The Lifeboats

In 1897, the British Board of Trade concocted a formula for determining the lifeboat requirements of British registered passenger ships.  Specifically this stated that any ship over 10,000 tons must carry sixteen lifeboats with a capacity of 5,500 cubic feet, that is, space for 550 people, plus enough rafts and floats to equal 75 percent of the capacity of the lifeboats.  For the Titanic this worked out to a required capacity of 9,625 cubic feet, room for 962 persons.  Actually, the Titanic‘s lifeboat capacity exceeded the Board of Trade requirements, since the White Star Line had added four Englehardt collapsibles, wooden keels with folding canvas sides, to the ship’s complement of boats.  Together with the required sixteen boats they gave the Titanic a capacity of 11,780 cubic feet, room for 1,178 people.

At the time no one seemed to realize the discrepancy between the number of people the Titanic could carry–over 3,000–and the number of people for which she had lifeboats.  Unfortunately the regulations had been written for ships less than a quarter of the Titanic‘s size and had never been revised.  Nor was the Titanic unusual in this regard.  A few hours’ observation at any major seaport, combined with some simple arithmetic, would show anyone so inclined to spend the time that there were no ships on the North Atlantic that carried enough lifeboats for everyone on board.

When the ship was being built, Alexander Carlisle, one of the Managing Directors at Harland and Wolff had pointed out that the new geared Welin davits the Titanic was being fitted with could each handle up to three lifeboats, giving the ship the potential to carry up to forty-eight boats.  Carlisle himself recommended that the number of boats be doubled, but he didn’t press the point, so the suggestion was turned down by the White Star Line as being too expensive.  Besides, the Titanic not only complied with the Board of Trade regulations, but by being “unsinkable,” she had made them obsolete….

The accounts of which passengers and crew were in which lifeboats which follow are based on research done by the author, as well as material presented in The Titanic Lifeboat Project, created by the late John Hennessey (, and (,  both of which were intensively researched and can be regarded as authoritative.  The author is confident of the overall accuracy of the information presented, however there are a few individuals about which some uncertainty exists as to exactly in which boat they were.  There was no accounting done at the time, survivors memories and recollections were often conflicting, and sometimes altered with the passing of time.

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