Questions and Statements about the Titanic’s Sinking.

10 Nov

Just as the Titanic has its legions of fans, affectionately known as ‘Titaniacs’, the ship also has its hundreds of cynics, critics and just plain clueless people, who make sweeping statements, outrageous suggestions or ask questions which can only lead to unhappy answers. Here I’ll list some of the more…interesting…statements and questions that I’ve read in my time:

1. “If the lookouts had binoculars, they would’ve seen the iceberg earlier! Why didn’t they have any?”

This is a popular assertion. Yes, if you have distance-viewing equipment, you can see things in the distance a lot easier and a lot quicker! DUUUH! On the surface, it sounds perfectly logical. But apply this to the Titanic scenario, and it falls down flat like a row of dominoes. Here’s why:

Binoculars (or indeed, any distance-viewing aid, such as a monocular or a telescope), while they greatly increase how far you can see, also greatly decrease your field of vision. It’s no point being able to see ten miles out to sea if you can only look a total of six inches either way with your eyes. You’ve effectively created tunnel-vision for yourself. Without peripheral vision, you’re basically staring into a pair of tubes in a black room.

On the night in question, being almost pitch black with still water and no breaking-water at the base of the ‘berg, the Titanic’s fate was almost invisible to the ship’s lookouts, with a wide field of vision and the help of the ship’s lights. Having bincoulars would only have narrowed their field of vision even more, making them effectively blind. You can’t see something if you don’t know it’s there. They wouldn’t have seen the iceberg because they wouldn’t have a ‘reference point’. By that I mean, they wouldn’t be able to say: “If we start at the tip of the bow and work our way forward, we’ll focus on that area in front of the ship”, because they wouldn’t able to FIND the bow of the ship with their field of sight so severely restricted. If you don’t believe me…Go out into the sky at night with a telescope or some binoculars. Look at the ground. Put the binoculars to your eyes. WITHOUT taking them AWAY from your eyes…look up and try and find the moon. Can you find it? No. It’s impossible to look for it if you don’t know it’s there and it’s impossible to see it without having first seen it with your naked eyes. This was the predicament that the Titanic’s lookouts faced, and why binoculars would’ve been almost no help at all.

As to why they didn’t have any binoculars, well, there were binoculars onboard the Titanic, but they were locked in a cupboard and the crewman who had the key, had taken it with him when he disembarked the ship before it sailed off into history.

2. “Why didn’t they just stop the ship?”

Basic laws of physics is why not. Anyone who passed high-school science will know that the larger an object is, the harder it is to set in motion, and the harder it is to arrest that motion. The Titanic simply wasn’t able to stop in time. During her sea-trials, the Titanic accelerated to ‘full ahead’, a maximum speed of 23kt. She then had her engines stopped and then run full astern at maximum speed. It took her half a mile to stop. The ship had roughly half a mile between the iceberg and her bow when the iceberg was sighted and the crew had only 37 seconds to react. Furthermore, on open ocean, the ship would have had nothing to slow its momentum, apart from the drag of the water.

3. “If they had more lifeboats onboard, they would’ve saved everyone!”

A lot of people have said this. And on the surface, it sounds logical, but unfortunately, it would not have helped. The Titanic had twenty lifeboats; sixteen wooden ones and four Englehardt collapsable lifeboats with canvas sides. In the two hours and forty minutes in which the Titanic sank, the ship’s officers only managed to launch eighteen of those boats at a rate of one every five minutes starting at 12:45am (a full hour after the sinking started). Even if they had the full complement of lifeboats that the Titanic could carry (64 in total), they wouldn’t have been able to launch them all in time, which means the provision of extra lifeboats was rather pointless.

4. “Why didn’t they fully-load the lifeboats before lowering them?”

For all of the Titanic’s history, one of the biggest controversies was why the lifeboats were never fully-loaded when they were filled with passengers and lowered into the water. The reasons for this are numerous and will take some time to explain. There are several factors which one has to consider about the Titanic’s lifeboats to understand why the officers did what they did.

Passengers didn’t want to go.

