Why did the Ship Right Herself?



One of the key events of the evacuation was the sudden 'righting' movement of the ship. Lightoller believed the weight of the people moving from one side to the other was sufficient to correct the ship's list and keep her balanced. Do you believe that was possible, or was it caused by a different source?

The ship was so long and partially flexible that when she listed over to starboard and then rolled over to port her bow section would roll first and then her stern would tag behind with possibly a fraction of delay as the stern resisted for a moment. Did this possibly create a twisting event that fractured the ship at her weakest point?

Lifeboat 15 was the last boat to leave the aft starboard side. The stern was still listing over to starboard. I understand the ship 'righted herself' when that boat was leaving.

Frank Prentice helped to fill those lifeboats. He said: "The starboard boats were swinging in the davits packed up, and until she gradually went down by the head and righted herself then we were able to get those boats away." He said two of those boats struck the side of the ship and their occupants got wet. Does this mean the righting movement was quite violent as the stern rolled from starboard to port very quickly?

Frank Dymond got into lifeboat 15. He said - "The men on the second deck had to step across about two feet from the rail to the side of the boat." (Starboard list). He told a reporter - 'Just as he was getting into her (boat 15) something happened and he was swept on one side.' He said "Our boat had been damaged by striking the ship's gunwale when we were first lowered." He then described a sudden mad panic to get into the boat and he had to fight several of them out of their lifeboat as it was being lowered down rapidly. "There was a rush. Men clambered across......Fred Barrett called up from boat 13 below us, 'Stop lowering, or you will swamp us.' I shouted this to the men above, and we stopped six feet above the water. No, 13 got clear, and we dropped with a splash. We all got wet, and some water came into the boat....She was leaking on one side just about the water-level, where she had been bumped on the ship’s gunwale."

It sounds like he was describing the same 'righting' movement that Prentice described as the lifeboat knocked against the side of the ship as it went down. Samuel Rule was also in lifeboat 15, but he said - "She had a slight list to port." That would mean the lifeboat was lowered down when she listed to starboard and when it reached the water she was now listing to port. Prentice said there was a righting movement and Dymond said "something happened" which threw him to one side and smashed the lifeboat against the hull and then there was a mad rush to get into the lifeboat. Is it possible that this 'righting' movement was a sudden violent roll?

Has there been a valid explantion for the righting of the ship, or tipping over from starboard to port?

When the ship listed to port the passengers were ordered to go to the starboard side and then they moved back to the port side and then they moved into the middle and kept away from the ship's rail in order to balance the ship and keep her upright. Jack Thayer noticed - "She gradually came out of her list to port, and if anything, had a slight list to starboard.......The crowd gradually moved with it, always pushing toward the floating stern and keeping in from the rail of the ship as far as they could......Long and I had been standing by the starboard rail, about abreast of the second funnel. Our main thought was to keep away from the crowd and the suction. At the rail we were entirely free of the crowd."

Everybody appeared to be 'balancing' the ship. Is it normal for ships to roll so easily when they are filling with water, or was the ship buckling and twisting and rolling as both sections slowly tore away from each other?

John Haggan
"The ship was shaking very much."

Samuel Hemming
"The captain was there, and he sung out: "Everyone over to the starboard side, to keep the ship up as long as possible."

2nd officer Lightoller
"I think the ship righted. When the order was given to the passengers to go to the starboard side. I am under the impression that a great many went over and the ship got a righting movement and maintained it.....Finally, the ship took a dive, reeling for a moment, then plunging."

Colonel Gracie
"There was a very palpable list to port as if the ship was about to topple over. 'All passengers to the starboard side,' was Lightoller's loud command, heard by all of us."

Mr. Barkworth
"I remember somebody shouted: 'Go gently!' as if a sudden shift of weight would have disturbed the ship's position."

Miss Glynn
"We watched the Titanic rolling and bobbing like a cork. All her lights were burning, and over the water we caught the strains of 'Nearer, My God, to Thee.’ Finally Titanic ceased rolling, seemed to hesitate a moment, and plunged her bow into the ocean."

Mrs. Chaffree
"Just before going down it seemed to writhe (twist), breaking into the three parts into which it was divided."

Mr. Woolner
"It was this second explosion that did the most damage. It blew away the funnels and tore a big hole in the steamer's side and caused the ship to rock as if she were an eggshell. The Titanic careened to one side and passengers making for the boats were spilled into the water."

With water bursting into both sides of her (open portholes and fractures) and with the ship settling down very low in the water, would the weight distribution of people and furnishings, and breached internal walls cause the ship to roll back and forth, or was she splitting herself apart? Could the contant rolling of the ship cause her structure to buckle and break in the middle as the stern resisted and followed the bow which continually rolled from side to side?

