Encyclopedia Titanica

The forgotten drills aboard Titanic

Were the Titanic's lifeboats ever tested and her crew properly trained to lower them?


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The forgotten drills aboard Titanic

Preparing for an emergency : The forgotten drills aboard Titanic[1]

Among the oft-repeated legends about the Titanic tragedy are that her lifeboats had not been tested, and that the crew never had an on-board drill. It has become something of a “fact” that the crew was untrained, and a lifeboat drill set for Sunday morning, the day of the accident, was cancelled by Captain Smith. These so-called “facts” have been mentioned as reasons why the evacuation of the sinking ship was poorly done, and why lifeboats left the ship half-empty. This article will look at what drills were actually done on board, try to find an answer as to why there was no drill on Sunday morning, April 14, 1912, and try to put the record straight, namely that, in fact, the crew, depending on their experience and departments, were trained.

The lifeboat test

Before Titanic sailed to Southampton, probably before her sea trials on April 2[2], all 16 of her wooden boats were lowered to test the gear. Then-First Officer Charles Lightoller was overseeing that everything went correctly.[3]

Senator Smith: Tell just what was done.

Mr. Lightoller: All the boats on the ship were swung out and those that I required were lowered down as far as I wanted them – some all the way down, and some dropped into the water.

Senator Smith: I wish you would give the proportion that went into the water.

Mr. Lightoller: About six.

Senator Smith: And the others lowered?

Mr. Lightoller: Part of the way – as far as I thought necessary. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 1]

Francis Carruthers from the Board of Trade was aboard, and also ensured that everything went correctly. In Appendix 1 under point 4 of his report he noted, “I have inspected the boats and their equipment, and have seen 16 swung out and lowered into the water. The lifeboats are in order and conveniently placed.”[4]

A well-known and oft-repeated story involved a weight test made with the lifeboats. But this test had taken place on Olympic on May 9, 1911 in Belfast. Interestingly, this was not testing the boats, as Harland & Wolff naval architect Edward Wilding explained:

20491. …We put into one of the lifeboats of the Olympic half-hundredweight weights distributed so as to represent a load equal to about 65 people, and then we raised and lowered the boat six times. It was done with the object of testing the electric boat winches, not with the object of testing the boat. I happened to see it coming up one time myself after the weights had been removed [the boat was lowered without weights into the water], and there was nothing the matter with her; she was watertight. I do not think there was any doubt the boats were strong enough to be lowered containing the full number of passengers, and I think that it was in the evidence of [Joseph] Wheat [assistant second steward] that he lowered a boat with about 70 in her. I think that confirms our Belfast test. [British Inquiry, Day 19]

Though the test was made to evaluate the winches, it clearly showed that the boats could hold a full load under the davits, which could lower them easily from a height of about 70 feet.

The Board of Trade drill

Captain Maurice Clarke of the British Board of Trade went on board Titanic in Southampton on sailing day, April 10, at about 7:30 a.m. He was joined by Captain Benjamin Steele, marine superintendent for the White Star Line. One of their first actions was to muster the crew. About an hour later, the muster was completed, and both went to the after starboard side of the boat deck for the lifeboat drill. Titanic was docked with her port side along the quay, so the port boats could not be used. The drill consisted of loading and lowering two lifeboats. Captains Steele and Clarke were joined by Second Officer Lightoller, Third Officer Herbert Pitman, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe and Sixth Officer James Moody.

Mr. Lowe: After the general muster at 8:30 – on the 10th that was – we manned two boats, Mr Moody, the sixth officer, and myself. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 5]

Nearly all the seamen took part in that drill, including able-bodied seamen, ordinary seamen, lookouts and quartermasters. Quartermaster Robert Hichens later stated that he had not taken part in any drill, since the quartermasters had been placed at the gangways to challenge visitors. Able-bodied seaman George Moore indicated that not everyone took part.

Senator Newlands: How many were there?

Mr. Moore: I could not say the exact number, but about 30 to 40. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7]

Maurice ClarkLifebeltsPreparing boats

Left: Captain Maurice Clarke from the Board of Trade inspects emergency boat no. 1 aboard Olympic in Southampton. This photo was taken one week after the sinking of the Titanic. To the left, two ships are visible in the distance, the American liners St. Louis and Philadelphia.

Middle: A crewmember distributes lifebelts on Olympic during the drill. There were 3,560 lifebelts on board, enough for everyone.

Right: The crew preparing lifeboats nos. 11 and 13 aboard Olympic on April 25, 1912.

Able-bodied seaman Joseph Scarrott took part in the drill:

509. Then what did you see? – The boat turned out; we were told to put our lifebelts on, so many men, there were both watches there, an officer there, junior officers, and two chief officers. [British Inquiry, Day 2]

The two chief officers Scarrott mentioned were Chief Officer Wilde and First Officer William Murdoch. Despite popular belief, it was not lifeboat nos. 11 and 15 that were used, but nos. 11 and 13. Lifeboat no. 11 was the boat station of Fifth Officer Lowe, and so he took his boat. Sixth Officer Moody took No.13. Eight crewmembers were placed in each boat.

Senator Smith: How many men were in each boat that day?

Mr. Pitman: Approximately eight.

Senator Smith: What officers were placed in charge of them?

