Encyclopedia Titanica

The New York Incident

Near collision for world's largest ship.


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Titanic's maiden voyage nearly ended in disaster... on the very first day when her suction pulled the New York away from its mooring...

A number of the Titanic's crew transferred from the SS New York before joining the Titanic. Like many other ships at the time, the New York was laid up owing to the ongoing coal strike.

SS New York
The SS New York

The smaller vessel was tied up alongside the White Star Line's own Oceanic.

A large concourse of people had gathered to speed the vessel on her maiden voyage, and she made an impressive picture as she quietly glided, in brilliant sunshine, down Southampton water, quite dwarfing all adjacent shipping. - Dublin Daily telegraph 11 April 1912

Titanic continues

New York's stern drifts out

As the Titanic passed the two liners the New York was pulled away from the quay. Hawsers at the New York's stern strained and then parted, snapping with 'reports like a revolver firing'.

Closer and closer

The dramatic episode was witnessed by hundreds of onlookers on the quayside, as well as on the decks of the Titanic. Two of those with the best vantage point were the electricians George Ervine and Alfred Middleton who were perched at the top of the Titanic's fourth funnel.

As soon as the Titanic began to move out of the dock, the suction caused the Oceanic, which was alongside her berth, to swing outwards, while another liner broke loose altogether and bumped into the Oceanic. The gangway of the Oceanic simply dissolved.

Middleton and myself were on top of the after funnel, so we saw everything quite distinctly. I thought there was going to be a proper smash up owing to the high wind; but I don't think anyone was hurt. - Letter by Assistant Electrician Albert George Ervine to his mother.

Passenger photo

Captain Smith and Pilot George Bowyer ordered the Titanic's engines stopped and the starboard anchor partially lowered in readiness to stop the ship.  Tugs hurried to guide the New York to a berth a little beyond the Oceanic, on Dock Head. Charles Gale aboard the tug vulcan recorded:

Someone sang out to me to get up and push the New York back, but such a thing was impossible. Had I got between the two ships we would almost certainly have been jammed. Instead, I turned the Vulcan round and got a wire rope on the port quarter of the New York.  Unfortunately, that rope parted, but our men immediately got a second wire on board, and we got hold of the New York when she was within four feet of the Titanic. Our movements were all the more trying because the broken mooring ropes from the New York were lying in the water, and we stood a good chance of fouling our own propeller. Every rope on the New York snapped, the stern lines being the first to go. — Quoted in Titanic Triumph and Tragedy

From the quayside


A serious disaster was narrowly averted and a dramatic proof of the much-debated theory of "suction" was given at the departure on her maiden voyage of the marvellous White Star Liner Titanic, the largest steamer in the world.

As the Titanic passed from her berth to the open stream of Southamton Water the gigantic new liner sucked the water between her and the quay to such a degree that the strain broke the strong hawsers with which the liner New York was tied to the quayside, and for some time a collision between the two vessels looked likely.

Happily the prompt action of the men in command and the quick use of a couple of steam tugs prevented a collision, and the mighty Titanic at last steamed away like a proud queen of the sea, an hour late but not at all worried.

The theory of suction was held by some persons to be all moonshine when it was urged as the reason why the cruiser Hawke ran into the Olympic—the Titanic's twin sister—in the Solent last September.

You need to get up on the boat deck of the Titanic, as I did this morning before she sailed, and to look down from there on boats like the Majestic, the St. Louis, and the Philadelphia, lying a few cables away, to realise how colossal the new White Star boats are and how awesome the power of their propellers must be.

It is not very long since the Majestic was regarded as one of the world's records. This morning we looked down and laughed, a kindly laugh, at her and the two American Line boats moored beside her. They seemed such small affairs with their 10,000 or 11,000 tons, compared with the Titanic's 46,000.

Having looked down on the world from the Titanic's boat deck, I went on the quay and looked up at the projecting heads of the passengers. It was like standing by the wall of St. Paul's Cathedral and craning your neck to get a glimpse of the Apostles on the roof.

