ship sank.

The next boat aft was lowered with 35 people in it, and managed to pull in between 25 and 30 more, under identical circumstances, and again, no one mentioned any danger of capsizing... although several DID mention that once 60 people were in the boat, they had to row away lest the craft become dangerous.

Boat #1, which was lowered with three men in it, rowed back and took half of the occupants of Harkness's overloaded boat. AGAIN, with at least 50 people leaving a boat with 103 occupants, no one later spoke of any tipping or instability. They also pulled a few swimmers in from the water.]

Had the Titanic's boats gone back, thye would have been in the midsts of extremely torpid victims, on a calm sea.

Thing is, of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. The Titanic passengers and crew cannot be faulted for not rowing back. The fault lies, entirely, with those who lowered the boats half-full.

Adam Went


I really don't think you can compare the Titanic with the Lusitania in that regard. The Titanic sunk in the early hours of the morning in freezing cold water in the middle of the North Atlantic. The Lusitania sunk 10 miles off the coast in the early hours of a warm afternoon. Those who were in the water when the Lusitania sunk were a much better chance of surviving until help arrived than those of the Titanic, especially the stronger swimmers.

It's one thing to pick up survivors out of the water, but then you also would have had dozens more trying to cling on to the boat to get themselves atleast partially out of the water. Rowing would have been an impossible task and yes, with enough people, the boats would have flipped over.
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

>>Those who were in the water when the Lusitania sunk were a much better chance of surviving until help arrived than those of the Titanic, especially the stronger swimmers.<<

That much is true, however, the base problem of actually fishing any remaining survivors out of the water still remains. As David Brown went to some pains to point out, it ain't that easy.

It doesn't help that with the Titanic, you still had only a small cadre of genuine seamen distributed among 18 boats, and they weren't all very well trained for the task. They were not "Boatmen" as Lightoller himself pointed out at the Senate Inquiry and it does make a difference.

Adam Went


There's no question that you say about the Titanic's crewmen who were manning the lifeboats is correct. There's some irony in the fact that out of all of the "crew", Molly Brown seems to have been the most effective.
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

>>There's some irony in the fact that out of all of the "crew", Molly Brown seems to have been the most effective.<<

And arguably the most dangerous. I'll stand aside and invite Jim Kalafus to speak to that one. He did so on one occasion and was a lot more eloquent about it then I could hope to be. Suffice to say, I wouldn't have put up with her behaviour had I been in charge of that boat.

Adam Went

I think it's pretty hard to speak ill of Molly's actions that night. Before saving herself in a lifeboat, she helped other women on board get into the boats. She kept up the spirits of the women in Boat 6 and insisted they row to keep warm. She was also one who suggested rowing back for survivors, I believe.

Don't forget it was Quartermaster Hichens in charge of that boat, who was of course at the helm when the ship hit the iceberg. He would have been seething at that point and was clearly not providing good leadership. Remember when the Carpathia was approaching and firing rockets, he told everyone it was a shooting star? And that help might never come and they'd just be stuck floating in the middle of the ocean?

Through all of that, it was Molly Brown that stood tall and kept the spirits up. I wouldn't doubt that she would have thrown Hichens overboard if he hadn't shut up either.

The worst part of the whole thing is that there wasn't more Molly Brown's on board that night.
Augusto Félix Solari

Augusto Félix Solari

Don't be so sure, the Countess of Rothes had a really brave behaviour that night! It might be a myth but it is also said that she steered the boat, rowed and comforted the ladies onboard helping to boost the morale of other women until their lifeboat was picked up. Once on the Carpathia, she took care of the steerege woman in the Titanic.

Adam Went

Augosto, yes, there was the Countess of Rothes as well. I think there was a few heroic women that night actually. Seem to remember Helen Churchill Candee was pretty vocal in the boat as well?

And of course Mrs. Strauss back on board the ship...

Jim Kalafus

>The Lusitania sunk 10 miles off the coast in the early hours of a warm afternoon. Those who were in the water when the Lusitania sunk were a much better chance of surviving until help arrived than those of the Titanic, especially the stronger swimmers.

The water was 50-55F. Within an hour, everyone in the water who was not wearing a life preserver was dead.

Virtually everyone who sank with the ship, and survived, wrote of the same effects. Within a half hour to 45 minutes, they were growing groggy and exhausted. Their legs were heavy and their arms were no longer working properly. Those who did not have life jackets gave up and sank, and were dead within the first hour.

Those with life jackets soon fell in to deep stupors. By the time rescue ships arrived, about three hours after the ship sank, the majority of them were dead, too.

Being on the overturned boats or swamped collapsibles was no guarantee, either. People's knees buckled from exhaustion, and they tumbled overboard. Once in the water, they could neither climb back aboard nor swim, and they drifted away (if in life preservers) or sank (if without)

A few of the "corpses" hauled out of the water late that afternoon revived. And, two accounts have been found by people who were drifting alive, and aware, but in shock, at sunset.