Mr. Pitman: The fifth and sixth. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 4]

Wilde oversaw the loading and lowering of one boat, while Murdoch supervised the other. One of the 16 crewmembers ordered into a boat was Scarrott, who most likely joined the sixth officer:

504. Which of these boats, what number was it that you were present at? – On the test on the sailing day?

505. Yes? – No. 13 boat I was in. [British Inquiry, Day 2]

Once in the water, Scarrott and the others rowed the boat while Lowe and Moody had command.

Mr. Lowe: I was in one and the sixth officer was in the other.

Senator Smith: And each of them was manned in that trial test by eight oarsmen?

Mr. Lowe: Yes; they were fair, as far as that goes. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 5]

In total there were now nine people, as able-bodied seaman Frank Evans said:

Senator Smith: State the number of sailors that went in those two boats – that manned those two boats which were lowered at Southampton?

Mr. Evans: There were nine in each, Sir. I would not be sure as to the exact number, but I think there were nine in each. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7]

Boat 13Wearing belts

Left: As had been the case one week earlier on Titanic, lifeboat no. 13 on Olympic was used for the lifeboat drill. The scene must have looked similar on Titanic.

Right: Everyone is wearing a lifebelt.

The remaining crew had to lower the two boats. Only some able-bodied seamen actively participated during the drill and entered one of the lifeboats, including Scarrott, George Moore, Frank Evans, Thomas Jones, John Poingdestre and Walter Brice but not all stayed for the drill. Able-bodied seaman William Lucas took his chance and left.

1660. Did you actually take part in the boat drill or did you only muster? – I went up to the boats to lower them, but I went ashore.

1661. How do you mean? – I went up about the boat, and as soon as I saw a chance I went ashore.

1662. You did not take part yourself in the actual drill? – No. [British Inquiry, Day 3]

It is unknown how many others followed Lucas, but not all hands were needed. The boats then were lowered about 70 feet into the water, cleared of their falls and rowed in the harbour under the watchful eyes of Captains Clarke and Steele. After rowing a distance from the ship’s side, the boats were supposed to return to the ship using their sails. This was not done, as Captain Steele later explained:

21954. What happened then; did they row about? – They rowed about the dock. We usually set the sails, but on that occasion it was gusty and windy, and we set no sails on that particular day. They simply rowed about the dock and the boats were taken on board again. [British Inquiry, Day 21]

Using sails
According to the rules, boats had to return to the ship using the sail, something not done on Titanic because of the wind. Sails were used on April 22, 1912 during this drill aboard the Kenilworth Castle at Southampton.

According to Lowe, the drill was finished after 30 minutes and both boats were back on board by 9 o’clock. Clarke and Steele were satisfied. Finding that the boats were properly equipped, they continue their inspection.

However, Captain Steele was not happy that the firemen had not taken part in the drill. After Titanic’s loss, firemen on other ships still refused to participate, even when Steele made them an offer:

21966. What have you offered them? – Half a day's pay to come down on Tuesday, the day before sailing, and take part in the boat drills.

21967. And have they refused that offer? – Not one appeared. That was equal to a refusal.

21968. (The Commissioner.) How much is half a day's pay? – I should say, My Lord, it is about 2s. 4d. I believe that is the exact amount, for work which, I think, will take about two hours. [British Inquiry, Day 21]

Steele had made such an offer even before the Titanic disaster, on board Oceanic. According to Clarke, only White Star Line firemen did not take part in lifeboat drills.

24111. Have you any idea as to what would be an efficient method of drilling crews to man lifeboats in case of accident? – Yes; I think that all hands that form the crew should be exercised in handling the ship's boats, both firemen and stewards.

24112. I take it that up to the time of the Titanic disaster that had not been the practice? – Not in the White Star Line. [British Inquiry, Day 25]

But to say that the White Star Line had something to do with it is not quite right. According to White Star’s Captain Charles Bartlett, the problems with the firemen were ongoing for over 12 months, and on Titanic the firemen refused even when they were promised a half-day’s pay. Putting them on the list for the lifeboat drill would have changed nothing, as Bartlett explained:

21677. (The Commissioner.) If you were to put the men on the list the day before she sails, then I suppose you would be entitled to their services on that day? – Yes, My Lord, we would, but I am afraid as long as they are in port they would not come.

21678. If they are not on the list and you merely invite them to come and go through the boat drill they are entitled to say, “No, we will not”? – Yes, My Lord. [British Inquiry, Day 21]

As the ship was still in port, the crew who were not on watch went back on shore before the sailing. AB Evans, who did take part in the drill, was one of them:

Mr. Evans: ... The boats were hoisted up again and then I went on shore until half-past 11, Sir. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7]

Crew from other departments had gone ashore before him, directly after the muster. Stoker John Podesta later remembered,

As the ship is about to sail at about 12 o’clock noon, most of us firemen and trimmers go ashore again until sailing time. So off we went with several others I knew on my watch, which was 4 to 8. My watch-mate, whose name was William Nutbean, and I went off to our local public house for a drink in the Newcastle Hotel. We left about 11:15 making our way towards the docks. Having plenty of time we dropped into another pub called the Grapes, meeting several more ship-mates inside.”[5]

