What's the most stupid question ever asked

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>>Rather difficult to justify when ships tend to avoid regions of ice whenever possible. (And tread very carefully when they can't !)<<

Possibly the main reason that merchant ships aren't very likely to have sonar.
The Titanic and Olympic were a step in the right direction. They both were equipped with a passive underwater sound signaling system that could be used as they they approached the coast where bell bouys and lightships were equipped with submarine signaling bells. In Ch 8 of Beesley's book he suggests using both transmission and receiving submarine signaling devices as to augment wireless as means for ship-to-ship communications. With some late 20th century hindsight, and little stretch of the imagination, an active sonar type application to detect the presence of icebergs at night could have come about with this. Beesley mentions the advantages of sound travelling at 4400 ft/sec underwater.
Hi, Sam!

Thank you for confirming those listening devices. I've only once read about them in connection with the Titanic and I was beginning to doubt my sanity. (Other people are way ahead of me on that score!... ) '-)

That bell system Sam mentions would be known as a passive sonar set these days or as hydrophones. While primitive, they did the job, sometimes a little too well. If I recall correctly, ships homed in on the submarine signals so well, they sometimes had near misses with lightships in the fog. (And sometimes, they didn't miss!)
Beesley proposed that lifeboats could carry underwater bells that searching ships could home in on.

I've never been able to find out exactly when the submarine signalling system ended. From entries in Lloyd's Register, I think it may have lingered on until WW II.

In my book, I suggest that Titanic may have used her system when making the passage round Lands End. That's the sort of situation it was meant for and it worked quite well.
The most dangerous place to be had to have been on one of these lightships. Talk about being a stationary target.

From http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-cp/history/Lightship_Index.html.

"Without regard to frequent minor bumps, sideswipes and near-misses, 150 more serious collisions with lightships are documented. Most of these involved sailing vessels, but long tows of multiple barges accounted for a sizeable number. Collision damage ranged from superficial to severe, and, in at least one case, the lightship came out unscathed, with the colliding vessel going down nearby. On another occasion when a lightship was struck by a passing vessel, the impact was sufficient to knock the on-watch lightship crew from their feet, and shatter all 16-lamp chimneys in the masthead lanterns."

A sampling:

LV 68- [1897-1930: Fire Island (NY) about 29 NMs due east of Ambrose Channel LV] - 1916: May 8, rammed by SS PHILADELPHIAN at 0500; side plating cut and stove in to depth of 2 feet; crew shifted coal and swung out boats filled with water to heel ship and reduce leakage. Towed by PHILADELPHIAN toward Ambrose lightship, then picked up by tender PANSY and towed to Depot. Station marked by tender until relief vessel arrived. Mate, Engineer, 3 firemen, and 2 seamen were commended by Secretary of Commerce for their prompt and effective action. 1924: Mar 30, rammed by SS CASTILLIAN opening large hole in port quarter, temporarily patched with tarps and planks and steamed to Depot; new LV 108, then being readied for Five Fathom, was hurriedly painted and placed on station temporarily Mar 31 until replaced by a relief vessel.

LV 111 / WAL 533- 1927 January 6: placed on Northeast End (NJ), replacing Relief LV 79; remained assigned until station discontinued Aug 31, 1932-Thereafter served as shown under Station Assignments. 1935 September 17: collided bow-to-bow with the liner SS Santa Barbara, sustained damage above the waterline.

LV 117- 1931: Feb 8, took aboard 8 man crew of fishing schooner ALOMA, sunk 5 ml from lightship; taken ashore by Coast Guard Feb 9-
1933: Jun 27, parted chain in gale, drifting 32 miles off station despite attempts to go ahead under power; regained station Jun 30 when weather moderated. 1934: Jan 6, in heavy fog, was sideswiped by SS WASHINGTON; radio antenna yards carried away and minor damage to hull plates. 1934: May 15, at 1006 in dense fog, rammed and sunk by British White Star Line SS OLYMPIC (sister to TITANIC) with loss of 7 of the 11 crew. Four men went down with the ship, 7 survivors being picked up by OLYMPIC. Three of the survivors died later of injuries and exposure. British Gov't later paid for construction of LV 112 - WAL 534 as reparation for this loss.

The Nantucket Lightship #117 was riding at anchor in 192 feet of water off Nantucket Shoals. Its horn boomed into the fog to warn away the trans-Atlantic shipping that passed nearby. Unseen by sailors aboard the Nantucket was the 47,000-ton British luxury liner Olympic. Steering to the lightship’s radio beacon signal, the ocean liner intended to alter course at the last moment and pass close by the Nantucket. On the bridge of the Olympic, someone miscalculated. The liner, sister ship to the Titanic, suddenly materialized out of the fog; its towering bow hung poised like the blade of a guillotine, then severed the lightship in two. Seven of the Nantucket’s 11-man crew died in the collision. In response to the tragedy, the British government replaced the Nantucket with a new lightship [LV112], one resembling a miniature battleship. Its hull was fashioned from armor plate, enclosing a maze of 43 watertight compartments. [She is currently at the U.S. Lighthouse Museum in Staten Island, NY (as of 2006).]

"Besides the Nantucket in 1934, four other lightships were sunk as the result of being rammed. Fog was a factor in many of these collisions, however most occurred under conditions of reasonably good visibility. Vessels attempting to cross the bow of the lightship without making due allowance for current and leeway were found to be the usual cause."

If not collisions, dangerous weather took its toll. Just a sampling:

Survivors from Five Fathom Lightship #37, which took four men to the bottom with it, told of how their ship foundered off Five Fathom Bank, N.J. after an army of mountainous waves marched across its bulwarks, tore off its ventilators and hatch covers and filled it with water through the resulting deck openings. There were no survivors, however, when Buffalo Lightship #82, located near Buffalo, N.Y., foundered in a gale that swept across Lake Erie in November, 1913. Cross Rip Lightship #6 left no survivors or messages when it vanished off Massachusetts with all hands Feb. 5,1918. Vineyard Sound Lightship #73, which foundered during a 1944 hurricane with the loss of all hands. In December 1936, a 100-mph gale assailed the Swiftsure Lightship #113, anchored in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the Washington coast.
>>The liner, sister ship to the Titanic, suddenly materialized out of the fog; its towering bow hung poised like the blade of a guillotine, then severed the lightship in two.

In one of my photo books, there's a bow-on shot, looking up, of the Queen Mary in dry dock. It's not a slight that'd soothe my heart if I saw it coming at me out of a fog bank.

>>In December 1936, a 100-mph gale assailed the Swiftsure Lightship #113, anchored in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the Washington coast.

Nasty water there. Almost as bad as the mouth of the Columbia River, or the Seymour Narrows pre-1950s.
I guess to veer back toward the subject of Titanic silliness...on a different site, people were discussing the stunts from Cameron's film. Someone brought up the subject of using wheeled platforms to allow stuntpeople to slide down the decks safely. Someone piped in with something along the lines of "well, it would be dangerous to have people just falling off a two mile long ship." Ya, give or take nine thousand six hundred seventy seven feet, four inches. Shame she wasn't a bit closer to shore. They could have just let her do a headstand on the ocean bottom while they waited on the stern for the Carpathia.
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