Encyclopedia Titanica

Titanic's Cargo Gear


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Titanic's Cargo Gear
Because of my experience on cargo ships and the fact that I teach Dry Cargo Operations to students at Maine Maritime Academy, I have long been fascinated with Titanic’s cargo gear. Chronologically she came during a transition from square rigged sailing ships to the breakbulk freighter of WW II and later fame. As it turns out her cargo gear was a little of several types of gear used at various times. She had a combination of Gin Blocks on wire spans, rotating electric cranes, and one swinging heavy lift boom. Titanic had six cargo holds, 1, 2 &3 were forward and 4, 5&6 were aft. The Gin Blocks (large diameter metal blocks hung from span wires or boom heads) on Titanic were similar to those found on the stay of a square rigged ship.
Bow of 1/350 Titanic Model
Forecastle of 1/48 Titanic Model showing winches

While building a 1/350 scale model of her I had noticed that there was no apparent cargo gear at #1 Hatch. This was very puzzling, and led me to research many photos of her fore deck looking for clues as to how they worked cargo in #1 Hatch. In several of the pictures I thought I saw a smudge in the rigging or was it a block hanging over the hatch? I was never certain if there was actually something there or it was the quality of the photograph. The only solid clue was the steam winch on the Fore Deck, directly aft of #1 Hatch. There were also 3 ton electric cargo winches mounted on deck at each hatch except #2 & 4. Thus each hatch except #4 could have a cargo runner from a Gin Block, in addition to the rotating cranes. You can bet that if White Star Lines went to the expense of installing a steam winch on deck there was a purpose for it. Finally I came into possession of a rigging diagram of Titanic, and there was the answer. They hung a Gin Block, rove off with a cargo runner, from a span wire, which ran from the Eyes of the ship up to the cross trees on the Fore Mast. The block was spotted directly over the hatch; the runner was hauled by the steam winch. Now a Gin Block spotted directly over the hatch has some limitations in its use. You can make the hook go up or down, but it is very hard to move a draft of cargo of any weight sideways. The solution to that I suspect lays in photographs of Berths 43 & 44 in Southampton. They show gantry mounted electric cranes on the pier. There is a photograph of this on page 86 of John P. Eaton and Charles A. Haas’ book “Titanic Triumph and Tragedy”. I suspect these cranes hoisted the draft of cargo up from the pier and either set it on the Fore Deck alongside the hatch, or they used the crane to do the whole job from pier to hold. If the draft was deposited on the Fore Deck by the crane, then a Longshoreman hooked the ship’s runner to the draft and the winch aft of #1 Hatch hoisted the draft up till it cleared the coaming then let gravity swing it sideways till it was directly under the Gin Block, at which time it was lowered into the hold. Discharging was done the same way but in reverse.

In New York I believe, based on my own experience, that they married the ship’s runner to a House Fall from the pier. Thus they had two winches and runners working so they could hoist the draft up out of the hold or off the pier apron then, Burton the draft athwartship and lower away. According to the Rigging Plan there could be similar Gin Blocks on stays rigged at each hold except #4.

Well Deck
Well deck showing cargo cranes and hatches

Mounted on the after side of the Fore Mast was a single Heavy Lift (Jumbo) Boom. It was primarily to service #2 Hold. Those books on Titanic that address the subject of her cargo gear usually specify that this boom was for loading/discharging automobiles in #2 Hold, however it looks to me as though it could also serve #3 Hold. To use it would have required four winches, one to run the topping lift (Vertical Position of boom), and another to control the cargo hook, the last two to control the guys (Horizontal Position of Boom). These winches were clustered around the base of the Fore Mast, and would also have served the Gin Block that could be rigged there. It would probably take about an hour to rig or unrig the boom, rather time consuming.