My point, in the first post, however was not about the survivability while in the water, but in the question "what would have happened if the boats went back."

The point was, two seriously overloaded boats were directly in the middle of the frantic mob of drowning people. Managed to pull as many as 50 people out of the water, and if detailed accounts left over the next three days (60+ between the two boats) are to be believed, the only point at which either boat was close to capsizing was when #15 got caught by the wave washing across the submerging boat deck and got millraced in to the funnel stays.

One might point out that although there are MANY tales of lifeboats being overturned by rough seas, I cant recall any (other than, possibly, the Titanic's A) which were overturned by people already in the water.

One can ponder the Morro Castle. 72 MPH winds. Swells rolling to 20 feet. Nearly 300 passengers and crew drifted into the surf zone, where they were rescued by small boats and yet, in not once case, was there a capsize.

One can ponder the General Slocum as well. in that case NO ONE had a life jacket, most could not swim, and a scary proportion of the survivorsd admitted to saving their own lives by climbing atop other strugglers and drowning them. That was about the most frantic mass-drowning ever, and although the small boats which ventured in to that mob where immediately, and ferociously, pounced on, none were overturned.

The Titanic boats would have had an advantage that Harkness, of the Lusitania, with 80 people already in his boat did not have. Harkness was surrounded by people who had entered the water only seconds before. They were at full strength and awareness at that point, AND they could see his boat. Yet he did not get mobbed and capsized. Nor did the other two nearbye boats. By the time the Titanic's boats had rowed to the perimeter of the debris field, people would have been quite torpid...a definite advantage.

BUT, let me reiterate, the occupants of the boats cannot be faulted for not going back. They COULD have gone back, if evidence from other shipwrecks can be counted, but they were not incorrect in remaining at a distance. The decision not to enter the mob was a prudent one.

Jim Kalafus

>I think it's pretty hard to speak ill of Molly's actions that night.

Oh, its REMARKABLY easy.

Hichens should have punched her in the mouth, if necessary.

One rule of research...if the first paragraph of an account contains a lie, chances are good that the entire account can be reduced to 'fun folklore' and not Grade A evidence. And, so it goes for Molly's best known account. From the moment that the collison throws her to the floor, one's "B.S." alarm goes off.

Another good rule is that stories, if true, tend to reenforce one another. Lusitania; Sarah Lund writes home that she stood at the top of the second class staircase, calling out for her husband, who did not survive. Belle Naish, in a letter home, mentions seeing a woman, who she later learned survived as a widow, standing at the top of the second class staircase calling out for someone. The details mesh. As a result, one feels confident that Sarah Lund's account can be believed and that she did, in fact, stand atop the staircase calling for her husband.

Alas for Mrs. Brown, the best evidence for her alleged heroism comes from her own account, and is offered scant support by accounts written by others.

MOVING ON: During the last 15 years, there have been MANY studies of crowd management, and of how to make a disaster more survivable once it is underway.

One key to keeping things safe for as long as possible is NEUTRALISING THE VOICE AT THE BACK OF THE CROWD. A dangerous, and very real, character.

He or she has killed HUNDREDS of times over the years. You have an orderly, but tense, crowd at an exit. You are in a room which, theoretically, can be emptied in three minutes. SO FAR no problem, but then someone at the rear begins yelling "MOVE FASTER. WE'RE NOT GOING TO GET OUT OF HERE. WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE." And, even with trained evactuation workers on site, moving people along swiftly and calmly, this one man can change the mood from cooperative to jostling, and from jostling to victims jammed in a doorway.

He screams. He is beyond reason. He knows better than the authorities. And he kills.

Molly was the classic VOICE AT THE BACK OF THE CROWD. The evening was NOT killingly cold. People who had been immersed in the water, and people wearing naught but underwear, survived.

Hichens' order to lay on the oars and drift was correct.

He was in a boat filled with middle aged women, and in an era where cardio workout was NOT trendy amongst the corpulent wealthy.

Had the wind come up, Hichens' already slim chances would have been reduced to almost nil. Mrs Brown's "heroism" would have left him with nothing other than Major Peuchen, a stoker, and a bunch of middle aged and older fat women who had used most of their energy rowing during a flat calm.

Would YOU like to be in charge of a boat populated with exhausted middle aged people, struggling to keep the craft from turning broadside to the waves and swamping? I wouldn't, either.

In a life or death situation, you need ONE leader, and not two.

It's best to follow the orders of the leader who knows what he or she is talking about.

Hichens knew what he was talking about. Brown didn't. She should have been silenced, by force if necessary. Had the wind come up, and had the sea risen, her hysteria, which generations have enshrined as "colorful heroism," had the very real potential to kiil everyone in 6.