Thus, the White Star Line was helpless. The time for the muster was changed; instead of early morning, it occurred several hours later in the hope that the firemen would stay on board, as Sanderson said regarding Oceanic:

19645. Is it not a fact that some two years ago the men made a request that, instead of their attending at eight o'clock in the morning and leaving and then returning just about the time of the ship leaving, they should attend boat muster at 10 o'clock and remain on board and serve the ship? – We made that change because the firemen came on board when the other men did, early in the morning, and they refused, like the other men, to stay by the ship, and insisted upon going on shore. In order to keep them on board the ship after they once joined, we allowed the firemen to join at 10.30, expecting them to stay on board the ship, but we found, in practice, that they refused to stay on board the ship.[6] [British Inquiry, Day 18]

19246. I see according to this the firemen were instructed by the Captain personally to muster at the boats at 11 am, but of the total engine department of 157 as many as 37 did not muster, and 7 deserted? – That occurred in Southampton since the disaster. [British Inquiry, Day 17]

The 37 left the ship and went for a final drink in Southampton.

The boat list

After leaving port, a complete boat list was made and posted in the rooms on the different decks of every watch, and also on a notice board in the engineers’ quarters. According to Second Officer Lightoller, it was the duty of the first officer to draw up the boat list.[7] According to the Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, Article 18 on page 11, “The list were prepared by the Purser who was under the instruction of the Executive Officer. Copies had to been prominently posted in the crew areas.” These boat lists not only showed each person’s boat number but also their fire station. The lists were divided by departments, and not all were posted the same day[8]:

The Deck Department

The Deck Department’s list was posted after leaving Queenstown on Thursday April 11,[9] hanging at the forecastle door at the top of the E Deck companionway, and for the able-bodied seamen at the top of the forecastle ladder leading down to the mess room. Other copies of the list were posted in the various crew quarters.[10]

A list would have looked like this one for the lookouts. Sadly, no list survived, and not all the surviving crew, like Evans and Fleet, mentioned their boat stations, and are therefore here marked “#”:


Boat Station

Evans, Alfred Frank

No. #

Fleet, Frederick

No. #

Hogg, George Alfred

No. 6

Jewell, Archie

No. 7

Lee, Reginald Robinson

No. 11

Symons, George Thomas McDonald

No. 1

Actually, there were two lists; one for the emergency boats was placed in the forecastle, and a general boat list was posted on the forecastle door.[11]

The Victualing Department

Lists most likely were posted on Thursday, April 11 in different locations.[12] While one apparently was posted in the crew’s quarters, others were placed in working locations. For example, one list for the kitchen staff was posted on the galley wall on D Deck. Another one was found in the first class pantry, and there may have been another in the third class pantry.[13]

While it is easy to give each steward a place in a boat, in reality this did not mean they would be present or board their assigned stations, since stewards must take care that their passengers had lifebelts and had left their cabins.[14]

The Engine Department

While the other departments already had their lists posted, the black gang was one of the final departments to receive it. The Station Bills fell under the duties of the chief engineer. According to section 409 of the Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, they had to be posted in “prominent and accessible places.[15]

The boat list was posted on Sunday, April 14 at the top of the staircase outside the firemen’s quarters by one of the engineers. Leading fireman Charles Hendrickson and fireman George Beauchamp found the list there in the morning. Fireman Alfred Shiers saw the list put up after dinner, which he had at 12 o’clock.[16]

One reason why the Engine Department’s list was put up so late might be that, in case of emergency, the personnel would be under the control of the engineers, who would issue orders and tell them when they could leave their posts.[17]

The emergency boat drill

The emergency boats were swung out while Titanic was steaming down Southampton Water towards the Isle of Wight on April 10. These were to be used if someone went overboard, or the ship collided with a small boat and had to rescue its people. They were kept in that position until she reached New York. According to Article 19 of the Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, at least two boats, one on each side, should be swung out at all times when under way and the weather permitted it.

Titanic leaving BelfastTitanic off Cowes

Two images of Titanic, one showing her leaving Belfast on April 2nd 1912 for her sea trials (left) the other passing Cowes on the Isle of Wight on April 10th (right), both showing emergency boat No.1 swung out.

Each evening at 6 p.m. the emergency boat crew was mustered. Able-bodied seaman Brice gave the details:

Mr. Brice: There was one notice given for the emergency boat crews. There were men told off.

Senator Bourne: What day was the notice posted for the emergency boat drill?

Mr. Brice: That would be the same day, Thursday morning; they were told off for the emergency boat crew in case of accident. They were mustered at the boats every evening at 6 o’clock; mustered by a junior officer, and then dismissed. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7]

Quartermaster Hichens did not take part in this muster, but he did observe the procedure at 6 p.m. as his watch in the wheelhouse was ending:

Mr. Hichens: On the bridge; they muster them there with an officer.

Senator Smith: How many men are mustered?

Mr. Hichens: About 8, I think; 6 seamen and the quartermaster and an officer. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 5]

Emergency boats Nos. 1 and 2, of course, were not loaded nor lowered to the water during the muster. Nothing was done with the boats, except with the lamps, as Boxhall explained:

15436. …There is always a lamp in the emergency boats.