Brainwashed by media hype, passengers believed that the Titanic was well and truly unsinkable. With this in mind, they did not see the point in getting into the lifeboats. Officers could not force passengers into the boats, so they took what few that would get into the boats, and then lowered them away. They could not afford to wait around and waste time while passengers made up their mind, which was almost invariably, to stay onboard the ship.

The Drop.

The Titanic was a big ship. From the boat deck down to the waterline, it was a drop of sixty-two feet, just over twenty meters, into ice-cold water that was 28F, or -2.2C. Most passengers were not brave enough to get into a tiny wooden lifeboat which was swinging out over the side of the ship on a set of ropes. They considered the Titanic to be a much safer option, foregoing what was probably their only chance of survival.

The Weight of the Boats.

This was probably the officers’ biggest reason for not wanting to fully load the boats with passengers. The lifeboats themselves were already incredibly heavy. I know, they’re made of wood. They can’t weigh that much, can they? Yes they can. The average Titanic lifeboat weighs between two and three tons…empty. Add passengers and that increases the overall weight to five to six tons. Considering that they only had twenty boats, the officers didn’t want to be put in a situation where an overloaded lifeboat snapped free from its falls (the ropes which lowered it into the water) and crashed into the ocean, 62ft below, possibly smashing the boat like matchwood and killing or injuring several dozen people. They preferred to do it safe.

5. “Why weren’t the ship’s pumps turned on?”

The ship’s pumps were turned on. When the Titanic started sinking, the captain ordered all of the ship’s pumps to be turned on, in an effort to bail out the water. Unfortunately, the ship did not have any pumps which were designed to force out the water quicker than it was coming in. She had bilge-pumps for ejecting water from the bilge (the very bottom of the ship), and she had ash-ejector pumps, which forced out a slurry of water and ash into the ocean, but she did not have any pumps purely for preventing the ship from sinking. The water was pouring in much too fast for the Titanic’s small pumps to ever force it out at a speed quick enough to keep the ship afloat.

6. “Why didn’t passengers swim to the iceberg?”

They didn’t swim to the iceberg simply because they didn’t know where it was! By the time the ship had stopped, the iceberg was at least half a mile away, if not more. It would have been impossible to locate it in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean without any lights.

7. “Why didn’t the ‘Californian’s’ wireless-operator stay on the air throughout the night?”

Cyril Evans, the wireless-operator of the S.S. Californian, shut off his wireless set shortly after 11:15pm and went to sleep at 11:30pm on the night of the sinking. The Titanic would strike the iceberg just ten minutes later. Why didn’t he remain on the air longer?

Because he didn’t want to, he didn’t need to, and he wasn’t legally obligated to. Until after the sinking of the Titanic, it was not mandatory to maintain 24/7 radio-contact at sea for purposes of safety.

8. “Why did Jack Phillips ignore Cyril Evans’s radio-message?”

One of the most famous events in Titanic history. At 11:00pm, Cyril Evans sent out a general message to all ships (including the Titanic) that the ‘Californian’ had stopped for the night, on account of the pack-ice near the ship, which made it too dangerous to continue sailing until morning. The exchange between the two wireless-operators, word for word, was:

Evans: “Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice”.
Phillips: “Shut up! Shut up! I am busy! I am working Cape Race!”

Why did Phillips ignore Evans? Because Evans interrupted him, simple as that. Phillips was busy sending wireless messages (in morse code), to the wireless land-station in Cape Race, Newfoundland, several hundred miles away. Evans, just a few miles from the Titanic on the S.S. Californian, sent a radio-message that was so loud, it nearly blew Philllips’s eardrums out. Apart from that, Evans did not prefix his ice-warning message with the three letters: “MSG”.

“MSG” stands for “Master Service Gram”; (telegram, that is). All messages prefixed “MSG” had to be sent DIRECTLY to the captain AT ONCE. Evans’s failure to follow basic wireless-operation procedure of the time, meant that to Phillips, Evans’s message was just as good as saying: “Sup dudez? Wez stopped by ice and stuff and like…yeah. Out, man!” instead of something more official, along the lines of: “IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Stopped due to heavy ice in path. Please inform captain ASAP”.