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Sam Brannigan

Dec 20, 2000
I’ve always been sceptical of the story that the passengers righted the ship.

Even if the crew somehow managed to organise 1000 people, their total weight would only be about 80 tons - how could they possibly influence the list of a 46,000 ton liner that has already shipped thousands of tons of water?

I subscribe to your theory of bodily sinking with uneven flooding in the bow. I think that at some point the original list and the weight of water in the bow contorted the structure at the break up point to create a fracture that allowed a sudden in-rush of water on the starboard side that temporarily righted the ship.
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My understanding is that the water rushing into her open portholes and upper decks had caused the ship to become 'top heavy' which made her roll over as the water became bottled inside various rooms and sections that were higher up.

Perhaps something like this video. Pretend the anvil weight is a large volume of water rushing into the open windows on C-deck almost along her entire broadside. The water floods the rooms at one side and she leans over. The passengers are told to go to the opposite side to "straighten her up" and the ship rolls back. Shen then rolls over the opposite way and back again, and Jack Thayer noticed the people were now afraid to go near the side and preferred to stay in the middle to keep her balanced.

Perhaps something like this? Skip to 3.30

With the ship settling down bodily by her broadside (as observed by Boxhall and others) and with the water spilling into her open windows and upper decks, I believe it would flood her side rooms rapidly and cause the ship to list over and possibly make her top heavy as the water would not have flooded down and filled her boiler rooms and compartments amidships. I think the captain was possibly aware the ship was losing buoyancy and becoming dangerously top heavy.



The captain may have experienced something in his career and realized what was happening. My cousin worked on the big cargo freighters and oil tankers. He said the cargo and ballast had to be weighed and positioned and secured carefully or else the ship would roll over, and if she was a long ship she would be in danger of buckling as her forward compartments may want to lean over in one direction and her aft compartments may want to lean over in the opposite direction. Perhaps the Titanic broke because she was flooding from various angles and twisted herself apart. I wonder how badly the stern section was flooding. Perhaps more rapidly than the bow, especially as she listed over to port so much and dipped her port side cabins below the water. If their windows were open then she may have rapidly flooded much further aft than we realize?


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Kyle Naber

Oct 5, 2016
The righting of the port list was probably not caused by the shifting of passengers, rather, the boat deck leveling out when water reached it. Those being relocated on deck or uneven flooding in the bow would not create the sufficient force to break the ship apart. You also have to keep in mind that modern day cargo ships are designed much differently than Titanic.


Could the ship have been top heavy?

Mrs. Candee could see the port side was listing over badly. She said:
"When we reached the water I could see two lines of portholes underwater, brightly lighted." "Not until I saw the two lines of lighted portholes under the water had I the slightest idea of the truth."

This would mean at least two decks on the port side were fully submerged and the water had not yet flooded those decks. But what would happen if the windows on the deck above were open? The water would flood a large number of rooms above and possibly make her top heavy?

Emily Ryerson was asked:

Q - When you went down into the water, from the boat, did you notice anything about the portholes in the side of the ship?
A - Yes, a great many were open.

Q - Did you notice anything in particular about the portholes on the water?
A - Yes, the water was washing in the portholes, and later I think some of the square windows seemed to be open, and you could see in the cabin and see the water washing in and the gold furniture and decorations, and I remember noticing you could look far in, it was brilliantly lighted, which deck I couldn’t tell.

Q - Did you notice any of the lines of portholes disappear after you got in the boat?
A - Yes, she was sinking very rapidly then, we saw two lines and then we saw only one. It was very brilliantly lighted and you could see very distinctly.

Q - At the time your boat was lowered the water was washing in the portholes of the C deck?
A - Yes.

Q - On that side?
A - On the side she sank, that is the port side.

Open windows on C deck and D deck.


If two decks underneath were not flooded and the deck above was flooding rapidly by the open windows, do you believe this would list the ship over and allow the water to flood areas much further aft. e.g. Charles Joughin was all the way aft on E-deck and was asked:

Q - On E deck are the portholes in practice opened from time to time?
A - Very, very often we keep them open the whole of the passage.

With a large number of windows open on C-deck across her entire length and possibly many more open windows on E-deck near the stern and kitchens, would the ship settle down, sink, and roll in a manner that would 'right the ship'? I don't think anyone has analysed the effects of the open portholes and how this possibly changed the manner in which the ship settled down and sank.



Sep 2, 2001
I don't think anyone has analysed the effects of the open portholes and how this possibly changed the manner in which the ship settled down and sank.
It's certainly a lot more square footage than what was estimated (I believe a conservative estimate) to have been the total amount of iceberg damage that opened Titanic to the sea. Many, many more variables here with open portholes, both working to right her and also dooming her.

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