15437. Lamps are always kept there? – They are lighted every night at 6 o'clock. [British Inquiry, Day 13]

This was the job of lamp trimmer Samuel Hemming. On Sunday, April 14, he already had placed all lights aboard Titanic at about 6:45. Lanterns already were placed into the emergency boats or covered with canvas and placed in a corner of the wheelhouse.[18] The officer involved in that drill could have been Third Officer Pitman or Fourth Officer Boxhall. Pitman was to go into boat no. 1.

14979. (The Commissioner.) Did you ever read your name on any list? – I did not, as it is an understood thing the third officer looks after No.1 boat.

14981. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) Would it be your duty to inform yourself as to what your boat was according to the list? – No, it is quite an understood thing in the Company for the third and fourth officers to have no. 1 and no. 2 boat. [British Inquiry, Day 13]

Pitman went to his last watch on April 14 at 6 p.m., the time for the emergency boat drill. So possibly he was overlooking the drill on the starboard side at boat no. 1. Indeed, Boxhall was on watch from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and would be relieved by Pitman. Quite possibly he, too, did take part in that drill and took the port side’s boat no. 2. However, Boxhall agreed that he was responsible for one of the emergency boats, but disagreed with the boat number:

15383. The third officer was assigned to no. 1. Were you assigned to no. 2? – For emergency purposes I was assigned to no.1 as a matter of fact, the starboard boat. [British Inquiry, Day 13]

Unfortunately, neither of the two ever mentioned whether he had taken part in the emergency boat drill.

Other officers on the bridge then were Chief Officer Wilde and Sixth Officer Moody. At 6 p.m. the watch changed and Wilde was relieved by Second Officer Lightoller. Fifth Officer Lowe relieved Sixth Officer Moody. So it will remain unknown exactly who took part.

The bulkhead door drill

The Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations said under Article 24a,

When the vessel is at sea, all watertight bulkhead and fire doors are to be examined and closed and opened again at 10-30 a.m. during Inspection, and the fact that this has been done is to be entered in the Log-book, and mentioned in the Commander’s report handed in to the Managers at the end of each voyage.

According to company rules, department heads would inspect the crew and departments at about 9 o’clock. The captain would meet at 10 o’clock with the department heads and start his inspection at 10:30 a.m. This was done every day except Sunday.

The watertight doors on the orlop deck, the lowest deck, could be closed automatically from the bridge. It is unknown whether these doors were closed and reopened during the sailing. None of the surviving firemen, trimmer or greasers ever mentioned it.

Other watertight doors could not be operated from the bridge and had to be closed by hand with a spanner [wrench]. The doors were on E and F Deck and closing them was among the stewards’ duties. They would be closed each day when the commander made his rounds, weather permitting.[19] Steward John Hart testified that this was done on April 11 and that Chief Officer Wilde and Thomas Andrews came around for inspection.[20] Even saloon steward George Crowe could not say for certain but said this was done each morning when the captain went around for inspection.[21] Besides closing the doors, stewards also were to unroll fire hoses or stand by them. According to assistant second steward Joseph Wheat and saloon steward James Johnson, the fire and bulkhead door drills took place on Saturday morning, April 13, at noon, with the doors closed and then reopened.[22]

All watertight doors, including the 12 that were closed directly from the bridge, had been tested in Belfast before the sea trials. Lightoller was present, saw them closed and later reported, “They were all in perfect working order.”[23] Third Officer Pitman was also present, stating, “The watertight doors worked all right. However, Assistant Electrician Albert Ervine did show that the doors including the 12 at the orlop deck were tested during a drill on Thursday morning April 11th: "This morning we had a full dress rehearsal of an emergency. The alarm bells all rang for ten seconds, then about 50 doors, all steel, gradually slid down into their places, so that water could not escape from any one section into the next." [24]

Closing watertight doorsHydraulic doors

Left: Closing watertight door above the water line by hand power aboard a German Liner, most likely Kaiser Wilhelm II. Aboard the Olympic Class such doors had to be closed with a spanner.

Right: Closing all hydraulic operated doors from the bridge.

The Sunday Drill

The Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations contained an inserted page opposite Article 18, stating:

Every Sunday at sea, the passengers having been advised beforehand so as to prevent alarm, the crews of each boat are to be mustered at their boat stations at noon, weather permitting, the Chief Officer reporting a supply of water and biscuits in each boat, and the Carpenter reporting the davits and screw lashings in working order.

First class assistant cook John Collins stated that there was a planned muster and fire drill for Sunday at 11 o’clock and saloon steward George Crowe agreed that it was planned for Sunday at 11:30 a.m.[25]

That Sunday drill also was mentioned by first class passenger Major Arthur Peuchen, who had seen it done on other ships he had sailed on, and assumed it was a Sunday tradition on every steamer:

Senator Smith: Did you see any drill yourself?

Major Peuchen: Oh, no; there was no drill. As a rule Sunday is the day they do some drilling; but I did not see any drilling on Sunday.

Senator Smith: Would you have been likely to see it if it had occurred?

Major Peuchen: Yes. It is very interesting and I always like to see it. There is always the bugle sounding the call. I have seen it, crossing, many times, the fire drill and the boat drill.

Senator Smith: You saw no drill from the time you left Southampton until the time this accident occurred?

Major Peuchen: No, Sir. [U.S. Senate Inq., Day 4]

Peuchen was not the only one. First class passenger Emma Bucknell later criticised the White Star Line strongly.

