Why did the boats not return sooner


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Nov 11, 2004
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I was just wondering how the people in the lifeboats could just sit and listen to all the poor people screaming and dying. Why didnt they switch people into other lifeboats that were almost empty and go back when they could have made a difference? I realise that they were afraid the boats would be swamped, but I dont see how that is any justification for letting so many die.
(This is my first post, so please bear with me.)
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>I realise that they were afraid the boats would be swamped...<<

That I'm afraid is exactly the reason and it was not without some very good foundation. The boats at best could have held a few hundred more, but there were around 1500 swimmers in the water. They were badly outnumbered and the question was how to avoid adding to the body count. It's not really so much a question of "Letting people die" as it is avoiding getting dead yourself in the attempt.

>>Why didnt they switch people into other lifeboats that were almost empty and go back when they could have made a difference?<<

Well, that's what Lowe did but the question was one of time. First he had to find some of the boats that were scattered about in the inky darkness of the night, get together with them, make the transfers, then take the boat he had and row back to the wrecksite. This takes a lot of time to do and in 28° water, time is the one thing you just don't have in abundance. By the time he got back there, there was scarcely anybody left alive to rescue.
 
Jun 12, 2004
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>>Well, that's what Lowe did but the question was one of time. First he had to find some of the boats that were scattered about in the inky darkness of the night, get together with them, make the transfers, then take the boat he had and row back to the wrecksite. This takes a lot of time to do and in 28° water, time is the one thing you just don't have in abundance. By the time he got back there, there was scarcely anybody left alive to rescue.<<

Still, let me ask this (and I know in my heart that Inger will respond to this too, hehe): How soon after Lowe was launched in 14 did he meet up with the other boats and create the flotilla? If it had been while the Titanic was still sinking, it is not beyond plausibility for him to have forethought the need to go back when within minutes after the ship sank. It is my contention that this was one reason that Boxhall in 2 headed for the stern right away (although it may not have been the only reason). Lowe could have then started organizing the boats right away. My point is that it may have been possible for him to get out there sooner than he did. Had he done so, he would have most likely found considerably more alive.

I say this is conceivable because Lowe strikes me as the kind of man who no doubt had incredible forethought and could think fast in times of distress.

I know it was in a movie, but the Lowe in Cameron's movie stated, "We waited to long," implying that he realized that it was possible for him to have made it out there sooner (I'm not certain as to how close this was to actuality). He hesitated. I realize the real Lowe was human, but it doesn't strike me that he was the kind of man to hesitate. If he had forethought the consequences (as I believe he would have and had, although I can't support that at this time), then he would have known what to do and had already been ready for it as soon as the stern disappeared.

Please also remember that this possibility is strictly contingent on how soon he met up with the other boats after 14 was launched.

Just some thoughts....
 
Nov 11, 2004
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Thank you for your quick responses. I can see your point of view about not going back so they wouldn't be swamped. They only had little lifeboats that would not float with too many on them? To be honest, it didn't occur to me that it would take very long to transfer lifeboats etc but in the dark, at sea in freezing conditions i can see it would be a nightmare..

Thank you for helping me see this from the survivors in the boats side of things..
 

Bob Godfrey

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Whatever might have been done to speed up Lowe's preparations for his rescue attempt, there was never any question of him taking a boat in amongst the mass of swimmers any earlier than he did. In his testimony at both the US and British Inquiries he made it quite clear that he considered it essential to wait until those in the water had "thinned out" as he put it. A tough decision, but he had no doubt that to go in any earlier "would have been suicide".
 
Jun 12, 2004
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Okay. I was merely posing the possibility. Thank you, Bob. As said, I've only read bits and pieces of the Inquiries, and it's been a while since I have done so. I have to refresh myself by reading again (if such a busy schedule will allow). Thanks again.

As for waiting for those in the water to "thin out," it seems that that was the attitude shared by those in many boats, not just Lowe's, so it was a commonly shared fear. Very unfortunate, indeed!
 
Jan 7, 2002
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In a nutshell, the people in the boats were afraid...
Fear can often overcome rational judgement......


Tarn Stephanos
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo Mark -

The timeline is contentious (as is just about every Titanic timeline), but Lowe seems to have been assembling the boats during and after the sinking. The last didn't join the flotilla until after the ship had gone down.

As Bob suggests, Lowe never intended to take a single boat into the mass of swimmers. He was, however, reluctant to take the boat too far from the ship as it sank (and did so in response to pressure from passengers), and wanted to take the boat back earlier. Nellie Walcroft described how the occupants of the boats begged and implored him not to do so. According to another account, when he first said he was prepared to go back to the wreck he stated that while he didn't think suction would be a problem, he thought that the mass of swimmers would be. He then asked if anyone was prepared to return with him. The answer was firmly in the negative.

There is also evidence suggesting that he wanted to take more than one boat back, but the women in the boats protested. This caused further delays while he transferred passengers into other boats and assembled a crew.

According to his son, Lowe in later life remained adamant that he had to wait as long as he did, but also regretted not having returned sooner (a contradiction, yes, but indicative of his feelings on the matter). Within a few months of the disaster he expressed regret that he had not been able to save more lives.

Lowe, I might add here, was a remarkably physically courageous individual - even to the point of foolhardiness. The earliest story concerning him saving a life at the risk of his own goes back to his childhood.
 

