British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry


Board of Trade's Administration
Construction of Ship's Boats

It will, I think, be useful to consider the principle factors that govern the dimensions of boats forming part of the life-saving apparatus in merchant ships.

The minimum number and capacity of boats are determined by the regulations, and the capacity is determined by the product of the length, breadth, and depth of the boats. As the space on the ship in which to stow the boats is generally limited, it is generally found easier to increase their depth than the length or breadth, and this is further encouraged, I believe, by the cost of boats being quoted at so much per foot in length. The builder or owner determines the dimensions of the boat; the boatbuilder is concerned merely with the construction and, in most cases, usually their form or lines.

Attention has been called by the Mark Lane Surveyors to the form and proportions of the boats used in the Royal Navy. The proportion of depth to breadth is greater than is apparent from the particulars given, as all boats larger than a 30-ft. gig have 6 1/2 in. washboards above the gunwale, and even the gigs and many of the smaller boats have portable washboards. It must also be remembered that all the Navy boats are square-sterned, except the whaleboat, and are designed with easy lines so as to make good sailers, no air cases are fitted, and the seats are kept very low. The boats are not provided simply as life-saving appliances; as a matter of fact the life-saving equipment of a warship is extremely small.

It is true that each type of boat is given a certain "life-saving capacity," which is ascertained by crowding in as many men as practicable with the boat in still water and all equipment on board. This number agrees closely with that obtained by the Board's rule (L x B x D x6) /8. These boats, moreover, have a much smaller freeboard than is considered desirable in the merchant navy; but the occupants are all under discipline and in charge of experienced seaman. In the Mercantile Marine it may, and often does, happen, that the boats are crowded with panic-stricken men, women, and children, and instances have occurred, I believe, wherein there has not been a single man in the boat who has ever handled an oar before. Having these points in view, I do not agree that the navy type of boat is the most suitable for our purpose.

The chief desiderata in a ship's boat as a life-saving appliance are: -

(1) To carry the maximum number of people without overcrowding; and with
(2) A reasonable amount of stability and freeboard;
(3) And without undue interference with the use of oars.

(1) Is almost wholly dependent on the length and breadth of the boat; provided (2) is satisfied; depth has very little influence on it. For example, take a boat 30 x 9 x 3.5, 567 cubic ft. by our rule, as a section (D) or (E) boat it should carry 567/8 = 72 people; such a boat should allow (30 x 9 x 8)/ 72 = 3 sq. ft. of area per person at the gunwale, which should be ample if all sit in the bottom who cannot find seating room on the side benches or thwarts.

(2) Stability and freeboard are dependent upon the boat's breadth, depth, and form. The element of length does not enter into it, and it would be most unreasonable to limit the ratio of length to breadth, as suggested from Liverpool, or to limit the depth to the cube root of the length, as proposed by one of the London surveyors. Mr. Gemmell gives particulars, M. 26,298, of four boats tested, which proved to have ample accommodation and stability for the complements allowed by the regulations; the ratio of depth to breadth varied from 0.41 to 0.45.

Captain O'Sullivan also reported five boats which he tested with ratios of D to B, varying from 0.4 to 0.44, all except one being satisfactory, the exception being rather tender and overcrowded, due to poor lines. The freeboards of all these boats when loaded were, I think, sufficient. The depth in no case exceeded 3.6, and only in one case did the ratio exceed 0.44.

The Surveyors, Liverpool, tested a boat 3.75 deep and having a ratio of D/b = 0.41, which proved satisfactory.

Captain Griffiths tested a boat 4.1 deep, having a ratio D/b = 0.455, which he considered to be unsafe with the full complement on board.

The consensus of opinion is that the depth should not exceed 3 ft. 5 in. or 3 ft. 6 in., and the ratio of D/b should not exceed 0.44. This, however, is not sufficient to guarantee sufficient seating and stability. Captain Clarke tested a boat 24.4 x 6.55 x 2.45, which was very unsafe with the rule complement on board. The ratio D/b is only 0.38 in this case. It will be seen, however, that this craft has exceptionally fine lines and is evidently quite unsuited to carry the rule complement. It is quite evident that the form of the boat must be taken into account.

