Titanic’s error of judgement


Movie’s have made this sea disaster famous, but do you know which International Collision Regulation Rule the Captain of the Titanic, Captain E.J Smith broke?

Departing from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912, bound for New York Titanic’s owners were keen for her to deliver a good show of speed for the voyage. On the 14th of April, at 22.5 knots, near to her top speed of 24 knots iceberg warnings began to come in from other vessels. Iceberg warnings were common at that time of the year and Captain Smith being a prudent and experienced mariner altered course slightly to the southwest. At 11.40pm the lookout in the crow’s nest sounded the alarm, “Iceberg dead ahead”. The helm was put hard to starboard, but not quickly enough. Less than forty seconds after the alarm, the iceberg struck the Titanic a glancing blow, punching a series of holes beneath her waterline.

There is little doubt that pressure for a speedy Atlantic crossing clouded the judgement of a capable Captain. Have you guessed which rule Captain Smith broke?

“Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed” Rule 6

Proceeding at a safe speed means taking into consideration:

  • Visibility (fog, rain, spray)
  • Traffic density
  • Manoeuvrability and stopping distances of the vessel
  • Background lights at night time
  • Weather conditions
  • State of wind, sea and current
  • Depth of water
  • Navigation hazards (ice, rock shoals, channel markers, other vessels and any submerged floating objects)
  • Limitations of radar

Travelling at a safe speed means that your vessel can be stopped in time to avoid a sudden danger. As the Skipper it is your responsibility to keep a proper lookout at all times and to be continually assessing your speed for safety. Slow down at night and in conditions of poor visibility. Slow down and look before turning.



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