Skip to content

Lifeboats

Titanic carried a total of 20 lifeboats of three different varieties in her first voyage. Below are the classifications of the lifeboats.

» Lifeboats 1 and 2: emergency wooden cutters: 25 ft (7.62 m) 2 in long by 7 ft (2.13 m) 2 in wide by 3 ft (0.91 m) 2 in deep; capacity 326.6 cubic feet (9.25 m3) or 40 people.
» Lifeboats 3 to 16: wooden lifeboats: 30′ long by 9’1″ wide by 4′ deep; capacity 655.2 cubic feet (18.55 m3) or 65 people.
» Lifeboats A, B, C and D: Englehardt “collapsible” lifeboats: 27’5″ long by 8′ wide by 3′ deep; capacity 376.6 cubic feet (10.66 m3) or 47 people.

Almost all of the lifeboats were stowed securely to the boat deck. All of the lifeboats were placed on the ship by the giant gantry crane at Belfast.

Those on the starboard side were odd-numbered 1–15 from bow to stern, while those on the port side were even-numbered 2–16 from bow to stern. Lifeboats 1 and 2, the “emergency cutters”, were kept swung out, hanging from the davits, ready for immediate use while collapsible lifeboats C and D were stowed on the boat deck immediately in-board of boats 1 and 2 respectively.

Collapsible lifeboats A and B were stored on the roof of the officers’ quarters, on either side of number 1 funnel. However there were no davits mounted on the officers’ quarters to lower collapsibles A and B, and they weighed a considerable amount empty. During the sinking, lowering collapsibles A and B proved difficult as it was first necessary to slide the boats on timbers and/or oars down to the boat deck. During this procedure, collapsible B capsized and subsequently floated off the ship upside down.

In the design stage, Carlisle suggested that Titanic use a new, larger type of davit, manufactured by the Welin Davit & Engineering Co Ltd, each of which could handle four lifeboats. Sixteen sets of these davits were installed, giving Titanic the ability to carry 64 wooden lifeboats—a total capacity of over 4,000 people, compared with Titanic’s total carrying capacity of about 3,600 passengers and crew. However, the White Star Line, while agreeing to the new davits, decided that only 16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsibles would be carried, which could accommodate only 1,178 people.

During that time, the Board of Trade’s regulations required British vessels over 10,000 tons to carry 16 lifeboats with a capacity of 5,500 cubic feet, and an additional capacity in rafts and floats for 75% of that in the lifeboats.

The White Star line could even have made use of the exception for vessels with watertight bulkheads, which would have reduced the legal requirements to a capacity of 756 persons only. Therefore, the White Star Line actually provided much more lifeboat accommodation than was legally required.

Since 1894, when the largest passenger ship under consideration was the Cunard Line’s 13,000 ton Lucania, the Board of Trade had made no provision to increase the existing scale regarding the number of required lifeboats for larger ships, such as the 46,000 ton Titanic.

Sir Alfred Chalmers, nautical adviser to the Board of Trade from 1896 to 1911, had considered the matter of adjusting the scale “from time to time”, but because he not only assumed that experienced sailors would need to be carried “uselessly” aboard ship only to lower and man the extra lifeboats, but also anticipated the difficulty in getting away a greater number than 16 boats in any emergency, he “did not consider it necessary to increase”.

Carlisle told the official inquiry that he had discussed the matter with J. Bruce Ismay, White Star’s Managing Director, but in his testimony Ismay denied that he had ever heard of this, nor did he recollect noticing such provision in the plans of the ship he had inspected.

Ten days before the maiden voyage Axel Welin, the maker of Titanic’s lifeboat davits, announced that his machinery had been installed because the vessel’s owners were aware of forthcoming changes in official regulations. However, Harold Sanderson, vice-president of the International Mercantile Marine and former general manager of the White Star Line, denied that this had been the intention.