107 #67: Titanic’s officers thought her lifeboats might break if they were lowered fully loaded

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Titanic lifeboats

TRUE. Titanic’s boats had been inspected on 30th May, 1911, by William H. Chantler, a ship Surveyor in the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, stationed at Belfast, and found fit to carry 70 persons:

24038: ‘On the 19th May, 1911, did you receive special instructions to look closely into the construction of all new boats?’

‘From the Board of Trade, yes.’

24039: ‘That was the 19th May, 1911?’

‘Yes, the 19th May, 1911.’

24040: ‘Did you begin to inspect the Titanic’s boats on the 30th May, 1911?’

‘Yes.’

24041: ‘After this?’

‘Yes, ten days after.’

24042: ‘Did you inspect them carefully?’

‘Yes.’

24043: ‘Fourteen lifeboats and the two other boats?’

‘There were 14 section A boats and two of section D.’

24044: ‘Were they well made and of good material?’

‘They were well made and of good material.’

24045: ‘Would they be safe to lower from the davits full of passengers?’

‘I made a calculation and came to the conclusion that they would be.’

24046: ‘Now, what is the full capacity of those boats?’

‘I think it was 618 cubic feet.’

24047: ‘How many people ought to be lowered in one of these lifeboats?’

‘Under the statutory Rules they should carry 65.’

24048: ‘The boats that you saw, how many people would they take safely from the davits, in your judgment?’

‘Well, as many as the statutory Rules would allow.’

24049: ‘How many; cannot you give me a number; it would save a lot of time?’

‘A matter of 70.’

The Olympic Class lifeboats had also been tested by her builders, Harland & Wolff, on 9th May, 1911. At this test, one of Olympic’s lifeboats had been loaded with weights equivalent to a full compliment of 65 persons and successfully lowered up and down six times, without any sign of strain. However, neither Captain Smith nor any of Titanic’s officers seems to have been made aware of these tests, as Third Officer Pitman testified at the US Inquiry:

HJP834: ‘Do I correctly understand you to say that you would not consider it safe to load a boat to its full capacity at the rail before lowering it?’

‘No; I do not think it would be wise to do it.’

It is tragic that for this erroneous reason, Titanic’s most senior surviving officer, Charles Herbert Lightoller, chose to only half-fill Titanic’s lifeboats with women and children from the deck, with the intention of filling them with men later, when the boats were on the water; and because he had not been made aware of the speed with which Titanic would sink, he never had time to fill them completely:

14491: (The Commissioner) ‘There are two or three matters about the boats I should like to ask a question on. (To the witness.) I want to know whether you knew that those boats were not intended to be lowered full of people. Did you know that?’

‘We have no instructions to that effect, My Lord, but I knew that it was not practicable to lower them full of people.’

14492: ‘Had you any reason to suppose that they were weaker than they should have been?’

‘No. I have not had much experience with these Englehardt collapsible boats.’

14493: ‘I am not talking about collapsible boats merely, but the lifeboats?’

‘I should not think they were capable of being lowered full of people. They may be. I have never seen them full of people, but if they are only supposed to carry 65 people afloat, it hardly seems feasible that they would carry 65 people when suspended at each end. It does not seem seamanlike to fill a boat chock full of people when it is only suspended at each end. It is to guard principally against accidents in lowering. That must be taken into consideration a very great deal—the fact that you have to lower a boat from a great height and get her safely into the water. It is of more importance to get the boat into the water than it is to actually fill her at the boat deck, because it is no use filling her if you are going to lose those people before you get her down; it is far better to save a few and safely.’

14494: (Mr. Scanlan.) ‘Do you think you could have filled the boat still more in the water?’

‘Undoubtedly.’

14495: ‘If your organisation had been complete?’

‘I do not see the organisation would have prevented the ship sinking.’

14496: ‘I know it would not?’

‘It was that that prevented us putting the people in.’

In fact, Titanic’s lifeboats could have taken a weight equivalent to 130 people, suspended from both ends in the davits, as further tests to this type of lifeboat, carried out by Mr Chantler after the disaster, proved:

24052: (Mr. Rowlatt, to the witness) ‘Have you made a calculation to find what strain the boats would bear in being lowered?’

‘Yes, I made such a calculation. The results I arrived at were that the stress at the gunwale would be 2 cwts. to the square inch, and at the keel about 2 1/4 cwts.’

24053: ‘When did you make that calculation?’

‘After the casualty occurred.’

24054: ‘Is that more than the stress which would be brought to bear by the boat being lowered with 70 people in it?’

‘That is the stress that would be brought to bear with 65 persons in the boat, and with the boat suspended from the davits, not water-borne.’

24055: ‘Do you say that you made a calculation that shows the boat would stand a greater stress than that produced by the people being in it or not?’

‘The result of my calculation was that—’

24056: ‘That it would bear a greater stress?’

‘That it would bear a greater stress.’

24057: ‘Much greater?’

‘Considerably greater.’

24058: ‘Can you give us a percentage?’

‘Twice as much.’

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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