9. “Why didn’t the Titanic just simply back up to the iceberg, park there and offload all her passengers onto it?”

Because it could not be done. For the Titanic to make it back to the iceberg, she’d first have to know where it was, which was impossible. And even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to navigate effectively, backwards, towards the iceberg. And even if she could do that, the momentum built up during the journey would mean that the Titanic would not have been able to stop (AGAIN!) in time to ‘park’ next to the iceberg, probably resulting in another collision and even more damage.

10. “Did a ship’s officer really commit suicide?”

The general consensus is yes, an officer did commit suicide. Was it 1st Officer William McMaster Murdoch? Nobody will ever know for sure.

11. “Did ship’s officers ever shoot anyone on the Titanic?

No. Certainly there were revolvers and ammunition on the Titanic (at least five pistols, four belonging to the crew, one belonging to a passenger), but none of these were ever used to kill anyone. 5th Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe had a revolver (of his own, private property), and the other, more senior officers had revolvers (Webley & Scott breaktop revolvers, which were part of the ship’s supplies), and certainly, Lowe fired at least four shots during the sinking to scare passengers back from swamping the boats, but there is no evidence to suggest that anyone was actually shot and killed or wounded on the Titanic, except the unknown officer who commited suicide.

12. “If the ‘Californian’ had answered the Titanic’s calls for distress, she could have saved everyone”

On the surface, this looks like a rather easy thing to say. If the Californian had answered the Titanic’s radio calls or distress-rockets as quickly as possible, she could be alongside the Titanic and would have saved everyone at once! Unfortunately this isn’t the case, as there were several things preventing it.

Stopped for the night.

The Californian’s engines were stopped for the night. This means that it would take a considerable amount of time to get them going again. Once they were going, it would have taken time to get the ship moving, time which Titanic didn’t have.


The Californian would be sailing through several icebergs to reach the Titanic, which would have greatly impeded her speed and progress.


Even IF the Californian had built up enough steam. Even IF she had reached the Titanic, she still needed to cart all the passengers back and forth, using both her own, and the Titanic’s lifeboats as ferries. Even on a flat calm, still night like that of April 14th, 1912, this would’ve taken several hours. While this might have saved several more lives, it is unlikely that the Californian would still have managed to rescue everyone.

13. “Why was the Titanic going so fast? Why didn’t it slow down?

The Titanic was going so fast because it had a schedule to keep and it didn’t slow down because it wasn’t seen as being necessary. Don’t forget that time is money. If the Titanic arrived in New York late, it meant that passengers would cancel their tickets and pick other ships, which meant that the Titanic and the White Star Line, would lose money.

14. “Did that car in the Titanic film really exist?”

The car in which Jack and Rose had sex in, in the 1997 movie certainly exists. But I figure you’re asking: “Did it exist on the ship in real life?”. Yes it did. The car was a 1911 35hp Renault towncar, owned by Mr. William Carter Snr, a first-class passenger. The scenario in the movie would have been impossible, though, because the car was locked in a crate for the duration of the voyage. It is listed in the Titanic’s cargo-manifest as: “1 Case Auto – W. Carter”.

15. “Hitting the Iceberg Head-On would’ve Saved Everyone!”

This is debatable. The argument is that if the R.M.S. Titanic had slammed into the iceberg head-on, less of the ship would’ve been exposed to major damage and the ship’s ‘usinkable’ design-features would spring to the rescue. Here’s how it plays out:

The Titanic was designed to float with the first four, or any other two of her watertight compartments flooded. The argument contends that if the ship had crashed into the iceberg head-on, the first, or at the very most, first two compartments, would’ve been ruptured by the force of the collision. The water floods in, but the ship is in no immediate danger of sinking. It might even be able to continue sailing to New York City, or at the very worst, it would stay afloat long enough for rescue-ships to reach it and offload all her passengers.