It was just noon when the vast steel wall in front of us began to move.


For the first yards a caterpillar might have raced the Titanic. It was difficult to imagine such a tremendous object moving, so slowly. I walked along to the end of the deep water dock and saw her come by at a slow pace within a stone's throw of the quay. Her propellers churned the green sea up to liquid grey mud. She had to go round a bend to the left—not at all a ship bend—about half-a-mile further on in order to clear the end of the long quay which juts out slantwise into Southampton Water. It was while trying to round this bit of a bend that the Titanic pulled the 10,798-ton New York liner from her berth. And then an astonishing spectacle held the gaze of the crowd, for between the Titanic and the quay—a distance of two or three hundred yards-the New York was drifting stern first towards the outgoing liner. What was said to have happened seemed a fantastic absurdity until I saw the frayed end of a steel wire hawser about as thick as a man's wrist lying on the quay. "It snapped like the crack of a gun," a man told me who saw it break. Broken hemp cables hung down the New York's side. The crowd was breathless with excitement; people climbed into railway trucks to see what was going to happen.


As soon as the New York broke loose the Titanic reversed her engines, and in a brief space of time stopped deed and began to back. Then the tugs Neptune and Vulcan raced at the New York, caught her with ropes by the bows, and, turning, tried to lug her back to her place. It was difficult to tell the distance looking broadside on, but it looked as if you oould have thrown a hat from the Oceanic to the New York and from the New York to the Titanic. But no one in uniform was flurried. A master of port navigation with a megaphone stood stolidly on the quay issuing orders across the water as calmly as if he were having his tea. He had the New York pulled back across the Oceanic's bows and round the bend to the quay and there tied up securely, and then he let the Titanic come on again towards the open water. She had backed right away towards the deep water dock while the New York was being dragged about like a naughty child. It was a relief to everyone when the Titanic at last passed the bend and glided slowly away to sea. It was a thrilling start for the maiden voyage of the largest steamer in the world. The Titanic is the Olympic's twin, but she is slightly longer—just three inches longer—and nearly 1,000 tons larger, so that she is the largest ship afloat. She is even more wonderful than the Olympic, for she has a Parisian restaurant, in addition to other palatial restaurants which the Olympic possesses in common. - Birmingham Daily Gazette - Thursday 11 April 1912

Guided to safety

Tugs straining

Berthed at dock head


Passing the clipper bow of the New York

Damaged ropes

Some took the incident as an ill omen, perhaps a portent of trouble ahead.

Related Ships

New York


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Comment and discuss

  1. Iain Stuart Yardley Iain Stuart Yardley

    Afternoon all, Bored at work so I started looking around on the 'net and found this picture of the New York collision with the Titanic on sailing day. What strikes me about this photo (I've never seen it, apolgies to anyone that already has) is are we looking at passengers on the deck of Titanic or New York? Cheers, Boz stephend.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/whitestar/titanic/image7.jpg

  2. Michael H. Standart

    What you're looking at are the crew members on both. Since the New York was still laid up on account of the shortages caused by the coal strike, she wouldn't have had any passengers aboard. Any passengers in the photo would be the people leaning on the Titanic's rail.

  3. Iain Stuart Yardley Iain Stuart Yardley

    Thanks for that Michael. Have any of the crew / passengers in the photo ever been identified? For example, the chap standing a little apart from the rest of the group lining the rail looks fairly distinguishable. I think it would be interesting to identify as many people in the photo as possible, in a similar fashion as Senan Molony did in "The Irish Aboard Titanic". Cheers, Boz

  4. Michael H. Standart

    I suppose it's possible. Can't say as I've ever given a lot of thought to it. I'm not a people person though so I couldn't really offer any names.