The dimensions of boats vary so greatly that generally the boatbuilder builds his boats "to the eye," using only a midship mould; it follows that the forms of boats of the same dimensions will vary considerably and with different workmen. Something more is required than a limitation in the ratio of depth to breadth. It is desirable that the sheer should be ample, and the form not unduly fined away within the midship half length. From consideration of the particulars and lines of the boats mentioned in the surveyor's reports, I think a simple rule to regulate the form may be devised such as I will indicate later.

It is, I think, necessary to limit the depth as a factor for ascertaining the number to be accommodated. The increase of depth beyond a certain point, while unduly increasing the number of people that may be carried, increases proportionately the required air case capacity, to meet which the seats have to be raised with a corresponding increase in the height of the centre of gravity and decrease in the stability and difficulty in rowing. A boat 3.6 deep would have the thwarts about 3 ft. above the bottom, and any increase in this height makes it difficult for an ordinary man to row when sitting down. In rough sea the men would have very little control over the oars if standing up. A further objection to the very deep boat is its small stability in the light condition. It is not, I believe, an unusual occurrence for such boats to capsize in rough weather, before the passengers or crew can be got into them, and I have myself seen such a boat capsize in dock with only two men in it; due to lumpy water and a stiff breeze catching it on the beam when coming out of the shelter afforded by the dock wall.

I do not think, however, any limit of depth should be imposed, except as a measure of capacity. Any rules that may be devised should be such as are of easy and ready application, and which will not bear harshly on the boats that have already been accepted. I therefore suggest that the present rules will sufficiently meet the case, with the following modification.

In no case should the depth to be used in General Rule (2) exceed 3.6 ft. and 45 percent of the breadth. In all cases where the actual depth is 45 percent of the breadth or less, the maximum number of persons, as ascertained by Rule (3) should not be allowed unless the boat has been found capable of carrying that number by actual test in the water, or unless the boat has at least 1/2 in. of sheer per foot of length, and the half-girth amidships, measured outside the plank, from the side of the keel to the top of the gunwale, is at least 90 percent of the sum of the depth and the half breadth, and the mean of the half girths as similarly measured at one quarter the boat's length from the stem and stern post are least 80 percent of the sum of the midship depth and half breadth.

The thwarts and side benches should be kept as low as practicable, and the bottom boards should be so fitted that the height of the thwarts above them will not exceed 2 ft. 9 in.

A. J. D.
(Mr. A. J. Daniel, Acting Principal Ship Surveyor to the Board of Trade.)

It should be stated that the new Committee on Bulkheads mentioned in the paragraph of this letter which deals with Rule 12 has now been formed.

Subsequently Sir Walter Howell wrote and sent three letters to the Advisory Committee which were as follows: -

Board of Trade, Marine Department,
7, Whitehall Gardens, London, S. W.,
20th April, 1912.



With reference to previous correspondence between the Department and your Committee respecting the revision of the statutory rules for Life-Saving Appliances on British ships, and particularly to the letter from this Department of the 16th April, I am directed by the Board of Trade to state that as an entirely new situation has been created by the recent disaster to the s.s. "Titanic" they assume that the Committee, in reconsidering the matter in connection with the suggestions already put before them by the Board will have full regard to this new situation, and the facts of the disaster so far as ascertained.

As you are doubtless aware, suggestions have been made in the House of Commons and elsewhere to the effect that, in view of the loss of the "Titanic," action should be taken by the Board of Trade in regard to certain questions other than those expressly dealt with in the Life-Saving Appliances Rules, e.g., in regard to (1) steamship routes in the North Atlantic; (2) the speed of steamers where there may be dangers to navigation; and (3) the provision and use of searchlights on large passenger steamers; and the Board would be glad to know the Committee's views in regard to these, and any other suggestions which may have come to their knowledge, intended to diminish the risk, or to mitigate the effects of accidents to passenger vessels at sea.

I am, &c.

The Secretary,
Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee.


Board of Trade, Marine Department,
7, Whitehall Gardens, London, S. W.,
24th April, 1912.


With reference to previous correspondence between this Department and your Committee respecting the revision of the statutory rules for Life-Saving Appliances on British ships, and particularly to the letter from this Department of the 16th April, in which you were informed that the question of the proposed amendment of the rules so as to admit of decked lifeboats being stowed one above another or one under an open lifeboat, was under consideration. I am directed by the Board of Trade to state, for the information of your Committee, that the Board of Trade will be glad if the Committee will consider whether any, and if so, what, amendment of the rules, and in particular of the Rule of the 19th April, 1910, and of the Rule of the 14th June, 1911, are in their opinion desirable with the object of supplementing the boats immediately under davits by as much additional boat accommodation as is practicable, having regard to the new situation which has been created by the recent disaster to the s.s. "Titanic." A plan illustrating the principle is being prepared so as to be in readiness for your Committee by Friday.