“To the question as to whether she had seen a lifeboat drill or fire drill on other boats, Mrs. Bucknell replied that she had always interested herself in all the methods pertaining to the life-saving processes.… Mrs. Bucknell also said that she had not seen a lifeboat drill while she was aboard the Titanic, and diligent inquiry among those rescued, after they were safely aboard the Carpathia, failed to develop any knowledge on their part of such drills ever having been held.…I have been across the ocean thirty or more times in the past four years and have seen many life boat drills, but I never saw one on board the Titanic.”[26]

BuglerSun day Drill

Left: The alarm: Sounding the bugle call for the crews to muster and man their boats aboard Kenilworth Castle on April 22, 1912 in Southampton.

Right: The drill on Sunday would have looked more like this one on board Kenilworth Castle. Crew members of the different departments would line up at their boat stations. Contrary to popular belief, passengers were not involved in those drills at that time.

An often-repeated part of Titanic’s story is how this boat drill was left out. Why? Some of the crew, like lookout Archie Jewell, explained during the British Inquiry:

275. Had it been done on that day? – No. It was blowing hard that day; there was a strong wind that day; that was the reason why it was not done.

276. (The Commissioner.) A strong wind on what day? – On the Sunday.

281. And you say that that was the reason you had no boat practice. Who told you so? – Well, that is the only thing we knew. [British Inquiry, Day 2]

Other crew members gave other reasons, including first class saloon steward Edward Wheelton.

Senator Newlands: Why not?

Mr. Wheelton: I could not say, Sir, unless it was the number of steerage passengers – third class passengers – that we had.

Senator Newlands: Why should that prevent you having drill?

Mr. Wheelton: Because if we would all go to drill, meals would not be ready for the passengers. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7]

And a third reason was given by steward George Crowe:

Senator Bourne: What explanation did you hear, if any, as to the reason why the call for muster and fire drill for Sunday at 11.30 was not carried out in accordance with your notice?

Mr. Crowe: Well, I cannot say, with the exception that they held church service at 10.30 Sunday morning.[27]

Senator Bourne: And the service continued over the time?

Mr. Crowe: No, sir; it was over soon after 11 o'clock.

Senator Bourne: And there was no explanation given for the suspension of the order?

Mr. Crowe: None whatever, sir. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7]

Thus the three possible reasons mentioned by crew members were:

  • Strong wind
  • Meals would not be ready for passengers
  • Divine Service

However, other crewmembers did expect a boat drill to take place on Sunday, not only because it was announced by the list, but because they had always had a drill on Sunday. Among them were saloon steward James Johnson,[28] able-bodied seamen Lucas and Jones,[29] first class saloon steward Wheelton[30] and lookout Jewell.[31] Furthermore, Third Officer Pitman explained that the fire and boat drill normally did take place on Sunday, but if it did not – due to bad weather, for example – it was done on another day.[32]


Left: Not all were following the same rules. A snapshot taken on the Atlantic Ocean in 1907 shows a drill aboard the Cunard liner Caronia (I) where only AB seamen took part, here with lifeboat no. 12. According to Carpathia’s Dr. Lengyel, on Cunard ships crew gathered at the lifeboat stations once a week. When Carpathia was steaming to Titanic’s rescue, and some passengers were awakened by the movements of the crew, they thought a drill was taking place.

Right: Lifeboat drill aboard the Cunard Liner Campania, again only crew members taking part. As visible about 4 boats are in the process to swung out. The image was most likely taken while the ship was in port.

However, second class saloon steward Charles Andrews stated that the muster would be held on Sunday in New York. He added that there would be another one on Sunday at home. Able-bodied seaman Fred Clench, who already had sailed a few times on Olympic, made it clear:

Senator Bourne: But they did not on the Titanic even have muster and the men walk up to the various boats to which they had been allotted?

Mr. Clench: Yes, Sir; that is, when we used to have a Sunday in New York.

Senator Bourne: They did not do it on the voyage?

Mr. Clench: No, Sir.

Senator Bourne: But on the Olympic, every voyage you took on her they did it every Sunday?

Mr. Clench: If we happened to get a Sunday in New York, Sir. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7]

Other members of the black gang confirmed the practice. Fireman John Taylor stated that the muster was done on Sunday morning in New York. Fireman George Beauchamp went more into detail, saying the boat drills of the White Star Line always were in New York on Sunday morning.[33] Trimmer George Cavell had served aboard the Adriatic, Oceanic and Olympic, and never had a muster except on Sunday in New York.[34] And fireman Alfred Shiers pointed out that while on other lines a drill was carried out at sea, this was not done in the White Star Line.[35]

Harold Sanderson explained why there was no muster while at sea with an incident on Oceanic in 1911:

19241. Where did it arise in what port? – The one I refer to was on the Oceanic, on a voyage to New York. The men refused duty on the voyage when ordered to a boat muster.

19242. On the voyage the firemen would not muster? – That is true.

19243. (The Commissioner.) What excuse did they make, if any? – I am not aware that there was anything more than a reluctance. They did not think it was fair to ask them to do it. Captain [Herbert] Haddock was in charge of the ship and he logged the men for not complying with orders, and there was so much friction about it that we decided to modify the orders and allow him to muster the men in New York instead of mustering them on the voyage, if that would make it easier to get the firemen to do it; and I believe, in fact, they have been mustering them in New York occasionally instead of mustering them on the voyage. [British Inquiry, Day 17]

It was here aboard the White Star liner Oceanic (II) that the fireman trouble started.

