Almost everyone has heard about the ill-fated HMS Titanic that hit an iceberg and sank on April 14-15, 1912. During the time of the disaster, she was known as the world’s largest, most advanced cruise ship and “the safest ship ever built,” making the tragedy outrageously shocking for the whole world. With more than 1,500 people killed it was considered one of the deadliest maritime disasters in modern history that are not related to war.
A lot of lessons have been learned from the mistakes that led to the sinking of the Titanic. The discovery of the wreck and the investigations after the incident brought about dramatic changes that impacted maritime travel around the world.
1. Ice Patrol was established and a maritime treaty was signed
After the disaster, Scout Cruisers from the US Navy was assigned to patrol the seas for the remainder of 1912. Later on, the Revenue Cutter Service, the predecessor to the Coast Guard, assumed responsibility.
In response to the tragic event, the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) assembled in 1913, leading to the signing of a maritime treaty that gives safety standard provisions in construction, equipment, and operation in 1914. Under this treaty came the formation and funding of the International Ice Patrol (IIP), whose duty is to monitor the presence and movement of an iceberg at sea. Since it was established, not a single accident involving a ship and an iceberg have happened.
2. Communication was improved
For several times, Titanic has received warnings about packed ice and icebergs by the freighter SS Californian. Jack Philips, Titanic’s wireless operator that time, was too busy struggling with his work of sending and receiving passengers’ messages. The messages meant for the bridge wouldn’t always be relayed to the bridge, and operators can leave it to one side while he deals with other messages. Philips told the Californian operator to shut up because he was busy. There were no rules about this yet, as messaging between ship and shore was very new.
Tragically, the wireless operator on the Californian switched his set off and went to bed. After 15 minutes, Titanic hit the iceberg. Titanic launched rockets as a sign that they need help. Officials of the Californian had seen them coming from an unknown liner, but it is speculated that they thought it’s just an identification signal. The Californian was close enough to lend assistance, but because they did not realize the seriousness of the situation (or some say due to negligence), it did not respond. The Radio Act of 1912 was enacted after the tragedy, which agreed that rockets at sea must be interpreted as distressed signals only.
The Act, along with SOLAS, stated that radio communications must be operated within 24 hours so as not to miss distressed calls. It also required ships to maintain constant communication with other vessels and radio stations along the coast. Training for emergency response from nearby vessels was also implemented.
3. The required number of lifeboats increased
The ship only had enough lifeboats to transport half of its passengers, should the lifeboats be completely filled. When the Titanic was designed, the British Board of Trade regulations provided the existing safety standards to be followed. According to the rule, British vessels over 10,000 tons must carry 16 lifeboats. The regulations, which were not changed since 1894, had no extra provisions for larger ships because the largest passenger ship under consideration that time was only 13,000 tons. Titanic was displaced 52,310 tons.
Thomas Andrews, Titanic’s chief designer, actually proposed carrying more than 48 lifeboats while anticipating that the rule could change. However, the White Star Line decreed that only 20 lifeboats would be carried, meaning, they actually provided more than what was legally required. His designs were also turned down for being a waste of deck space for passengers to walk on.
After the Titanic sank, the British and American boards recommended that ships should carry enough lifeboats to accommodate all passengers and crew aboard.
4. Lifeboat drills were strictly implemented
The 20 lifeboats of Titanic were not used to its fullest capacity. Each lifeboat had a 40-person seating capacity, but at least four of them were filled with less than 20 people. One lifeboat was only filled with 12 passengers.
Coincidentally, a lifeboat drill was originally scheduled to take place on the morning of April 14, the day the Titanic struck the iceberg. The ship’s crew has been taking part in these drills on a weekly basis. However, for some unknown reasons, Captain Edward J. Smith canceled the drill. There is a speculation that the training could have lessened the number of casualties if only the passengers knew what to do.
Since then, lifeboat drills and lifeboat inspections were strictly required under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.
5. Ship designs were changed
Design flaws caused the Titanic to fall easily into demise. Her ship hulls were formed by using reinforced steel plates held together by millions of rivets. During its time, it might be the most advanced material, but tests showed that it was brittle at temperatures as low as ice-water.
Also, Titanic’s watertight bulkhead was positioned only 10 feet above the waterline. When the ship swiped the iceberg, five of its 16 compartments breached, forcing seawater to flood them in. The weight of the flooded compartments pulled the bow of the ship deeper under the water until each compartment would flood one after the other. This is why Titanic sank.
Since the incident, design and technology innovations in vessels have improved. Double bottoms were extended up to the sides of the hulls to give the ship double hulls. The bulkheads of future ships were extended higher to make the compartments fully waterproof.