- Which is indeed, quite true. The first boat (7) was launched at 12.40 and the last under davits, the 18th ("D") left at 2.05am. Some 40 people managed to utilise the last two craft, one of which was swamped and the other was upside down.
But this isn't necessarily the whole story. To discuss this matter, we need to consider the various aspects relating to the preparation and the launching of the lifeboats before we can determine some conclusions.
It is well known that at least some of the crew were not familiar with the davits. Henry Harper's description is eloquent: "Presently a number of stewards and other men of the ship's company began to fuss with the tackle of a couple of lifeboats near where we were on the upper deck. I say "fuss" with them, but I might as well say "make a mess of them." They seemed quite unused to handling boat gear." Although he was talking of stewards, it is clear from other statements that the seamen also had problems with the equipment. However, reading their testimonies, one would not know of this!
One possibility for this lack of proficiency may be because of the unfamiliarity with the new davits. They had been fitted to relatively few ships and out of the deck crew on board, 17 of them had come straight from the Olympic, and hence had some exposure to the Welin davits. Many crew had come from the Oceanic, which had older style davits. Of course, some crewmen who had come from the Oceanic could have spent some time on the Olympic in the preceeding 10 months but I have no data for their working history. It is quite plausible that some men simply did not know how to operate this new equipment.
On the whole, the only other examples of the crew being inefficient with the equipment is due to interference; seaman Fred Clench was starting to unlace boat 11, but was diverted to the other side of the ship by an officer. This may explain why the aft starboard boats were relatively late in being prepared for loading and launch; steward Fred Ray said that he saw the first boat lowered and saw boat 9 being swung out shortly before this. The point is that by 12.40am, No.9 was not ready. There were possibly others, if crewmen like Clench were seconded to other posts. Indeed, Boatswain's mate Albert Haines also said, "we were turning out the after boats while they were filling the forward one."
The capacities of the lifeboats are well known; in particular the 30 foot lifeboats were rated for 65 people. But it is also well known that very few boats departed with anything close to this number. How many could they actually hold? And was 65 people a practical value? As in the rest of this essay, we shall only consider the larger size lifeboats for simplicity.
If all the benches and thwarts could be laid out, end for end, the total length would be about 80 feet. 80 divided by 65 would be about 1.2 feet; this is the width that each person would have to take up, without anyone standing. But it is not as simple as that, as the diagram below shows.
From Dave Gittin's excellent ebook, modern day SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations would restrict the number of people in a 30 foot long Titanic lifeboat to only 34 using a prescribed "footprint". In fact, as Gittins points out, this is generous; SOLAS would prohibit people from sitting on the ledge around the perimeter, meaning that each full sized boat would only be able to carry 24 people today.
Using the "6 to a thwart" figure, we get the following:
This gives a total of 60 people; it seems reasonable to assume that the actual theoretical seated capacity is somewhere between 46 and 60. For simplicity, I shall assume an average value of 53 people during this discussion. But in actuality, it is not as simple as this.
The lifejackets would only add an extra 2 1/2 inches to the seating footprint due to the thickness of the cork blocks on the rear; not enough to impede anyone else nearby or take up much more room.
According to a respected analysis, boats 13 and 15 were heavily loaded - 55 and 68 people respectively and it is instructive to analyse these two craft further. How full were they?
If one looks in the various accounts and testimonies, there are some clues. Lookout Reginald Lee (boat 13) told the British Inquiry, "I was standing in the bottom of the boat" and Ruth Becker in the same boat told a TV interviewer in the 1980s that "it was standing room only" (in another interview she said, "Lifeboat No. 13 that I was in had about 60 or 70 people in it, so it was filled to standing room with men and women in every conceivable condition of dress and undress."). Walter Nichols (15) recollection's printed in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was that, "The women in our boat didn't see the [floating] bodies [in the morning]. They were too far down in the bottom of the boat...The women we had on board were huddled down in the center of the boat. Some of them were standing, but most of them were squatting down" Coupled together these point to every last space in the boat, including the spaces between the thwarts, being taken up.