Since the ship was at sea on Sunday, Captain Smith most likely decided to continue the method by which he had handled this muster aboard Olympic. Also, the Engine Department did not have all of its boat stations list posted before noon on Sunday! The mystery remains why the drill was announced at all, and under what orders it was posted.

The “strike” on Oceanic was something “new” and might not have been reflected in the Ship’s Rules book, which dated from 1907. However, by 1912, several updates had been placed on extra pages opposite the articles, and although the additions are un-dated, one must wonder if the extra page opposite Article 118 might have been prompted by the Oceanic incident, since it stated, “Every Sunday in port abroad the Crew is to be mustered and inspected at 9 a.m. The inspection is to consist of mustering at boat and fire stations only.”

Fire Drill

The so-called “Sunday Drill” consisted of two parts, the muster at the boat stations and the muster at fire stations. Again from the extra page opposite Article 18:

“The Signal to be given for fire stations, when all fire buckets are to be mustered and hoses connected to the Downton and steam pumps, each portion of the crew taking up the positions assigned to them on the fire notices, and once during the passage the pumps should be worked and water passed through the hoses to test their condition.”

Interestingly, Fifth Officer Lowe claimed that this was done:

Mr. Lowe: …There are so many hoses on each deck, and the water service is on, and the hoses are manned by the men, and the commander sends word along, “That will do for fire exercise,” and then we switch off the water. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 5]

According to Lowe, it was before they sailed to Southampton, but asked in detail, Lowe was not sure whether he had confused the event with other ships. However, at sea, water would not have been used, since it was only a crew muster at their so-called fire stations.

Fire drill Campania
Fire drill aboard the Cunard Liner Campania, crew members line up with a bucket.

Company Orders

White Star was one company that called not only for a boat muster but also for an actual drill, as Harold Sanderson explained during the British Inquiry:

19224. Now, about boat drill and the like, what is your Company's regulation or practice about boat drill in respect of these Atlantic liners? – The Company's requirements are that boat drill – a boat muster that is – shall be held once each passage. I am not referring to the Board of Trade muster. Over and above that, it is required that there shall be a boat muster once each passage.

19228. It means the muster is nothing more than this: The men come on deck and go to the boats that are allocated to them? – Yes; but over and above that we give an instruction that whenever it is possible a certain number of the boats are to be put into the water and pulled.

19229. And pulled? – Yes, pulled away from the ship and back again. [British Inquiry, Day 17]

Sanderson was most likely referring to Article 19b on page 12 of the Ship’s Rules:

“Whenever opportunity occurs in port, at least once a voyage, one or more boats should be fully manned, launched and exercised, the same recorded in the Log-book, and specially reported by the Commander in his official advices to the Management.”

From the documents Sanderson presented during the Inquiry, the following details can be found in Captain Smith’s log entries aboard Olympic; they were made the same day as the drill, or added a few days later into the official documents.

Friday, 15 December 1911: “Boats Nos. 1 and 3 lowered and crews exercised at Southampton. All davits and falls in good order.”

Friday, 6 January 1912: “Boats Nos. 6 and 8 lowered before leaving Southampton, and crews exercised. All davits and falls in good order and condition.”

Wednesday, 31 January 1912: “Before leaving Southampton Nos. 10 and 12 boats lowered and crews exercised. All davits and falls in good order.”

Wednesday, 28 February 1912: “February 6th, Boats Nos. 9 and 11 lowered, and crews exercised. Everything working well. Davits and falls in good order.”

Saturday, 30 March 1912: “Tuesday, 22nd March … Nos. 13 and 15 swung out, lowered, and crews exercised. All davits and falls in good order.”

The last drill on March 22, 1912 was done the day before Olympic left New York. As only two boats were involved, it is clear that not all could have participated in lowering or rowing the boats.

Interestingly, Third Officer Pitman believed that the lifeboat drill would take place on April 11, 1912 during Titanic’s stop at Queenstown.

Mr. Pitman: ... We also have boat drill in Queenstown.

Senator Smith: Were you present when that was done?

Mr. Pitman: It was not done this time, Sir; not in Queenstown. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 4]

Pitman is the only one mentioning a boat drill at Queenstown. Such a boat drill there is unknown for the Olympic, which by then had been in service for one year. Pitman came directly from Oceanic; quite possibly the Queenstown drill had taken place on his previous ship. According to Sanderson, it was the decision of each captain:

19236. ...We leave a considerable discretion to commanders as to where it shall be done. Sometimes it is done in Queenstown, and sometimes in Liverpool, but rarely, and sometimes in New York. [British Inquiry, Day 17]

It was up to the captain when and where to do those drills.

Senator Smith: Was it a part of his duty to have drills and inspections?

Mr. Boxhall: No. The captain arranged all the drills and inspections. [U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 3]

And Quartermaster Hichens added,

1072. … It lies at the Captain's discretion whenever he liked to give us a drill... [British Inquiry, Day 3]


According to the Ship’s Rules for the White Star Line, the crew had to be drilled several times on every voyage, and for the most part this was done. Lists of the lifeboat assignments and fire stations were prepared and posted in different locations. The stewards did have their bulkhead and fire drill. The crew of the emergency boats was also mustered every evening at 6 p.m.