When the Titanic was designed back in the early 1900s, the kinds of accidents it was being ‘protected’ against were T-bone accidents, with the bow of one ship crashing into the broadside of another, or vice-versa. Under these circumstances, where two or three bulkheads might be ruptured, yes, the ship would stay afloat. But the ships of the day were not designed to survive impacts with icebergs. In theory, the ‘headbutt’ argument with everyone (or most of the people) surviving sounds plausible, but as it’s never been put into practice, it is unknown how much structural damage the Titanic would really have sustained, having smashed into a mountain of ice (that’s what an iceberg literally is – ‘ice’ + German word ‘berg’, meaning ‘mountain’, literally ‘ice-mountain’). The ship might have been even more severely damaged and this would have caused great problems later on with the evacuation of passengers.


Posted by on November 10, 2009 in RMS Titanic and Other Ships


28 responses to “Questions and Statements about the Titanic’s Sinking.

  1. ashley

    June 7, 2010 at 11:24 PM

    this is a very good place to get information about history

    • scheong

      June 8, 2010 at 10:17 AM

      Thanks Ashley. Glad you’re enjoying it so much.

  2. Danniii. xx

    September 23, 2010 at 2:56 AM

    THis is good for me im doing a history product on it. One question there was a man pushing the captain to speed up the titanic so it could get a new world record. What was his name.???. x Thankyou

    • scheong

      September 23, 2010 at 9:54 AM

      The “world record” thing is hotly debated. Even if it were true, it would’ve been impossible, because the Titanic could never have built up enough speed (top speed 21kt, and there were ships that could go faster).

      If there was a guy, then it would’ve been Joseph Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line.

  3. Emma

    February 20, 2011 at 2:32 AM

    tho… alot of survivers have stated that people were actually shot because they tried to force themself into the lifeboats.


    November 27, 2011 at 11:03 AM


    • scheong

      November 27, 2011 at 1:31 PM

      Regarding the propellors, yes, I believe so. But even then, the reaction-times would’ve been too slow to affect a significant change in direction. Don’t forget that this is a 100-year-old ocean-liner. They didn’t move as easily as the ones we have today. And the ones we have today don’t move that easily either!


      November 28, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      A number of years ago I was a member of the Titanic Historical S ociety. I wrote to them about the idea of counterflooding to save the Titanic. The historian of the organization answered me and said that while theoritically it may have been possible, it was very improbable considering that the Titanic was an ocean liner and not a man of war.


    November 28, 2011 at 2:31 AM

    Probably true but they seemed able to throw both props in reverse reasonably quickly – who knows?

    • scheong

      November 28, 2011 at 6:38 AM

      They did, that’s true. But don’t forget that the Titanic was moving at top speed at the time. It would’ve taken time for the change in prop-direction to affect the movement or heading of the ship. Such a drastic change would take ages to have its full effect.

  6. Michael

    April 7, 2012 at 6:22 PM

    If the Californian was only a few miles away and visible from the decks of the Titanic, then why do you suppose none of the lifeboats rowed to the Californian?

    • scheong

      April 7, 2012 at 6:47 PM

      Mostly because it was dark, it was cold, they had no clear idea how far away the lights were, and they didn’t want to get lost.

    • hannah

      February 20, 2014 at 7:35 AM

      because the titanic captin told them not to and so they listened to the stupid captin

  7. robert

    April 16, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    thanks for your article, very interesting and it helps clarify the assumptions any novice reader would naturally have that is interested in studying the sinking of the titanic.

    • scheong

      April 16, 2012 at 6:37 PM

      You’re very welcome, Robert. That was indeed the point of this article. It’s gratifying to know that it’s purpose is being fulfilled!

  8. christopher gamboni

    April 16, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    I remember seeing an illustration of an ocean liner from the early period (?) with a huge spotlight on its bow. If Titanic had this it may have been able to spot the iceberg much earlier. The optical technology at that time (early 1900s) certainly had produced lamps with very high candlepower and throw and the Titanic ceretainly had the electrical generation capacity to power such a lamp. I wonder if the illustration I saw was of a ship after the sinkin g and if this was something that newer liners were equipped with bec ause of the Titanic disaster?

    • scheong

      April 16, 2012 at 11:54 PM

      Hi Chris,

      The Titanic, as I’m sure you know, did not posess headlights of any kind. It would’ve had navigational lights. A green starboard lamp and a red port lamp. And two masthead lights. But that was it.

