People's Journal

Novel Suggestions by “Journal” Readers.

Hundreds of correspondents have responded to our request for ideas of inventions for safeguarding life at sea. Many of the suggestions are distinctly novel, and several “inventors” have put themselves to much trouble in working out their schemes.

                  An expert was consulted in regard to the proposals and he unhesitatingly expressed the opinion that some of them were sound in theory, although he indicated that sufficient attention had not been given to the working out of details. Everything, he said, depended on accuracy, even on the smallest point, and shipbuilders and engineers would require to check every calculation before adopting any new plan.

                  A large number of correspondents have been fired with the idea that decks should be made detachable, and that deck houses and other erections should be constructed in such a manner that they could be easily turned into rafts and floated off. Other correspondents with more ambitious ideas formulate plans for constructing vessels like the Titanic in sections, but our expert refuses to countenance the idea of dropping a part in mid ocean. A few inventors pin their faith to lights underwater, balloons and motor-lifeboats.

Prize List

First Prize, £2.

Mr G.M. Wears, 10 Baxter Park Terrace, Dundee

Second Prize, £1.

William Anderson, 17 University Street, Glasgow.

Third Prize, 10s.

John Dewar, engineer, Lumphinnans Colliery, Lumphinnans, Fife.


Mr Wears, in the course of his paper, which he illustrates by diagrams, writes:-“I propose that certain parts of the ship’s structure should be constructed in such a manner that in times of disaster they could be utilised as life rafts worthy of the name.” Deck-houses and deck-shelters, he thinks, might be improvised. “To use such a construction as a raft, a bottom would have to be fitted, and the house raised on a girder at either end, and the fastening to the permanent deck made so that the deck-house could be promptly disengaged from the main structure, either by an automatic locking gear or other suitable arrangement, which could be easily devised.”

Mr Wears further submits suggestions for making the houses watertight and for their ballasting. “I propose to construct a water ballast tank under the seats making the net weight of the rafts seven tons.”

The launching of such rafts is a serious problem, which Mr Wears solves by stating – “These deck houses could be placed in close proximity to the derrick gear, and be heaved overboard as the crew would heave a furniture van overboard. Others could be placed at the ends of the vessel, so that when the ship went down either by the head or the stern, they would float off. Fifteen of these rafts would carry 1500 people and carry them with comfort compared to an open boat.”


Mr Anderson’s suggestion is as follows :- It is quite certain the steel plates in the bow of our huge vessels are not strong enough, relative to those in smaller vessels, to withstand the fearful crush the great weight behind them is sure to inflict in a case of collision, especially with ice. In some cases, too, the straight up and down stems of vessels increase the probabilities of disaster. When the crushing takes place, either against another vessel or against icebergs, the result is almost sure to be a rent or hole made below the waterline. With “fiddle bows” such as we find in sailing ships it may well happen that any damage done is above the water-line in a stem collision with a boat or ice, high in the water.

A number of years ago I was on board a steamer bound from Montreal to Glasgow. “Ice straight ahead!” screamed the men on the look-out to the officers on the navigation bridge. Too late to avert a catastrophe” This vessel was “fiddle bowed”, with the usual bowsprit and figure-head. When the impact occurred the bow-sprit took the first blow, but, of course, it soon gave way. It may, however, have taken a little of the impetus up, so to speak, and to a very slight extent may have been beneficial.

Then the curved stem of the boat got in among the ice, and a shiver ran through the entire length of the vessel. The bow was pierced by the iceberg, and a great hole made, but it was all above the water-line. Movement of the vessel had ceased before damage to the stem lower down could be inflicted. If that vessel had been a straight-stemmed one she would undoubtedly have been cut to the water’s edge. The curved stem acted as a buffer very probably.

Now, is there not room for our shipbuilders to experiment with hydraulic shields or buffers which could on sudden emergency be made to extend out for some feet beyond the bows of the boat, and help to take up the shock of collision. In normal conditions the shields would be invisible, as they would be moulded into the hulls of the vessels.