There are other scattered mentions of how much the boats were crowded:
There are other examples of people standing but in some cases correctly assigning the person to a boat is controversial.[Footnote 2]
One must necessarily be wary, if one uses the argument that a full boat implies that people had to stand; Marie Young said, "We depended on girls to steer us, and all night the women rowed, standing facing the men, so four hands were throwing all bodily strength into each pull of the oars" (Washington Post, April 21, 1912). Mary Wick told her sister Mrs.Myron Arms upon arrival in New York, "The rowers had the center seats, while most of the women stood all night long." In boat 6, Helen Candee said that a woman "standing" near her helped with the rowing. This boat, like 8, was underfilled, with about 25 people aboard when she left the Titanic.
They were in boat 8, which had approximately 27 people aboard. It is hard to imagine this is a simple case of confusion caused by imprecise language. What of this, then: Norman Chambers, in boat 5 (about 36 people) wrote in the Lawrenceville Alumni Bulletin (October 1912), "When we were finally in the water, the passengers were so tightly packed in a standing position that the little quartermaster had great difficulty in crawling between our legs to reach the trigger amidships for releasing the falls simultaneously...Up to the time of the sinking, most of the men had been standing up, the women sitting on the benches around the edge of the boat. Later, when we had arranged ourselves as best we could, we were, with the exception of some three or four men, comfortably seated, but crowded ... the boat being just manageable!" 3rd Officer Pitman told the inquisitors in America that this boat could have taken a few more in; he also tellingly said that, "There is no room to move with 60 in it." Also in that boat, Karl Behr reminisced in 1944, "Our little group was congregated in the stern of the life boat. Dick Beckwith and I took turns rowing one of the large sweep oars. Helen, who stood next to me leaned over after some ten minutes or more and quietly said, 'The boat is leaking badly, I am standing in water.'"
There were about 36 in Chambers's boat, but we saw above that approximately 53 people could fit in. So why was his boat so full? If one were being cynical, one could say that this was a ploy to convince others, and perhaps himself, that a rescue attempt to pick up those in the water would be futile.
There is another factor to consider: the oars. There were 10 of then, with corresponding thole pins and this would eat up a lot of space between the thwarts if one was to pull away from the sinking ship successfully. Admittedly, not every boat used up all 10 and some even lost oars overboard, but this is another factor to be considered. My diagram shows that two or three people could be seated on side benches, but bear in mind what Edith Rosenbaum wrote; "I was seated on the gunwale between two oarsmen and I caught the stroke of the oar either on the chest or the back, alternating with each stroke." Elsewhere she wrote that she had to alternately lean forwards and backwards to prevent impeding the rowers. Obviously what she is saying is that there was only room for one person on the benches!
Saloon Steward William Ward (Boat 9, about 40 people) said in America, that it was "a full boat ... We had not room to pull the oars. [The occupants] had to move their bodies with us when we were rowing." In boat 11 (about 50 people), Steward Edward Wheelton said, that they "Had difficulty rowing because the passengers were so close together" and steward Joseph Wheat commented that it was "quite full she could not hold another soul." But it is very subjective; Dr.Washington Dodge watched the boats on the starboard side leave, before finding himself in boat 13. He said, "not a boat was launched which would not held from ten to twenty five more persons." [Footnote 3] Of course, Dodge had a view from above, watching boats 7, 5, 3, 1, 9 and 11 being filled and reaching the water. He wasn't in the boats to judge how comfortable it was to the occupants, c.f.Norman Chamber's account.
It is very hard to determine how full the boats could conceivably be. But the volumes of "Titanic: The Ship Magnificent" tell us that with the weight[Footnote 4] of 66 men and 4 oars, the freeboard (the distance between the gunwale and the waterline) of the boats was found to be 2 feet 3 inches; without equipment this was 3 feet 6 inches and the estimated freeboard with 66 men and full equipment was estimated to be not less than 2 feet[Footnote 5]. With these figures, one must remember seaman John Poingdestre's evidence in London; his boat (No.12) had helped to pick up the stranded occupants of overturned boat "B"; although he claimed to have about 90 men in his boat, the authors of the occupancy paper conclude that there were 69 on board. Poingdestre said that, "The starboard gunwale was getting under water every time anybody moved", albeit the sea was choppy at the time anyway. It seems likely that considerably more than 66 people were on board for the gunwale to be so close to the waterline. Steward Sam Rule (15) also said that his boat was far down in the water ("right to the gunwales") [Footnote 6], and Bertha Mulvihill in the same boat said that her hair dangled in the water when she leaned against the gunwale. Fireman Frank Dymond, who was in charge, told J.Rummage in a letter, "We had, to move very carefully, for the gunwales were never more than 6in. above the water, and she was leaking on one side just about the water-level, where she had been bumped on the ship's gunwale. We were only able to get at five of the eight oars, and the men only rowed to keep warm."