For Sunday, a muster for the crew was planned for 11 a.m. or 11:30 a.m.; it did not take place. The reason seems to lie in the “mutiny” of the firemen aboard Oceanic. Also, the Engine Department did not have all of its boat station list posted by noon. The decision was left to the captain as to when to carry the muster out, and it seems that this was done when the ship was in harbour. In other words, the extra page placed opposite Article 18 calling for fire and boat drills at sea was not carried out aboard Titanic. However, on an extra page opposite Article 118 for the commanders, it does call for a drill of the crew each Sunday in port. Considering the different reports of the crew members, especially the black gang, this was done on other ships of the White Star Line, especially the sister ship Olympic, which had been under the command of the same captain.

The effects of the missing Sunday morning boat drill at sea on the night of the sinking were limited, as it would have been only a muster of the crew at their stations and no passengers would have been involved. In case of emergency, as it was that night, some of the boats’ crews would have been missing, since stewards had to look for and rouse the passengers, and the black gang would have been under the order of the engineers.


Special thanks to Charlie Haas for helping out with the relevant portions of the Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations.

(C) Ioannis Georgiou 2018. First published: Titanic International Society, Voyage 95, Spring 2016 (Updated for ET, 2018)

  1. [1]A shortened version by this author has been published previously in his research series, “The Lifeboat Story – Part 1” in Titanic Post No. 82, December 2012 (Swiss Titanic Society) and the Atlantic Daily Bulletin, December 2012 (British Titanic Society.)
  2. [2]Steward Crawford, U. S. Senate Inquiry, Day 1. Crawford claimed it was done under the command of Chief Officer Henry Wilde. He was mistaken, as Wilde joined Titanic in Southampton on April 4.
  3. [3]On April 9, Wilde signed on in Southampton as the new chief officer, pushing Lightoller down one rank to second officer.
  4. [4]A copy of the Appendix 1 page can be found in Cameron, Stephen: Titanic – Belfast’s Own, 1998, Chapter 8.
  5. [5]Southern Daily Echo, May 1968.
  6. [6]After Titanic’s sinking, rules aboard Olympic changed. Crew had to be aboard at 10 a.m., muster at 10:30 and undergo a lifeboat drill from 11 o’clock until noon. Daily Mail, May 13, 1912.
  7. [7]Lightoller, British Inquiry, Day 12, Q. 14801.
  8. [8]After the disaster, aboard Olympic, lifeboat numbers were given to the crew when signing on. Daily Mail, May 13,1912.
  9. [9]Symons, British Inquiry, Day 10, Q. 11328. Brice, U.S. Senate Inq., Day 7. Lee, British Inquiry, Day 4, Q. 2505-2506. Symons and Brice were unsure if on Friday, and Clench said two days after leaving, which would be Friday. Lucas mentioned Saturday, but also wrongly said Titanic sailed on Good Friday, April 5.
  10. [10]Symons, British Inquiry, Day 10, Q. 11329. Jewell, British Inquiry, Day 2, Q. 266. Lee, British Inquiry, Day 4, Q. 2499. Wynn, British Inquiry, Day 11, Q. 13388. Haines, U.S. Senate Inq., Day 7. Lucas, British Inquiry, Day 3, Q. 1446. Clench, U.S. Senate Inq., Day 7. Poingdestre, British Inquiry, Day 4, Q. 2776.
  11. [11]Symons, British Inquiry, Day 10, Q. 11330.
  12. [12]Morris, British Inquiry, Day 6, Q. 5293. Joughin, British Inquiry, Day 6, Q. 6017 and 6019. Johnston, British Inquiry, Day 5, Q. 3684. Brown said on Friday, April 12, and Crowe was unsure whether Thursday or Friday.
  13. [13]Seward, British Inquiry, Day 15, Q. 17814. Rule, British Inquiry, Day 6, Q 6424-6427. Morris, British Inquiry, Day 6, Q. 5292. Crowe, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7. Joughin, British Inquiry, Day 6, Q 6014-6016. Brown, British Inquiry, Day 9, Q. 10610. Collins, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7. Cunningham, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 9.
  14. [14]MacKay, British Inquiry, Day 9, Q. 13225-13228.
  15. [15]Page 41, Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, 1907.
  16. [16]Hendrickson, British Inquiry, Day 5, Q. 4961 & 4963. Beauchamp, British Inquiry, Day 3, Q. 690a and 691. Shiers, British Inquiry, Day 5, Q. 4504-4513.
  17. [17]Shiers, British Inquiry, Day 5, Q. 4731 and 4781. Blake, The Devon and Exeter Gazette, April 25, 1912.
  18. [18]Boxhall, British Inquiry, Day 13, Q. 15621.
  19. [19]Pitman, British Inquiry, Day 13, Q. 15272-15273 and 15285-15286.
  20. [20]Hart, British Inquiry, Day 9, Q. 10306.
  21. [21]Crowe, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7.
  22. [22]James Johnson, British Inquiry, Day 5, Q. 3608. Wheat, British Inquiry, Day 11, Q. 13264-13266.
  23. [23]Lightoller, British Inquiry, Day 12, Q. 14534.
  24. [24]Pitman, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 4.; Letter to Ervine's mother, dated April 11th 1912 printed in the Belfast Telegraph, April 24, 1912.
  25. [25]Collins, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7. Crowe, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7.
  26. [26]Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 1912, Mike Poirier Collection.
  27. [27]The 1st class passenger list had on the page "Information for Passengers" the note: "Divine Service in the saloon on Sunday at 10-30 a.m.". It can safely stated that the divine service did not play any role in this case.
  28. [28]Johnson, British Inquiry, Day 5, Q. 3599-3600.
  29. [29]Lucas, British Inquiry, Day 3, Q. 1668-1708. Jones, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7.
  30. [30]Wheelton, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 7.
  31. [31]Jewell, British Inquiry, Day 2, Q. 272-273.
  32. [32]Pitman, U.S. Senate Inquiry, Day 4.
  33. [33]Beauchamp, British Inquiry, Day 3, Q. 852-860.
  34. [34]Cavell, British Inquiry, Day 5, Q. 4421-4429, 4431.
  35. [35]Shiers, Limitation of Liability Hearing, October 31, 1913.