Stern well deck
Stothert and Pitt cranes towards the stern

Further, there were eight rotating electric cranes built by Stothert and Pitt, Ltd. They served holds #3, #4, #5, and #6. The two cranes at #4 Hold were 30 cwt, ( 1.5 Ton capacity) the others were 50 cwt, (2.5 Ton capacity). To convert cwt (hundred weight) to tons, Webster’s Dictionary advises to multiply the cwt by 112 Lbs if in U. K. and by 100 Lbs if in the U.S.A. then divide by 2240Lbs per Long Ton. These cranes were rigged in pairs, one to port the other to starb’d, that way one could always plumb the pier and the hold regardless which side to they were berthed.

So we see that just as Titanic’s engines transitioned from reciprocating to turbine so to her cargo gear was a transition to a more modern type gear.


Bonsall, Thomas. Titanic. New York: Gallery Books, 1987.
McCluskie, Tom. Anatomy of the Titanic. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 1998.
Ocean Liners of the Past, Olympic and Titanic. Cambridge: Patrick Stephens Ltd. 1983.

Photographs by Charles Weeks. Taken at Mystic Aquarium, of a 1:48 scale model of R.M.S. Titanic, by Fine Arts Models.

Text and Photographs © Charles B. Weeks Jr 2004


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  1. Noel F. Jones Noel F. Jones

    I have some reservations about Capt.Charles Weeks' exposition on the working arrangements at Nos.1 and 2 hatches. His postulated system of work for No.1 hatch has an inherent risk of damage at the So'ton end. Here the draft would have to be set down alongside the coaming by the shoreside hook to be then picked up by the ship's hook. Because the ship node is necessarily located over the square of the hatch, this would entail the draft impinging against the coaming as it became aweigh in order to get it over the square. This repetitive flaw would certainly not do the slings nor their contents any good. I could see it working at the New York end because the house fall would combine with the ship's runner to form a cargo span which would obviate the need to land the sling on the deck. As for No.2 hatch, why would working this entail four winches? Once the derrick had been topped, the requisite winch could be disengaged from the topping lift and redeployed to the cargo runner.

  2. Charles B. Weeks Jr. Charles B. Weeks Jr.

    Noel: As to the working at #1 hatch. The rigging plan quite plainly shows a Gin Block hanging from the stay. While I haven't used that method myself, I've seen it illustrated in cargo and seamanship text books. It is sometime called "Pick and Strike" I understand your concerns about the lateral force on the draft, it concerned me also. I suspect they limited the size of a draft to what a couple of longshoremen on deck could control. Thus preventing it from hitting the combing. Then again they may never have used it in that fashion. Instead they may have used the shore crane in Southampton, and it with a house fall in NY. As to #2, a single boom on the centerline would most likely be used as a swinging boom not married to a house fall. It would need to be topped up to plumb the hatch square, the topped down to plumb the pier apron, so the topping lift would need to be attached to an active winch. I've used such many time myself and the guys were also, always made fast to a winch,

  3. Noel F. Jones Noel F. Jones

    Charles: I've taken another look and, depending upon the exigencies of the berth, it seems there would indeed be sufficient outreach to work No.3 by means of a static topping lift. However; I now see that there would be insufficient outreach when working No.2 without some kind of double luffing arrangement. Hence another winch barrel would indeed be needed to work the topping lift. I still suspect that manpower would have been preferred when it came to to radially slewing the boom. On the matter of the 'house fall', I have only ever seen this arrangement used in North American ports. Being dependent upon ship's gear, it imposes a restriction upon shipboard maintenance while alongside. A vessel is struck idle if, by reason of some maintenance imperative, her plant has to be shut down. According to his biographer, New York shipowner Hans Isbrandtsen for one expressed dissatisfaction with the system when comparing it to the craneage available in European ports. On