It would be decidely odd if a boat should be so low down in the water being so slightly over her rated capacity!
What of the actual occupants of the boats? The boats may have been able to hold 66 people, but what do we mean by this? If "people" means adults, then a babe in arms could be accomodated with little extra weight penalty - and since they would be carried, they would occupy the "holder's" footprint, taking up no extra room. A boat for 66 grown adults could, say, hold 50 adults and 30-40 babies for the same weight. A similar argument could be made for children, except that they would certainly occupy some room unless their guardian chose to hold them in their lap.
With this in mind, the boats could conceivably be overloaded, with the proviso that the davits and falls support the weight during descent[Footnote 7].
The Welin davits were based on a design that had been used on a few previous ships and were able to handle more than one boat; in fact, several plans and recollections have been related showing the davits with up to 4 boats. There seems to be little concern about their capabilities; as far as this author is known, all worked correctly.
The boats could be swung out in under two minutes, according to tests performed by the Board of Trade. But there is something that should be remembered; for each davit pair (that is two davits on the same foundation), there was only one cranking arm. When one boat had been moved outboard using the screw mechanism, a lever was thrown, allowing the other arm to be manipulated. In practise this meant that two boats side-by-side could be moved outwards in under four minutes, but not simultaneously. Would a crewman unfamiliar with these davits know this? It seems unlikely but it might contribute to the impression left upon some passengers that the crew did not know what they were doing in some cases.
The falls were attached to the boat by means of hooks; a discharge lever in the bottom of the boats would be pulled, which would then pull a hook out of an eyelet at the end of the falls, thus releasing the ropes. Cutting the falls meant that they could not be re-used [Footnote 8]. With the Titanic, this was almost of no consequence as most of the ropes were only to be used once anyway. However, it is intructive to discuss the cutting of the ropes as it may indicate a problem with Murray's Disengaging Gear (or it may point to a difficulties with accessibility or unfamiliarity with the mechanism[Footnote 9]);
There is obviously something awry with some people's recollections, as both boats 13 and 15 were lowered and retrieved on April 10th as part of a Board of Trade inspection. This proves that there was nothing wrong with the disconnection mechanism for those two boats at least. Other cases of "cut falls" may be due to a misinterpretation of the situation[Footnote 11].
At the US Inquiry, seaman George Moore said, "There were 6 quartermasters, 6 lookout men, 13 in the port watch, 12 in the starboard watch, and 7 day hands." This is the same number that Seaman Osman gave, but he did not include quartermasters in this number. In his tally, he gave the following: "25 altogether in both watches, 13 in one watch and 12 in the other; then there was 2 deckmen, the cook of the forecastle, 2 window cleaners, 6 lookout men, and 2 masters-at-arms counted with the seamen." The deck crew lists 52 out of 66 men as officers, seamen, quartermasters or lookouts. Using the criteria mentioned by the two men in this paragraph, there were a total of 59 people; this also includes the carpenter (and presumably joiner), boatswain (and his mate) the lamp trimmer and the two master-at-arms who may be regarded as able bodied seamen. These inclusions are based on testimony at the British Inquiry where it was concluded that stewards and cooks may be included in this tally if they can prove that they had served as AB seamen. Based on these flexible criteria, at the US Inquiry, 83 sailors were mentioned as being on the ship; Lightoller said there were 71. Some "non-sailor" crewmen, such as Leading Fireman Charles Hendrickson, also claimed to have the necessary skills to prepare a boat for lowering. And seaman Frank Evans said that he helped to lower boat 10 level with the boat deck with the help of a steward. So, it is difficult to be specific when wondering how many people with seaman skills were actually on board.