I am, &c.,

The Secretary,
Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee.


Board of Trade, Marine Department,
7, Whitehall Gardens, London, S. W.,
25th April, 1912.


With reference to previous correspondence respecting the proposed revision of the statutory regulations as to boats and life-saving appliances on ships, I am directed by the Board of Trade to state, for the information of the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee, that, apart from the questions which have been raised regarding the boat accommodation on vessels over 10,000 tons, it seems desirable to consider whether the provision of boats and other life-saving appliances required by the rules in the case of vessels under 10,000 tons is satisfactory, or whether the rules or the boat scale should be altered in respect of their application to such vessels; and the Board would be glad to be favoured with the observations of the Committee on this point in addition to those that have already been referred to them.

I am, &c.,

The Secretary,
Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee.


To these letters the Advisory Committee sent the following answer: -

Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee,
7, Whitehall Gardens, London, S. W.,
27th April, 1912.


We are desired by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee to inform you that your letters of the 16th, 20th, 24th, and 25th instant were brought before the Committee at a meeting held yesterday.

The Committee fully recognize that the proved impossibility of keeping such a vessel as the "Titanic" afloat after a collision with ice, until the arrival of outside succour, has created an entirely new situation which was neither in the contemplation of the Board of Trade nor of the Committee in the consideration of the extension of the existing boat scale in regard to vessels of 10,000 tons and upwards.

In advising on such extension in July last, the Committee aimed at providing ample boat accommodation on large passenger vessels in accordance with principles that were adopted by the original Life-Saving Appliances Committee, and which principles had apparently been fully justified by many years of experience. It is with satisfaction that the Committee note that the Board of Trade, apart from the new possibilities demonstrated by the loss of the "Titanic," agreed in the essentials with the recommendation of the Committee. In face of the new facts, the Committee at their meeting yesterday re-opened entirely the question of the revision of the boat scale for large passenger vessels with a view of providing the maximum of protection for the passengers and crew in the event of an overwhelming disaster, whilst, at the same time, maintaining the principles in regard to the stability and sea-going qualities of the ship itself, and to the prompt and efficient handling of the boats carried under the existing scale, which hitherto have proved not only essential to safety, but also adequate for all ordinary emergencies. The questions involved are not free from difficulty, but they will receive the immediate attention of the Committee. Pending their consideration, the Committee note that assurances have been received by the Board of Trade from representatives of most of the large passenger lines to the effect that every effort will be made to equip their vessels, at the earliest possible moment, with boats and rafts sufficient to accommodate all persons on board.

In regard to the recommendation forwarded with the Committee's letter of the 4th July last, that the Board of Trade should, having regard to the developments in shipbuilding since the Report of the Committee of 1894 on Spacing and Construction of Watertight Bulkheads, review the requirements designed to attain the standards at present enforced under Rule 12, the Advisory Committee note that the Board of Trade have under consideration the appointment of a Committee of equal standing to that of the Committee of 1894. In view of the great importance of this question the Advisory Committee desire us respectfully to urge that such a Committee be appointed at as early a date as possible.

The subject of the general revision of the statutory regulations as to boats and life-saving appliances on all ships, which, apart from the questions regarding the boat accommodation on vessels over 10,000 tons, is for the first time referred to the Advisory Committee by the letter of the 25th instant, together with the particular questions raised in the letters of the 16th, 20th, and 24th instant, are also receiving the immediate attention of the Committee.

At yesterday's meeting sub-committees were appointed to give immediate consideration to the subjects requiring detailed examination. These sub-committees will pursue their enquiries concurrently, and we are desired by the Advisory Committee to inform you that their investigation into the revision of the Life-Saving Appliances Rules will be proceeded with as expeditiously as possible.

We are, &c.,

Sir Walter J. Howell, K. C. B., Assistant Secretary,
Marine Department, Board of Trade.

(Signed) NORMAN HILL, Chairman.
(Signed) R. W. MATTHEW, Secretary.