  4. David Haisman David Haisman

    I'm not too transfixed by all of this and when I worked with the ''marrying up of derricks'' on cargo ships the system was quite simple involving just three men onboard. An AB worked each winch, port and starboard, and another AB stood at the hatch coaming giving out raise and lowering instructions. The outboard derrick was always used as the ''plumb'' derrick and the inboard used for slewing purposes. After the cargo net was clear of the hatch coaming, that particular AB would walk to the ships rail and give further slewing and lowering instructions to those men working the derricks. The reverse procedure would apply when loading. This was always done by ''Wharfies'' in New York and shore cranes in Southampton. Pier 90, as with other piers in New York, had not much quayside to speak of but had purchases running along steel girders of which were worked expertly by shore gangs. The sheds were just a few meteres away from the edge of the

  5. Charles B. Weeks Jr. Charles B. Weeks Jr.

    David: Like you I'm using some of what I experienced and applying it to the equipment I see on the Titanic. Unlike some other ships i.e. Lusitania or Mauretania Titanic didn't have paired cargo booms. Therefore she could only pair one of her Gin Block and runners with a house fall, (what you refer to as, shoreside running gear). She would use her Jumbo ( Heavy Lift) Boom as a swinging (Slewing) Boom. She could use her electric cranes individually in a slewing manner. As you said the gear was operated by wharfies (Longshoremen) in New York, however the gear was raised by the deck force before arrival. My guess is that the heaviest drafts of cargo that she handled were automobiles therefore they were handled at #2 by the Jumbo Boom. Regards, Charlie Weeks

  6. David Haisman David Haisman

    Charlie, From where I'm sitting with just a photo of Titanic I would imagine the derrick would be used solely for what Noel suggests. The derrick on the after end of her fore mast appears to be seated without the ability of a slewing table. With the rake of the foremast I think we can rule out any probability of this derrick being considered a Jumbo. However, that derrick must have had a swivelling ability around the heel pin as in a static position, it wouldn't be much use for anything. That's one of the reasons I asked about the SWL of that derrick relying on just one interference fitting heel pin and the length. When serving as an AB on the Alcantara, we used hydraulically operated cranes for all hatches for cargo and beaming up. When they were working you could hear hydraulic rams banging throughout the ship! Stevedores wouldn't touch them due to their unpredictability of ''creeping'' and ''walking back'' when supposedly stopped. The

  7. Charles B. Weeks Jr. Charles B. Weeks Jr.

    David: Regarding the derrick on the after side of the fore mast, in Hall & Beveridge's book "Olympic & Titanic The Truth Behind the Conspiracy" on page 46 the top picture shows #2 hatch with the heavy lift boom topped down to plumb the hatch square, also you can see that the gooseneck is on the after side of the mast. I'd say it is about 8' above the deck. And if it couldn't be slewed side to side, it would as you said be useless. I haven't found that boom's rated SWL, but am still looking. I would guess a 5 ton capacity would handle any automobile of those days. As to the Alcantara's hydraulic cranes, I sympathize, I served on the N.S. Savannah, she had hydraulic winches, they were miserable to work with, noisy,leaked oil and crept. Which also brings up the subject of raked masts, Savannah had them, they didn't help, but they did work. We used pairs of booms as you describe, we called them Married Falls. You spotted the booms then heaved the guys tight. Raise the load by heaving

  8. David Haisman David Haisman

    Hello Charlie, Thanks for getting back to me on that however, I wouldn't consider the derrick in question to be anything other than a ''normal services'' job. We always referred to Jumbo's as being on ''heavy lifts '' or ''foresters''(cargo ships with up to two jumbo's and twenty odd derricks or more) that would be capable of lifting a locomotive off of the dockside in some cases. These would be relatively shorter but with a far greater ''girth'' than that on Titanics foremast and would have wire topping lifts of 3 or 4 fold purchases. These jumbo's would have their own sampson posts in many cases as this would never do on a raked foremast. The head blocks would weigh anything up to half a ton or more and when overhauling this gear you would need to have plenty of experience and rigging skills. No doubt we use alternative methods and term many of our work practices differently to yourselves but probably end up with the same results.

