Why weren't the lifeboats filled with women and children

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I was reading the "they shouldn't have kept the passengers guessing" threads and was not able to add my thought there, so I am putting them here. I am not sure if anyone else has asked this question before, but if the order was given to put the women and children in the boats, in my opinion, no women or children should have died. It seems simple to me. After the orders were given, EVERY SINGLE woman and child should have been ordered into the boats! While I understand there were not enough boats for ALL passengers, there were certainly enough boats for all women and children aboard. Why didn't those in charge make sure that every woman and child of each class, got into a boat? If Capt. Smith KNEW the ship would sink, then it is outrageous to me that he let some of the boats be launched half full and did not make sure that every woman and child of all three classes were in the boats.
Just my opinions. Thank you
For whatever it may be worth, the question has been asked in one form or another for close to 97 years. The problem here is that the people in charge were anything but omnipotant and there were no set proceedures for organizing an evacuation under the circumstances which they faced that night.

The "plan"...if you can call it that...was for the ship to act as her own lifeboat long enough for help to arrive and for the boats to be used as a ferry to run survivors to any rescue ships. What nobody counted on was an accident of such a nature which would lead to the loss of the vessel before any sort of help arrived.

What that meant as a practical reality is that the plan was in the trash basket the moment steel met ice, after which, they were on a very steep learning curve. They had to work things out as they went.
Add all that to the fact that at first people just didn't want to go. You had people who were frightened by the idea of being in the middle of the Atlantic on a dark, freezing night in a tiny boat; and then you had mothers, wives and kids not wanting to be separated from their husbands and fathers.

And in the first hour or so, a lot of people just didn't feel the urgency to leave because, as Mike was saying, they thought the ship would somehow stabilize itself or at least stay afloat long enough for another ship to be there before they left.

As for Captain Smith, he really couldn't be everywhere at once and may not have known boats were going away half full. If he did, he may have thought they would come back for more passengers. He reportedly did give the order to lower the lifeboats, women and children first. After that, each officer took the order and made their own decisions as to how and when his boats were lowered. Like on one side reportedly there's Lightoller putting women and children *only* in, while on the other side there's Murdoch putting in women and children first but allowing men in also. That's my understanding of it, anyway.

So there's all kinds of possible "reasons" for why things happened the way they did. Things just...happened...from beginning to end of the night. Remember that hindsight is 20/20. In the heat of the moment it's not so easy to foresee every possible angle or obstacle.

Jeff Brebner

Former Member
I've read that some of the officers feared overloading the boats, and didn't fill them to capacity because they thought they might snap in two. They also likely feared causing a panic, and so were afraid to really sell the case for getting in the boats. They couldn't very well yell that the ship was sinking and those who didn't get a seat in a boat were probably doomed.

That being said, it is pretty inexplicable just how lightly filled some boats were.
I thought the passengers were supposed to follow captains orders? And didn't Capt. Smith realize at some point that help would not arrive in time? When he and Andrews were surveying the damage didn't it become apparent that there was not going to be any ships arriving to help before she sank? And what exactly was Smith doing during the events of the sinking? I know he was seen on the bridge just prior to the final plunge, but what were his actions during the rest of the sinking? I know hindsight is 20/20, but I still find it a difficult pill to swallow knowing that there were so many empty lifeboat seats and nobody TRULY enforcing the women and children first policy/orders. You wouldn't have to shout that the ship is sinking to everyone, just simply say "Captains orders are EVERY WOMAN AND CHILD IS TO GET INTO A LIFEBOAT" No ifs ands or buts, just do what you are told! I try to put myself in the position of one of the women on board, as I have two small children. I would like to think that I would not hesitate for a moment to get into a lifeboat, or at the very least make sure my children got into one. But as you said, hindsight is 20/20. Thank you.
>>As for Captain Smith, he really couldn't be everywhere at once and may not have known boats were going away half full. <<

Smith was quite active and participated directly in some cases during the loading and launching of the lifeboats. He was not hiding somewhere. He saw many of the boats loaded half empty, or half full, whatever way you like to look at it. Officers in charge of launching the boats gave instruction to hang around the gangway doors, to take on more passengers, and efforts to actually do that had failed, with those involved never to be seen again. The problem was that there was no operational experience in managing and carrying out an abandon ship effort. It was all made up on the fly.

It is also true that Smith knew full well that the ship was doomed at the time he ordered the boats loaded and sent away. It actually stayed afloat longer than what he was originally told. But Smith also did not tell all of the officers under him how bad things really were. Some like 2/O Lightoller figured it out for himself when it was getting too late. There was no apparent organized effort to round up all the women and children on board. Just look at the women and children survivor stats from 3rd class and you can immediately see that. Smith and his senior officers were concerned about a panic developing. They even found the time to get and carry firearms. I don't know if Smith knew how many women and children were on board and that most if not all could have been sent away. I think the concern of a rush on the boats certainly kept the truth from being told.

We can only speculate if someone else would have been in command, would they have been more successful.
Harmony, take a look at the resources that Captain Smith had at his disposal: Six officers, a few ratings that would be petty officers in naval service, and a handful of seamen, most all of whom had to be used either to launch or crew the boats.

Who does that leave you to rely on in a day and age when boat drills were more a pro forma displays then practical exercises and the hotel staff was concerned only with tending to their customers, not getting them off in case of trouble?

Not much, none of them trained, and with no plan to go by, they had to try and work things out as they went. While one could make valid arguements that they could have done better, one also has to wonder that they managed anywhere near as well as they did.
And with highly skeptical and uncooperative passengers to deal with, many of whom passed up their golden opportunity to get away while they still had a good chance, what I'm reminded of mostly is that old expression, "It's like trying to herd cats!"
> Six officers, a few ratings that would be petty
> officers in naval service, and a handful of seamen

If there were 900 crew aboard, why did Smith only have 6 officers and a handful of seamen?
>>why did Smith only have 6 officers and a handful of seamen?<<

Because that was all that was needed to run the day to day deck department functions of the ship. Take a look at any modern cruise ship or passenger liner and you'll see that much the same applies even today. A merchent vessel simply doesn't need all the hands you might expect to find on a warship since their are no weapons which need to be manned, only the most basic watches need to be kept and day to day housekeeping needs to be tended to.
>>Makes you want to stay away from cruise ships, doesn't it?<<

I don't know if I'd take it quite that far, if only becuase cross training in emergency proceedures for everybody from the captain to the laundry man is required by law. Cruise ships which have got themselves in trouble of late have actually made a fairly good showing of it.
I'd agree, Michael. The thing I'd fear the most would be some idiot passenger bringing a particularly nasty virus on board. As an old jewelry outlet ad used to say, " ... The gift that keeps on giving."
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