Did any of the listed seamen lack the skills to handle a boat? While some were uncouth, there is only one instance (as far as I know) of a surprising inability to handle the craft. Henry Harper (Harper's Weekly, April 27, 1912) in boat 3 remarked, "Somehow or other they got her clear at last, and the four men at the oars began to row. And such rowing! You've seen the young man who hires a boat on Central Park lake on Sunday and tries to show off? Well, about like that - skying the oar on every recover, burying the blade on the pull or missing it altogether. There was only one man in the four who knew how to row. The steering was worse. The four oarsmen paddled as briskly as they could, and our boat, with say, some forty people in it, began to move away from the ship, slowly but not surely. For the man at the tiller would pull it toward himself for a while and send her around to port, or push the tiller away and swerve her around to starboard.
"Ow!" he exclaimed; "let's get on. There'll be a big wave when she goes under - ow! A terrible big wave! - so let's get out of her way!"
But the poor fellow was so anxious to escape from the neighborhood of the Titanic that he kept steering in half-circles or worse. At last he headed the boat clear around so that her bow was pointed straight toward the ship. I couldn't stand that.
"Here!" I cried, "do you want to run the ship down? I guess you may have steered with a wheel, but surely you've never handled a tiller. Shove the tiller the opposite to the way you want to go, and you'll be all right." He got her straightened out then, and our poor crew paddled very slowly away from the Titanic."
The man at the tiller was seaman George Moore! He gave evidence at the US Inquiry and he mentioned none of the above. It is tempting to think that the one man out of four who could row was AB James Anderson; the other crewman in the boat were members of the engineering crew[Footnote 12].
Although not germane to this discussion a few stewards did feign knowledge of rowing in order to escape from the ship.
To reiterate, we shall only consider full sized (30 foot) long boats in this section rather than the smaller collapsibles and emergency boats.
We know the davits were built to handle more than one boat. How long could it potentially take to recycle a pair of falls and re-use them for a boat on the same set of davits? Fortunately, there is some data; boat 2 was launched at 1.45pm, with boat "D" twenty minutes later[Footnote 13]. This is slightly misleading as neither boat was full to capacity; boat 2 had about 17 people and "D" had only 20. And neither was lowered the full 60 feet to the water; Emily Ryerson wrote in an affidavit that when boat 4 (launched 5 minutes after No.2 and only slightly aft) left, "A" deck was only about 20 feet from the sea, meaning that the boat deck was some 30 feet from the sea.
We must ask ourselves how long could it take to fill a boat up with the nominal capacity of 65 people, lower it the full 60 feet distance and then have the next boat ready? It is a matter for conjecture, but I would suggest at the most, 35 minutes. Walter Nichols said in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle that "Altogether it took us about twenty minutes to fill our lifeboat  and get away" - and his boat was full.
An increased number of boats presents other problems: the clutter on the boat deck would severely handicap rapid entrance to the craft as one would have to clamber over them. A solution to this problem would be to lower the boats to "A" deck and enter them from there, assuming that the glass windows on the forward half had been cranked down. Even this is not a problem; the aft boats could be filled first while the forward screens were cranked down.
What else could go wrong to scupper the evacuation? A lesser known problem is that the falls could become fouled, caused by the block on the davit arms rotating. Lamp Trimmer Hemming noted this problem when boat "A" was being prepared, "I rendered up the foremast fall, got the block on board, and held on to the block while a man equalized the parts of the fall. He said, 'There is a futterfoot in the fall, which fouls the fall and the block.' " At the British Inquiry, Harland and Wolff marine architect Edward Wilding stated, "[the falls] tends to twist itself up, owing to the way the rope is made ... you can untangle them. There is nothing impossible in the untangling if you take a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes and disentangle those falls ... the best thing is to pull it up and straighten it out on deck ... Recover it by a hook, or something of that sort, and pull it out on deck."
This would add a latency of 15 to 20 minutes to the rope retrieval and re-deployment time. On the night the Titanic sank, this was not a problem; only Hemming noticed a fouling and by then it was too late to do anything about it.