  9. Charles B. Weeks Jr. Charles B. Weeks Jr.

    David: Generally I found that Jumbos had different SWLs depending on the number of Back Stays that were rigged. I doubt that Titanic's Fore Mast had any Back Stays, that is why I figure that that boom was strong enough to handle an automobile at most. Regards, Charlie Weeks

  10. David Haisman David Haisman

    Charlie, Jumbo's were certainly rated with a different SWL depending on the service the ship owner was involved in. Titanic's derrick was typical of many passenger ships I had sailed on and cars usually loaded in a cradle in those days along with general cargo. Ship owners weren't happy about too many cars being loaded down hatches mainly because nothing could be loaded on top of them on the tween decks. I would consider that was all Titanic had, a general services derrick. David H

  11. Charles B. Weeks Jr. Charles B. Weeks Jr.

    David: That sounds good to me. When you say derrick, do you mean boom or crane? To us they are different items. Very few ships seem to have married falls (two fixed booms) any more, slewing cranes or swinging single booms are more prevalant.I'm sure Titanic had what WSL and H&W thought proper for the service she was intended for. Regards, Charlie Weeks

  12. Scott R. Andrews Scott R. Andrews

    Hello Charlie, Regarding the working of the No. 1 hatch, in addition to the gin block you noted hanging from the stay above, there was provision for a derrick on the forward side of the mast as well. If you check the rigging plan, you will see the step plate drawn in this position with a notation stating "Step plate for derrick; derrick supplied by owner". The existence of the actual derrick, at least in the case of the Olympic, is confirmed by its appearance in a number of photographs, most notably the much-published series of photos taken while the Olympic and Titanic were together at H&W for the last time, when the Olympic returned to Belfast for propeller repairs. I don't know which books you have available, but if you have "Anatomy of the Titanic", see pages 14-15 and 96-97. In both photos, the two derricks on the Olympic can be seen. There is also a photo, probably taken from near the Musgrave Channel looking back towards the Lagan,

  13. David Haisman David Haisman

    Hello Charlie, Yes, perhaps you may refer to a derrick as a boom however, that term was never used in that context when I was at sea for that equipment. On the many passenger ships, tankers and cargo ships that I had served on throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's, ship designers and naval architects usually made provision for alterations in cases of war. It should therefore not be too surprising to find some odd fittings about the vessel and the many misleading write-ups, especially on a ship like Titanic. To find reinforced deck plates strategically placed for example, was quite common on some ships, obviously for gun enplacements and derrick provision would of course been at a premium when one takes into consideration trooping service. David H

  14. Charles B. Weeks Jr. Charles B. Weeks Jr.

    Scott & David: Indeed I've seen the photos you refer to, I haven't noticed the plate you mention or a place to attach the topping lift block. Also as you mentioned no boom cradle on the fore deck. Very perplexing. Which also brings to mind, when we view the wreck we see the remains of the fore mast but, I don't recall seeing anything of the heavylift boom. What became of it? Regards, Charlie Weeks

  15. Scott R. Andrews Scott R. Andrews

    Hello Charlie, "...I haven't noticed the plate you mention or a place to attach the topping lift block..." Looking at the photos previously referenced, the attachment point for the topping lift block appears to be on the forward side of the mast at about the same elevation as the corresponding point for the derrick on the after side of the mast, though, I'm still looking for a photo that shows this feature clearly. A picture showing the step plate and pivot pin for the forward derrick is little bit easier to find. On page 134 of "Anatomy of the Titanic", the step plate for the forward derrick appears immediately above the bell. This is the approximate location depicted in the rigging profiles for all three Olympic-class ships. Regards, Scott Andrews

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2005) Titanic's Cargo Gear (Titanica!, ref: #4331, published 11 January 2005, generated 30th May 2023 07:56:36 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-cargo-gear.html