We seem to be relying too much on bulkhead or water-tight compartments in our ships nowadays.


Mr Dewar writes:- “My suggestion would be – as soon as the danger of sinking is realised, draw fire from steam boilers, blow off boilers, then shut off blow-cock and steam-cock. When the water rises round the boilers, they would act as floats, and might keep the vessel afloat until help arrived.”

Motor Boats

For life saving at sea, I suggest that ships carry motor boats to provide for the maximum number of passengers and crew, each boat to carry not less than sixty people, to have accommodation for light provisions, water-tank, compass and electric batteries for light. These boats could be let down with an endless chain, the boat to be suspended from the centre, having four ropes attached, one at each end, and one at each side; weight to be equally distributed. Members of the crew to be drilled how to use same.

Wireless Improvements

Why could not every ocean passenger steamer be compelled to carry a sufficient staff of wireless operators to give a twenty-four hours service? In the case of the Carpathia the operator should have been in his bunk when he received the first message from the Titanic. He had remained on duty ten minutes beyond his usual time. Where there is only one operator on a vessel it is impossible to derive full benefit from Marconi’s wonderful invention. – J.A.B., Govan

Improvements in Launching Boats

In my opinion the davits are far too short. Neither need there be two employed in the act of lowering, which act ought to be controlled from the boats themselves and not from the deck of the foundering ship. The great danger lies in the boats being lifted by the waves and smashed against the ship’s sides. One long davit would correct this, thus :-

On the modern leviathans why not have something after the nature of a fire escape run out sloping towards the water, or for that matter several of them, to act on the principle of the water chute. The boats, or even small stem, oil or electric launches, could be filled with passengers and despatched in a few seconds. Fitting vessels with something of that description would mean all the difference in the case of shipwreck between a pic-nic and a funeral. G. Murray, Saline, Fife.

Water-Tight Decks.

It was assumed on board the Titanic that there was no help nearer than the nearest steamer possessing wireless. In crossing the Atlantic one is struck by the amount of traffic for seldom in the course of a voyage is the passenger out of sight of the smoke of other steamers; and if flares and rockets had been used there was just the off-chance of a tramp steamer being in the vicinity of the catastrophe.

Every liner out to have a searchlight and a wireless attendant night and day, with ample storage batteries or dynamos driven by petrol engines on the upper deck in the event of the failure of steam power.

An important factor nowadays in steam navigation is the use of fuel oil. A steamer such as the Titanic at that part of the voyage would have close on two thousand tons of coal left in open bunkers, which would fill up as she sank. Had she been burning oil instead, her hermetically sealed tanks would have been half empty, and the oil which was left, being of a less specific gravity than water, would almost have kept her afloat. The oil could also be used for calming down the sea when launching the boats.

Water-tight bulkheads are invariably perpendicular, and should they be fractured below the water line, there is nothing to prevent  the water rising deck by deck until the whole is submerged. I would suggest that the stairways from each deck be fitted with water-tight doors, which in the event of an accident would be screwed down, thereby preventing the water from coming further up. – William Reid, Dundee.


Why should not Shipping Companies be compelled on issuing tickets for voyages to issue a ticket to every passenger entitling him to a seat in a lifeboat? Plans should also be forwarded to every passenger showing where the lifeboat in which he or she is to go is placed. As soon as is practicable after sailing each passenger should go through boat drill in company with the crew assigned to his boat. Each passenger boat engaged in the Transatlantic service should be instructed to slow down to a few knots when in the iceberg region, and should be fitted with an efficient searchlight. On each voyage the vessel should be stopped for two hours to enable practical boat drill to be carried out. – D McG., Newcastle.


Gordon Steadwood


Encyclopedia Titanica (2014) SAFEGUARDING LIFE AT SEA (People's Journal, Saturday 27th April 1912, ref: #20084, published 17 July 2014, generated 11th July 2020 12:21:22 PM); URL :