Dominic Lewis

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Apr 18, 2005
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Again, the crew of the ship come under constant scrutiny even after their deaths. This bloke Lowe made the right decision in waiting; any boats that went back for survivors would have certainly been swamped in the mass panic which would have existed. Why risk those who are relatively safe in the lifeboats by adding them to those who, let's face it, had no chance.

Lowe would have had one hell of a task switching people around in the pitch black and intense cold let alone the massive shock factor enveloping those who were already in the lifeboats.

The real issue is not why did the boats not go back quicker or at all, but why were the boats not filled to capacity in the first place. There wouldn't have been as many in the water had the life boat drill been carried out correctly and above all professionally.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>The real issue is not why did the boats not go back quicker or at all, but why were the boats not filled to capacity in the first place.<<

Actually, this isn't really that much of a mystery either. The commander of the Titanic found himself caught between a rock and a hard place in that his ship had become

a) the victim of an accident that wasn't accounted for which would send it plummeting to the bottom far more quickly then anybody expected it would,
b)and that he had a surplus of bodies and
c)Not enough boats to stuff them all into.

The issue then becomes how to safely evacuate as many people as possible without provoking a mass panic that would cost more lives then it would save. The solution was to play it cool, to offer places to women and children first, (Or only in the case of Lightoller) then offer any remaining places to anyone who came along *if* they came along. It may come as a surprise to newcomers to Titanic history as it actually was that there were a lot of passengers who refused to get into the boats in the belief that the ship was a lot safer then an open boat in the middle of the North Atlantic. Others simply refused to believe that there was even much of a problem despite the evidence of their own eyes.

>>There wouldn't have been as many in the water had the life boat drill been carried out correctly and above all professionally.<<

Dominic, with all due respect, the drill in this case wouldn't have really made much of a difference as there's still that surplus of bodies and shortage of boats problem to deal with. The reality is that the Titanic's crew still managed to launch 18 out of 20 boats available in less then an hour and a half without serious injury or loss of life, and without even damaging a single boat. Considering that there hadn't been even a token drill, this is a remarkable accomplishment, and a testement in favour of their professionalism and seamanship.
 

Dominic Lewis

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Apr 18, 2005
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In reply to Michael H. Standart on the lifeoat scenario.

I agree that the crew were acting in unforseen circumstances and that the cooperation of some passengers would have hindered a smooth evacuation of the ship. The crew did a good job but could they have done a better one. Indeed there was panic, confusion and fear involved but the crew must have known the capacity of the boats and there must have been enough passengers who DID want to get off the sinking ship to fill to capacity all of the boats that were lowered. Or at least to somewhere near capacity.

I am aware that the lifeboats available did not have room for everyone aboard, but had a little commonsense been exercised at the time, then perhaps a few hundred more souls could have been saved. Despite panic and adverse conditions, people have achieved more than what is expected in other situations.

Perhaps the blame for there being more deaths than necessary should be laid at the door of the White Star Line and any sea governing bodies at the time and their lax guidelines on the amount of lifeboats required on large ships such as Titanic or indeed any ship.

Yes the drill was carried out well considering, but there is always that niggling thought of could it have been done better, could more lives had been saved. Indeed, more lives would have been saved by filling the boats as best as possible than a couple of boats coming back to rescue what little life would have remained in the water after the sinking.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Dominic, not to be a stick in the mud, but I'm well aware of the fact that they could have done better. However, many of the insights which may appear to be "Common Sense" to us have evolved purely in hindsight and assumes that they had all the information we do.

They didn't.

They came to the party only with the disparate pieces of information that they had so they had to make do. Niether you, nor I, nor the press, Lord Mersey, or Senator Smith were on the scene to give them useful ideas and given that they had to make decisions on the fly, they did a helluva lot better then could be realistically expected of them. For Titanic, this was no theoretical exercise where they had the luxury of time to work things out. They had 2 hours, 40 minutes and had to make decisions on the fly. Further, the fact still remains that the boats were out in the middle of the North Atlantic on a freezing night with precious little in the way of resources and trained people to do the job and they were scattered all over the place. Co-oridination was a practical impossibility. And while rowing back into a panicked mob would have been a noble effort, it also would have been suicidal. They knew this and had to act accordingly.

>>Perhaps the blame for there being more deaths than necessary should be laid at the door of the White Star Line and any sea governing bodies at the time and their lax guidelines on the amount of lifeboats required on large ships such as Titanic or indeed any ship.<<

I'm afraid that this is a red herring. A lot has been made about the notion of lifeboats for all being some sort of panacea that would have saved the day, but the brutal reality is that of the 20 that the ship had available, they were only able to launch 18 of them in the time remaining. The only concievable way that Lifeboats For All would have made a difference in this instance is that there would have been no reason to be selective in how they were filled.
 

Erik Wood

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Aug 24, 2000
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I know that this has been said elsewhere awhile ago, but I think that it bears repeating here.

Where would have put all these extra lifeboats??? The answer is the boat deck, stacked like Olympic after the Titanic disaster. Well then how do you fill these boats, since you won't be able to do it from the boat deck, and putting them to the hip (which in this case would be A Deck) would have been a struggle as well.

Then you have those darned annoying windows to push passengers through. This would have taken more time...and I think everyone sees where I am going with this. If Titanic had 70 lifeboats, odds are only 18 would have been successfully launched. Of course after the first 20 there wouldn't be anybody trained left to lower or operate them.
 
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