107 #7: Titanic’s owners opposed the addition of more lifeboats, in order to give passengers more room on the promenade decks

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Bruce Ismay lifeboats Titanic
Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line

TRUE. The White Star Line knew that the Board of Trade was about to change the regulations, and they thought that they might be required to carry more lifeboats, so Double Acting Quadrant Welin davits, which could carry several lifeboats each, were fitted. Titanic was even fitted with boat chocks in her deck to carry 64 lifeboats, if necessary. However, Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line, didn’t see any need to put more boats on until they were required by these new regulations, especially as open promenade decks were a selling point, and these had been made even more spacious on the Olympic Class liners, due to their revolutionary new ventilation designs, which meant they could eliminate the unsightly deck cowls which crowded the decks of their Cunard rivals. The Olympic Class liners had achieved this by making the fourth funnel purely a ventilation shaft, rather than a true funnel taking smoke away from the boilers.

It is often said that Alexander Carlisle, brother-in-law of Harland & Wolff’s Chairman, Lord Pirrie, and Managing Director of the yard, before Thomas Andrews took over that position, urged Ismay to carry additional boats. Indeed, in an interview with the Daily Mail on April 18th, 1912 he said ‘As ships grew bigger, I was always in favour of increasing the lifeboat accommodation’. However, it seems he never told Bruce Ismay this because, as he revealed later in the same interview: ‘If any ships had been fitted with the full number of lifeboats I proposed, it would no doubt have set up an invidious situation with respect to the steamers of all lines now trading in the North Atlantic. It would have drawn attention.’

As it turns out, the regulations which would have come into force if Titanic had not sunk might actually have required ships like Titanic to carry fewer lifeboats, as the proposal was to further connect lifeboat provision to efficient watertight subdivision.

Ismay’s view that they didn’t need more lifeboats didn’t arise from a reckless disregard for safety or a foolish desire to have a more attractive ship at the expense of more essential features. His opinion of lifeboats was shared by others of the time, such as Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, Titanic’s rescue ship:

AHR111: (Senator Smith) ‘Are these regulations of the British Board of Trade new regulations or old regulations?’
‘They are of recent date.’
AHR112: ‘The fact that, under these regulations, you are obliged to carry 20 lifeboats and the Titanic was only obliged to carry 20, with her additional tonnage, indicates either that these regulations were prescribed long ago—’
(Rostron, interposing): ‘No, sir; it has nothing to do with that. What it has to do with is the ship itself. The ships are built nowadays to be practically unsinkable, and each ship is supposed to be a lifeboat in itself. The boats are merely supposed to be put on as a standby. The ships are supposed to be built, and the naval architects say they are, unsinkable under certain conditions. What the exact conditions are, I do not know, as to whether it is with alternate compartments full, or what it may be. That is why in our ship we carry more lifeboats, for the simple reason that we are built differently from the Titanic; differently constructed.’

Nevertheless, following the Titanic disaster Ismay personally ordered that all ships owned by the International Mercantile Marine, White Star Line’s parent company, should carry lifeboats for all.

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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