United States Senate Inquiry


Abandoning Ship


When Captain Smith received the reports as to the water entering the ship, he promptly gave the order to clear away the lifeboats (p. 233), and later orders were given to put women and children into the boats. During this time distress rockets were fired at frequent intervals.

The lack of preparation was that this time most noticeable. There was no system adopted for loading the boats; there was great indecision as to the deck from which boats were to be loaded; there was wide diversity of opinion as to the number of the crew necessary to man each boat; there was no direction whatever as to the number of passengers to be carried by each boat, and no uniformity in loading them. On one side only women and children were put in the boats, while on the other side there was almost an equal proportion of men and women put into the boats, the women and children being given the preference in all cases. The failure to utilize all lifeboats to their recognized capacity for safety unquestionably resulted in the needless sacrifice of several hundred lives which might otherwise have been saved.


The vessel was provided with lifeboats, as above stated, for 1,176 persons, while but 706 were saved. Only a few of the ship's lifeboats were fully loaded, while others were but partially filled. Some were loaded at the boat deck, and some at the A deck, and these were successfully lowered to the water. The twentieth boat was washed overboard when the forward part of the ship was submerged, and in its overturned condition served as a life raft for about 30 people, including Second Officer Lightoller, Wireless Operators Bride and Phillips (the latter dying before rescue), passengers Col. Gracie and Mr. Jack Thayer, and others of the crew, who climbed upon it from the water at about the time the ship disappeared.


Had the sea been rough it is questionable whether any of the lifeboats of the Titanic would have reached the water without being damaged or destroyed. The point of suspension of the Titanic's boats was about 70 feet above the level of the sea. Had the ship been rolling heavily the lifeboats as they were lowered would have swung out from the side of the ship as it rolled toward them and on the return roll would have swung back and crashed against its side. It is evident from the testimony that as the list of the Titanic became noticeable the lifeboats scraped against the high side as they were being lowered. Every effort should be made to improve boat handling devices, and to improve the control of boats while being lowered.


In the reports of the survivors there are marked differences of opinion as to the number carried by each lifeboat. In No. 1, for instance, one survivor reports ten in all. The seaman in charge reports 7 crew and 14 to 20 passengers (p. 574). The officer who loaded this boat estimated that from 3 to 5 women and 22 men were aboard (pp. 404 and 405). Accepting the minimum report as made by any one survivor in every boat, the total far exceeds the actual number picked up by the Carpathia.


The testimony is definite that, except in isolated instances, there was no panic. In loading boats no distinction was made between first, second, and third class passengers, although the proportion of lost is larger among third class passengers than in either of the other classes. Women and children, without discrimination, were given preference.

Your committee believes that under proper discipline the survivors could have been concentrated into fewer boats after reaching the water, and we think that it would have been possible to have saved many lives had those in charge of the boats thus released returned promptly to the scene of the disaster.


After lowering, several of the boats rowed many hours in the direction of the lights supposed to have been displayed by the Californian. Other boats lay on their oars in the vicinity of the sinking ship, a few survivors being rescued from the water. After distributing his passengers among the four other boats which he had herded together, and after the cries of distress had died away, Fifth Officer Lowe, in boat No. 14, went to the scene of the wreck and rescued four living passengers from the water, one of whom afterwards died in the lifeboat, but was identified. Officer Lowe then set sail in boat No. 14, took in tow one collapsible boat, and proceeded to the rescue of passengers on another collapsible lifeboat.

The men who had taken refuge on the overturned collapsible lifeboat were rescued, including Second Officer Lightoller and passengers Gracie and Thayer, and Wireless Operators Bride and Phillips, by lifeboats No. 4 and No. 12, before the arrival of the Carpathia. The fourth collapsible lifeboat was rowed to the side of the Carpathia, and contained 28 women and children, mostly third class passengers, 3 firemen, 1 steward, 4 Filipinos, President Ismay, and Mr. Carter, of Philadelphia, and was in charge of Quartermaster Rowe.


The ship went down gradually by the bow, assuming an almost perpendicular position just before sinking at 12.47 a.m., New York time, April 15. There have been many conflicting statements as to whether the ship broke in two, but the preponderance of evidence is to the effect that she assumed an almost end-on position and sank intact.


The committee deems it of sufficient importance to call attention to the fact that as the ship disappeared under the water there was no apparent suction or unusual disturbance of the surface of the water. Testimony is abundant that while she was going down there was not sufficient suction to be manifest to any of the witnesses who were in the water or on the overturned collapsible boat or on the floating debris, or to the occupants of the lifeboats in the vicinity of the vessel, or to prevent those in the water, whether equipped with lifebelts or not, from easily swimming away from the ship's side while she was sinking.