      They certainly had the technology for powerful spotlights (probably taken from theatre technology of the era), but outside of military use, I don’t think they were ever placed on ships.

  9. John

    April 17, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    First, you have the messages out of order in the first contact with the Carpathia. BUT:

    “Why did Phillips ignore Evans? Because Evans interrupted him, simple as that. Phillips was busy sending wireless messages (in morse code), to the wireless land-station in Cape Race, Newfoundland, several hundred miles away. Evans, just a few miles from the Titanic on the S.S. Californian, sent a radio-message that was so loud, it nearly blew Philllips’s eardrums out. Apart from that, Evans did not prefix his ice-warning message with the three letters: “MSG”.

    “MSG” stands for “Master Service Gram”; (telegram, that is). All messages prefixed “MSG” had to be sent DIRECTLY to the captain AT ONCE. Evans’s failure to follow basic wireless-operation procedure of the time, meant that to Phillips, Evans’s message was just as good as saying: “Sup dudez? Wez stopped by ice and stuff and like…yeah. Out, man!” instead of something more official, along the lines of: “IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Stopped due to heavy ice in path. Please inform captain ASAP”.

    What you wrote there is pure bullcrap and even juvenile. Yes, others have tried to let Phillips off the hook in this same manner. And I think you have basically copied it from others, (except for the childish part) but it’s crap.

    No matter what the preamble used, the message was the same. And coupled with other ice warnings from earlier should have held some sense of importance to Phillips. The Californian just a few miles from the Titanic, and the strength of the signal would have told Phillips it was close, was up to its eyeballs in ICE! But the arrogant ‘marconi’ operator Phillips, was too busy playing with non-essential message traffic to be bothered with the safety of the ship and all the lives at stake. If he had taken the message serious, as any responsible person would have, and made sure that the Captain was made aware of this information pronto, the captain would have either reduced speed or brought the ship to a stop, as the Californian had. He would have also most likely increased the watch. As a radio operator myself, I find Phillips’ action, or more appropriately inaction, unconscionable, and this was the primary cause of the loss of the Titanic and the hundreds of lives lost. !!!

    • scheong

      April 18, 2012 at 8:23 PM

      It isn’t wrong. It isn’t even juvenile. It’s true. It is what happened on the ship and that is the course of action that was taken. Why? Because the radio protocol at the time stated that ALL messages for the ship’s captain MUST be preceded by the letters MSG. Any message for the ship without that prefix was not to be regarded. At any rate, the message never gave the Californian’s exact position, so even if Phillips had passed it onto the captain, it was unlikely to have done any good at all.

      • Sam

        July 15, 2014 at 3:02 AM

        It’s also worth noting that the Captain of the Californian had ordered his engineers to maintain a head of steam whilst heaved to in case they needed to move during the night. That being the case, had they acted upon the distress signals from the Titanic, or upon the obvious signs of distress seen from the ship (her “queer” position in the water), or from the distress signals had they had the wireless working; then they could’ve been underway in no time.. as for the icebergs all around them; The Carpathia had no qualms about sailing into the ice field at full steam to try and save as many as possible! The Californian are as liable for the loss of life as the crew of the Titanic were!

  10. George Garrett

    April 24, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    The iceberg was photographed and was 300 ft long and 100 ft wide, half a mile from the sinking point. Enough to save all lives. The night was clean, yes no moon, but the sea was flat. It was possible to find it? if they wanted. To get the ship to it and get the passengers on was difficult, true. The passengers would have to climb the ice, if not being put directly on it. But if is a matter of saving lives you do the most difficult things. My perception is that human arrogance is too big, this ship was considered unsinkable by the crew but I doubt passengers, specially third class, would be reluctant to save their lives. For me it was human arrogance at its best, totally, and is human arrogance what destroys always the most beautiful things ever existed, built, discovered or invented. And this includes human equality, which is the most beautiful thing we have. Only the rich survived.