Ioannis Georgiou


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Comment and discuss

  1. Paul Lee Paul Lee

    I gather there was supposed to be a lifeboat drill on ship on the Sunday, but for some reason this didn't happen. One explanation that I have heard is that this was dropped because the disparity between the lifeboat capacity and the number of people on board would have been obvious; I don't believe this, as I am sure there were drills on the Olympic? Cheers Paul

  2. Dave Gittins

    Several explanations have been offered. Archie Jewell put it down to the cold wind. Edward Wheelton said it would interfere with preparations for lunch. The boat list for the black gang was not displayed until after the drill was due. The lack of a drill probably didn't matter much. It would only have involved mustering the crew at their boats.

  3. Paul Lee Paul Lee

    Yes, I recall Frank Prentice saying that the lifeboat stations' notice was pinned up in the galley, on the 14th - probably too late to do anything about it. Paul

  4. Michael H. Standart

    >>One explanation that I have heard is that this was dropped because the disparity between the lifeboat capacity and the number of people on board would have been obvious; I don't believe this,

  5. Dave Gittins

    The rules at the time were based on what was practicable. Californian had boats for twice the number of crew and passengers she could carry because she came under the rules for freighters. It was easy to fit plenty of boats to such ships. Most passenger ships had "boats for all" because they didn't carry numerous emigrants. Of 521 British passenger ships, only 93 didn't have "boats for all" in one way or another. The 93 were the emigrant ships that might carry 2,000 people on a ship of well under 10,000 GRT. As British ships lost only 85 passengers in the 20 years ending 1911, the system seemed adequate. I might add that most of those lost were concentrated in two small ships that probably had "boats for all".

  6. Talira Greycrest Talira Greycrest

    I've heard there was supposed to be a lifeboat drill on April 14th but the Captain cancelled it. Has anyone ever established why this lifeboat drill was cancelled?

  7. Dave Gittins

    Read the earlier posts. The truth is that nobody knows the real reason for the lack of drills.

  8. Ioannis Georgiou Ioannis Georgiou

    As I have summarized in my research article (Voyage 95, Titanic International Society) not all list were ready and it was the Captain decision when and were to do one. On Olympic Captain Smith usually did it in port.

  9. Moj Moj

    Hi I have a queation regarding the preparation and the practice for crew and officers before the beginning of voayage. Was there such a thing ? I mean at the time of titanic what was the regulations regarding the practice for crew so that everyone know at the time of an emergency what they are supposed to do and how to do it exactly ? Had they even tried the lifeboats before ? Im sure there probably wasnt anything like that for the passengers . So that they know where anyone should go at the time of emergency . And what was the thought regarding the alert for the passengers ? I mean how were they supposed to know what was the news with the ship ? Was there a radio or a special alert sound inside the ship ? What was supposed to be the way of communication between the captain and the passengers in case of emergency ?

  10. Jim Currie

    I suggest you log onto titanicinquiry.org There, you will find the transcripts of the evidence. Then go to the

  11. Ioannis Georgiou Ioannis Georgiou

    Yes there were several drill aboard, during the time the ship was in harbour as well as when under way. Regarding passengers, the bedroom stewards were responsible to look for their passengers (every bedroom steward had his cabins he was responsible for). You might find this summery interesting. The forgotten drills aboard Titanic

  12. Robert T. Paige Robert T. Paige

    This is something for the "maritime experts" on these forums, but I thought I would post what I have read and they can

  13. Moj Moj

    Thanks. I had not seen this link. It was very helpful. But it seems that all the drills were only for the crew and the officers and stewrds. Nothing involving the passengers were required. As about an alerting system . Is there such a thing in big cruise line nowadays ?

  14. Moj Moj

  15. Ioannis Georgiou Ioannis Georgiou

    The drills were only for the crew, not for passengers. There was no alert system as it is today on cruise ships.

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) The forgotten drills aboard Titanic (Titanica!, ref: #20245, published 30 January 2018, generated 26th March 2023 08:21:03 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-forgotten-drills-aboard-titanic.html