  5. Nigel Bryant Nigel Bryant

    Hi, That's a nice photgraph, proably the best version I have seen. It's the first time I have see the cover for No.1 Hatch in that shot. Here's a question I would like to add. In books written about the Titanic departure, most state that there were hundreds of people watching Titanic's departure. Some even claim that smaller ships (the "New York") was crowded with sightseers to watch the Titanic go by? But photographs of that day, show little people on the decks of the New York and the Ocean dock. It seems to me that it is a myth that there were large crowds of people waving from the dock and from smaller ships. Because the photgraphs taken on that day certainly don't show this, well not to the large extent that I have seen written in texts and seen in movies. It seems to me that Titanic's departure was just an ordinary departure, no hype, no thousands of people swarming the dockyards, that we have imagined in our minds these recent years. Wasn't Olympic's maiden departure from

  6. Steven Hall

    I agree. When you look at the UFTM, courtney frame (No ?) with Cpt Ben Steele sitting on the dockside bollard - the send off appears quiet lame indeed. I would image that the coal strike had left the dockside rather short on potential observers seeing people off. It almost seemed like a yawn. More people witnessed the launch of the Olympic, more people travelled on Olympic’s maiden voyage, more people watched her depart Belfast on the trials, more people dockside to see her off from Southampton. The only advantage Titanic had over the elder sister (for the sake of interest) was that she sank.

  7. Michael H. Standart

    Looks like Steve covered the ground here. Yeah, except for that close call with the New York, the reality is that the Titanic's departure was something of a non-event. Maiden voyages were not all that popular with experienced travelers, the steerage folks were not the sort of people that commanded attention from the media and last but not least, Titanic was the second sister to the much celebrated Olympic. So who cares about the second sister? It's not likely she was going to do anything noteworthy. Right? By the morning of 15 April, this attitude would change slightly.

  8. Steven Hall

    You know Michael, I even thought Olympic looked better. Not taking anything away from Titanic, which I believe would have looked better with 3 funnels. In part, her enclosed forward A deck and extended B made her look a class act. I have PhotosShop, I should take a funnel off and reposition the remaining three to see what it would have looked like. It would have been interesting if Titanic had not been lost whether White Star would have offered her up instead of Olympic during WW1. Steve

  9. Michael H. Standart

    Given the way the war went, I wonder if the Titanic would have seen much use at all. With just the Olympic and Britannic, there was still the matter of the ships spending time laid up as surplus. I'm not sure that any of the three functioning funnels could have been moved either. It's not like the boiler rooms could be moved around and that would have limited what you could do with the funnel arrangement.

  10. Mike Bull Mike Bull

    "Better with 3 funnels"?! Tut tut, go and wash your mouth out with 23 tons of tallow!!!

  11. Andrew J. Evano Andrew J. Evano

    I know its not the subject here, but 3 funnels? Blasphamy. The four funnels, in my opinion gave her a shape no other came close to. She (And of course her sister) were recognizable anywhere.

  12. Samuel Halpern

    There is this thing called symmetry. In addition, 4 stackers gave the appearance of greater power and size even if only 3 funnels were really functional with regard to the boiler spaces. It seems that in those days the number of funnels a ship carried was also treated as a status symbol of advancing shipbuilding technology. The only thing that may have worked in changing appearance would be to have reworked the machinery spaces so 3 working funnels and the two masts could be spaced about equally apart and the funnels made quite a bit larger in their overall dimensions to give them that powerful look; e.g., look at a profile of the Queen Mary. But as for me, the 4 funnels on the Olympic class and their arrangement along with the locations of their two masts was just one of the attributes that made them beautiful ships to look at. Too bad modern day cruise ships look as bad as they do. But then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  13. Jeremy Lee Jeremy Lee

    It seemed that the number of funnels was a major factor in attracting people to sail on the ship in those days!

  14. Michael H. Standart

    >>It seemed that the number of funnels was a major factor in attracting people to sail on the ship in those days!

  15. liam forber liam forber

    does any one think that the disater could of been stopped if titanic had got struck by i think it was called new york ship [Moderator's Note: This thread, originally placed in a different subtopic, has been moved and renamed. MAB]

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) The New York Incident (Titanica!, ref: #20176, published 5 January 2018, generated 19th March 2023 03:06:57 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-new-york-incident.html