    • biguggy

      February 17, 2013 at 10:18 PM

      Even had the Titanic been undamaged and fully ‘manoeuvrable’ it would have been virtually impossible for her to dock alongside anything without the aid of tugs. Just look at the pictures of any of the liners of the day leaving a quayside or coming alongside there are always several tugs assisting them.
      For manoeuvering the Titanic had a rudder and three propellers. The two wing propellers were reverisible the centre one was not. It was virtually impossible for her to ‘go alonside’ anything without the aid of tugs.
      As for going alongside an iceberg any master (captain) who did, and any mate who suggested he do so, does not, in my opinion, deserve to hold their Certificate of Competency. Approximately 90% of an iceberg is below water. They roll over suddenly and without warning as their stability alters. They have underwater ridges that cannot be seen from above the water in daylight, never mind at night. These ice ridges are ‘rock hard’ and can puncture the shell of ship very easily should such a vessel be foolish enough to go close enough.

      • scheong

        February 17, 2013 at 10:43 PM

        The Titanic had all the handling and manuverability of an elephant on a frozen lake. Without a LOT OF HELP, it wouldn’t be able to dock up against a quay, let alone a floating iceberg.

        I’m sorry to say, but Biguggy is right. Saying that the Titanic could park next to the iceberg and offload passengers, is completely foolish. It could never have happened.

  11. bekki jack phillips

    May 8, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    im sick of everyone blaming JACK PHILLIPS when ISMAY and the
    CAPTAIN were the real rats.

    ISMAY pushed and pushed the captain to move the ship faster just so
    they could get to stupid new york sooner and he finally gave in and he
    ignored the one ice warning that PHILLIPS sent him and I really doubt
    he would of cared about the other warnings if the marconi boys would
    of brought them to him anyways.

    ISMAY pratically pushed the TITANIC into the iceberg cause he was
    greedy and money hungry and thinking we’re unsinkable nothing can
    stop us.

    fucking hate ismay and the captian but PHILLIPS I understand cause
    he was just overworked and tired and the buzzing in his headset was
    almost deafening and so what if he told the calfornian to shut up?

    (yeah like you guys have never told anyone to shut up before)

    the californian wireless operator was a wuss for just giving in like that
    and ignoring their cries for help.

    hey californian-oh god you got told to shut up jeez why dont you just
    go cry about it?

    whats the big deal about the ship sinking anyways its a ship after all
    they sink!

    it was poorly made straight from the beginning and a huge ship that
    couldnt take a little ice so it just sinks breaks in half and dies like a

    what a pussy!

    rest in peace JACK JOHN PHILLIPS im on your side and you were
    too young to die and the stupid passengers shouldnt of pressured
    you to send messages to their friends when they could of just told
    them themselves.

    yeah stupid passengers if you have something to say to your friends
    you go and tell them your fucking self dont make the marconi guys
    waste their precious time with your stupid bitch chit chat!

    and your spirit can visit me anytime and we can talk about the titanic
    and that stupid calfornian and iceberg the captain and ismay and

    at least JACK stood his ground and didnt bother getting into a life
    boat unlike most of the men on that ship.


  12. Bryant Morganelli

    June 15, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    The Titanic should not have been going full speed at night with little visibility through an ice field. I get doing that in daylight, but at night it is foolish. The lives of everyone on board should have taken priority over being on time.

    • scheong

      June 16, 2013 at 7:50 PM

      Attitudes at the time were very different. Even today, it’s standard practice to go full speed, unless there’s poor visibility. On the night, there was no fog. So the ship went at full speed. The ship had a schedule to keep. One week to cross the Atlantic. Nothing but a real emergency was allowed to slow it down.

      • Bryant Morganelli

        June 17, 2013 at 11:30 AM

        Yet the Californian recognized the danger of going through the ice field and stopped for the night. No matter the attitudes or the schedule, going full speed through an ice field is a stupid move.The captain of the Californian knew that.

  13. kenny

    August 5, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    it was 1912, that was a different time, no ship inter com, + poor ship handling and titanic had little to no anti flooding machines on board or what she did have was just for light work, not 100% going down by the head!. and the crew was not a well trained lot vs what the Olympic had just 500 miles from titanic on 14th april.


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