It is a valid point that every time a boat left, it depleted the number of seamen available and there could conceivably come a point whereby there would be none left on the ailing vessel. But were seamen necessary for the handling of a boat? Two of the 18 that left (13 and 15) ended up with a fireman at the tiller. It is also noteworthy that no-one was put in charge of these boats when they were lowered; it was only when they were in the water that it was decided whom was to be in charge - Barrett in 13 and Dymond in 15. These boats were also lacking seamen; if the current understanding of the boat's occupany is correct, they had three and one respectively. This lack of seamen and the crowded nature of the boats didn't seem to hamper their handling. Estimates vary wildly, but boat 13 managed to get somewhere between half a mile to a mile and a half in the forty minutes it took the Titanic to sink. Boat 15 was between 500 yards and 3/4s of a mile (1320 yards) in the same space of time. So much for the myth that only seamen could handle boats!
No doubt the passengers, especially the ladies, helped in the rowing; boats 6 (2 men, one of whom was a lookout, rowing), 8 (2 or 3 men rowing despite some ineptitude) and 16 (perhaps 3 men rowing?) managed to get somewhere about a mile away from the stricken vessel. It is hard to believe this distance could be achieved with so few people rowing. In fact, this is rhetorical, as we know the passengers did indeed assist.
So, what would we have to assume in a "perfect" evacuation? We have the following list:
With the boat statistics discussed above, this author would recommend about 40 adults in a boat; the remaining 25 spaces could be loaded with children and babies. As stated, since they would not occupy as much room or have as much weight as a fully grown adult, conceivably more than 25 could be placed in a boat but this is unquantifiable.
With this in mind, we can create an assumed schedule for the evacution, using the starboard quarter's boat stations as an example:
There were 8 officers and 4 boat sections, each one consisting of 4 davit pairs. I suggest 2 officers to each "quadrant" of boats. I have abitrarily placed a junior and a senior officer together. In this scheme, a staggered boat lowering plan is suggested; for instance, boat 9 and 13, and then 11 and 15, allowing the officers to superintend one boat at a time. This also reduces the number of seamen necessary to lower the boats, as the men who lowered boat 9 could then work on 11, and then back to boat 9's placing. This means only 4 seamen to lower, rather than 8. Note also that I have named the boats to indicate successive launches from specific davits, eg. 9a, 9b, 9c etc. for boats lowered from No. 9's station. I have placed an arbitary gap of 5 minutes between adjacent boat launchings. Note that I have also not included the 15 or 20 minutes to de-foul boat falls.
|Time||Boat 15 station||Boat 13 station||Boat 11 station||Boat 9 station||Running total|
|12.40am||Boat 13a launched||Boat 9a launched||130 people|
|12.45am||Boat 15a launched||Boat 11a launched||260 people|
|1.15am||Boat 13b launched||Boat 9b launched||390 people|
|1.20am||Boat 15b launched||Boat 11b launched||520 people|
|1.50am||Boat 13c launched||Boat 9c launched||650 people|
|1.55am||Boat 15c launched||Boat 11c launched||780 people|
In 1 1/4 hours, 780 people could have been saved in one quadrant of boats. Extrapolating this to all four quadrants, this leads to a possible 3120 people. This is in excess of the number of people on the maiden voyage, but not enough for the full complement of some 3500 people. Potentially these extra 400 people could be evacuated utilising the remaining boats as rafts, and floating them off the deck? Or some boats could possibly be overloaded, as we have seen above? Or perhaps a few crucial minutes could be shaved off the time necessary to cycle the davits and falls? As stated above, the time taken for boat 2/"D"'s davits to be reused was 20 minutes. This is partially because the boats were lowered a comparitively short distance to the water and hence the falls could be retrieved sooner. As the Titanic dipped lower in the water, this would apply to all the boats on the forward boat deck (conversely, the time taken for the aft boats would be increased.)
Note that, if the crew could not launch two boats from each davit pair in 1 hour and 40 minutes and thus save naerly everyone on the ship, it speaks volumes for their competency.
The big difference here is that the boats in this proposed scheme are being handled in a parallel capacity; the lowering schedule is interleaved. On the night of the disaster, once a boat was launched the crew moved onto the next one. There was obviously no need to stay at a boat station with no boat there. In short, in the early hours of April 15th, the boat lowerings were tackled in a serial capacity - that is, one after the other.
So, in this staggered arrangement, how many crew would be needed to lower the lifeboats? Just 32, well within the number of "official" seamen onboard. The myth that the Titanic would run out of crew to lower and save 2200 people is exploded, finally.