Encyclopedia Titanica

The New York Incident

Near collision for world's largest ship.


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The New York Incident

Titanic's maiden voyage nearly ended in disaster... on the first day.

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 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

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 or the Pilot ordered the Titanic's engines stopped, and tugs hurried to guide the New York to a berth a little beyond the Oceanic, on Dock Head.

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

Titanic continues

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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New York Accidents Collision Suction


Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) The New York Incident (Titanica!, ref: #20176, published 5 January 2018, generated 3rd December 2021 11:44:50 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-new-york-incident.html