This letter was acknowledged by the Board of Trade on the 10th May, 1912, as follows: -

Board of Trade, Marine Department,
7, Whitehall Gardens, London, S. W.,
10th May, 1912.


I am directed by the Board of Trade to acknowledge the receipt of, and to thank you for, your letter of the 27th April, stating that their letters of the 16th, 20th, 24th, and 25th April, have been considered by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee.

The Board observe with satisfaction that, in view of the entirely new situation which has arisen, the Advisory Committee have decided to re-open the question of the revision of the Table in the Life-Saving Appliances Rules in so far as it governs the boat accommodation in vessels over 10,000 tons gross. The Board are further glad to observe that the question of a general revision of the Life-Saving Appliances Rules is also under consideration by the Committee, and in this connection they presume that, in considering the question of a general revision of the rules including the Table, the Committee will consider the principles on which the requirements as to boat accommodation should be based, including, inter alia, whether the Table should continue to be based on tonnage. Any conclusion reached by the Committee on this question would naturally affect the revision of the present Table as applying to vessels of more than 10,000 tons, upon which the Committee has already been engaged.

The Board agree with the view expressed by the Advisory Committee that the appointment of another Committee on the Spacing and Construction of Watertight Bulkheads is desirable. Steps have already been taken by the President to form such a Committee, and he hopes to be able to announce the names within a few days. A further communication on this point will be addressed to the Committee in the course of a few days.

The Board are glad to note that Sub-Committees have been appointed to deal concurrently with the subjects requiring detailed consideration in connection with the revision of the Life-Saving Appliances Rules.

The Board desire me to add that they assume that the Committee, in considering the matters referred to them, will have regard to all important aspects of the question of Life-Saving Appliances, whether expressly dealt with in the Statutory Rules or not, and in particular to the essential question of the adequacy of the provision for lowering and manning the boats and rafts carried by vessels.

I am, etc.,

Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee.
7, Whitehall Gardens, London, S. W.


This finishes the history of the action of the Board of Trade in relation to the provision of boat accommodation on emigrant ships. The outstanding circumstance in it is the omission, during so many years, to revise the rules of 1894, and this, I think, was blameable, notwithstanding the excuse or explanation put forward by Sir Alfred Chalmers. I am, however, doubtful whether even if the Rules had been revised, the change would have been such as to have required boat accommodation which would have increased the number of lives saved. Having regard to the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, the Board of Trade would probably not have felt justified in making Rules which would have required more boat accommodation than that with which the "Titanic" was actually provided; and it is not to be forgotten that the "Titanic" boat accommodation was utilised to less than two-thirds of its capacity. These considerations, however, afford no excuse for the delay of the Board of Trade.

The gross tonnage of a vessel is not, in my opinion, a satisfactory basis on which to calculate the provision of boat accommodation. Hitherto, I believe, it has been accepted as the best basis by all nations. But there seems much more to be said in favour of making the number of lives carried the basis and for providing boat or raft accommodation for all on board. Rule 12 of the Life-Saving Appliances Rules of 1902, which deals with watertight compartments and boat accommodation, ought to be abolished. The provision of such compartments is of supreme importance but it is clear that it should not be sought at the expense of a decrease in boat accommodation. When naval architects have devised practical means for rendering ships unsinkable, the question of boat accommodation may have to be reconsidered, but until that time arrives boat accommodation should, where practicable, be carried for all on board. This suggestion may be thought by some to be extravagant. It has never been enforced in the mercantile marine of Great Britain, nor, as far as I know, in that of any foreign nation. But it appears, nevertheless, to be admitted by all that is possible without undue inconvenience or undue interference with commerce to increase, considerably in many cases, the accommodation hitherto carried, and it seems, therefore, reasonable that the law should require an increase to be made. As far as foreign going passenger and emigrant steamships are concerned, I am of opinion that, unless justification be shown for deviating from this course, such ships should carry boats or rafts for all on board.

With reference to the second branch of the complaint against the Board of Trade, namely that their officials had failed to exercise due care in the supervision of the vessel's plans and in the inspection of the work done upon her, the charges broke down. Suggestions were made that the Board's requirements fell short of those of Lloyd's Registry; but no evidence was forthcoming to support the suggestions. The investigation of the charges took much time, but it only served to show that the officials had discharged their duties carefully and well.