107 #33: If Titanic’s lookouts had had binoculars, they’d have spotted the iceberg earlier

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FALSE. Binoculars are intended for inspecting objects which have first been picked up by the naked eye. Using them to search for objects actually makes those objects harder to find as they dramatically restrict the field of vision; at sea they are also much less clear than the naked eye. One should also remember that it was pitch dark, and that binocular technology at the turn of the century was not very advanced. George Bartlett, Marine Superintendent of the White Star Line and Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve with 30 years’ experience at sea, 18 of which were on the Atlantic, said at the British Inquiry that in his experience binoculars were of use to officers, but not to seamen. It was the lookout’s job to simply notify the bridge immediately of anything they had seen, and the bridge would then use binoculars to identify the object:

21713: ‘look-out men are there to use their eyes and to report immediately anything they see, not to find out the character of that object they see.’

Bartlett thought that there should never be binoculars in the crow’s nest as it might encourage the look-outs to find out what they had seen, which was not their job and which would only delay them. Their job was to immediately ring the bell the moment they saw anything.

Others, including Bertram Hayes, master of another White Star Line vessel, agreed with this view. Second Officer Charles Lightoller thought that binoculars might be useful if a light had been seen at a distance, in which case the officers might ring to ask the lookout to identify it. However, he agreed that in the case of a ‘derelict wreck or iceberg’, the lookout should immediately alert the bridge by striking the bell before making any attempt to identify what he had seen:

14293: ‘If one of those men on the look-out had seen something and applied the glasses is it not possible that he might have been able to identify it as an iceberg sooner than with the naked eye?’
‘He might be able to identify it, but we do not wish him to identify it. All we want him to do is to strike the bells.’

14294: ‘I will put this to you: Supposing a man on the look-out fancies he sees something and strikes the bell, and it turns out not to be anything, I should think he would be reprimanded?’

‘He is in every case commended.’

The policy on whether glasses should be supplied to the crow’s-nest was set by the captain, and Titanic therefore was not obliged to supply them to the lookout men. Captain Lord of the Californian also considered the provision of glasses to lookouts unnecessary, and had only once done so, on the morning of April 15th, 1912, when he sent a lookout up above the crow’s nest to look for Titanic:

STL121: ‘Would glasses in the hands of the lookout be of any assistance in determining proximity to ice?’

‘No, I should not think so. I would never think of giving a man in the lookout a pair of glasses.’

STL122: ‘And have never done so?’

‘I did once. I do not think I will ever again.’

STL123: ‘When did you do it?’

‘The morning I was looking for the Titanic, I gave a pair to the lookout. I pulled a man up to the main truck in a coal basket when I heard of it, so he would have a good view around, and gave him a pair of glasses.’

STL124: ‘Let us understand each other. That was at the time when you were increasing your vigilance?’

‘Yes, sir.’

STL125: ‘And when you had sent an additional lookout to the crow’s nest?’

‘No; I pulled him up to the main truck, which is about 30 feet higher than the crow’s nest; pulled him up in a coal basket.’

STL126: ‘When you did that, you gave him glasses?’

‘Gave him glasses.’

STL127: ‘Of course, that was in daylight?’

‘Oh, yes.’

STL128: ‘And that is the only time you ever used glasses in the crow’s nest?’

‘The first time I ever heard of it.’

STL129: ‘Let me ask, where did you get these glasses that you gave to that extra lookout that morning?’

‘I took them off the bridge; a spare pair that were on the bridge.’

STL130: ‘You have glasses on the bridge for your own use?’


STL131: ‘And yet you have no glasses in the crow’s nest for the use of the lookout?’


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