Top 10 Biggest Issues that Impacted the Titanic Disaster

Everyone knows about the Titanic tragedy. Even more than a century later, it remains one of the most infamous maritime disasters of all time. People are still curious and captivated by the sinking of the so-called "unsinkable vessel."

This tragedy is difficult to pinpoint to one specific reason why it was so deadly, although some reasons hold more significance than others. In the end, it was a combination of multiple factors, both within and outside of human control.

Let's discuss the main reasons that ultimately led to the tragedy of the RMS Titanic sinking on that fateful night in April 1912.
The Top Ten
1 Not Enough Lifeboats

The biggest problem with the Titanic, which caused the most significant loss of life, was the lack of lifeboats on board. These could have saved the lives of hundreds more people. The Titanic left with the legal minimum amount of lifeboats required, which could occupy 1,178 people. The ship could have carried up to 64 lifeboats. However, they felt like the lifeboats would clutter the decks and obstruct the views of first-class passengers.

The safety regulations the Titanic followed were 20 years old and made for ships with a maximum of 10,000 tons. The Titanic was nearly four times larger. The thinking at the time was that fewer lifeboats were needed because, in the case of an emergency, the lifeboats could return to the ship to load more people. It was assumed that the ship wouldn't have any trouble in open waters in the middle of the Atlantic, so they didn't really consider hitting an iceberg as a possibility.

It's bad enough that there weren't enough lifeboats for everyone, but even worse is the fact that almost all of the lifeboats had significantly fewer people on board than they could have had. And only 18 lifeboats were successfully launched. Two of them floated away. Had there been a sufficient amount of lifeboats, chances are that more people could have survived the disaster.

2 Iceberg Warnings Were Disregarded

The Titanic had reportedly received at least six separate warning messages from other vessels in the general vicinity regarding floating icebergs. Unfortunately, Captain Smith failed to pay proper attention to these alerts and therefore did not take the necessary precautionary measures that could have saved the ship before disaster struck.

In fact, less than an hour before the Titanic hit the iceberg, another nearby ship, the Californian, radioed to say it had been stopped by a dense field of ice. However, the warning message didn't begin with the prefix "MSG" (Master's Service Gram), which would have required the captain to directly acknowledge receiving the message. The Titanic's radio operator at the time, Jack Phillips, considered the other ship's warning non-urgent and therefore did not relay the message to the captain. This vital mistake could have made all the difference between life and death for everyone on board the ship.

3 The Ship Was Going Too Fast

The Titanic was traveling through a dangerous area known for its icebergs, and instead of slowing down, Captain Smith decided to keep up the pace. Part of the reason why may be because he was determined to beat the crossing time of the Olympic, which was the Titanic's older sister ship. Whatever the reason, it was definitely a reckless decision to drive the ship at full speed (22 knots). This makes it harder to slow down and control, especially in an area with so many icebergs.

4 The Climate

Weather conditions in the northern Atlantic Ocean were particularly favorable for icebergs. Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography told Physics World, "Oceanographically, the upshot of that was that icebergs, sea ice, and growlers were concentrated in the very position where the collision happened." Astronomers at Texas State University determined that the Earth, Sun, and Moon were aligned in a specific position that could have caused unusually high tides. This alignment could have potentially dislodged icebergs from the Labrador Sea and sent them directly into the area where the Titanic was at the time of the collision.

5 Lack of Safety Drills

The crew and passengers were very unorganized when it came to emergency preparedness. Most of the crew members were inadequately trained for emergency situations, which could have saved countless lives if they had an emergency response plan in place and had a clear understanding of what was happening. They had no safety drills to know where to go or what the protocol was in the event of an emergency.

This proved to be a major issue when the Titanic hit the iceberg, and panic started to set in. The response time to the initial crash was too slow, and by the time evacuations were beginning, it was completely uncoordinated. Most of the lifeboats that were on the ship were released with far less than their total capacity. Even worse, the Titanic was equipped with some flare signals, however, they did not have red at all.

This might not sound like a big deal, but red was basically the universal SOS signal. The Californian was the closest ship and could have helped. The captain of the Californian could see the flare, but it wasn't red, so he was confused as to what the message was. By that point, his radio operator had already gone to sleep for the night. So, for all he knew, the Titanic was fine. Had it been red, he probably would have come to help.

6 Design Flaws

For years, as the Titanic lay on the bottom of the ocean, everyone just assumed that she went down in one piece. It wasn't until Robert Ballard located the shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland in 1985 that this thinking began to change. It was at this point that it was revealed the Titanic had apparently broken into two as she sank, which called her engineering into question.

It was two scientists by the name of Jennifer Hooper McCarty and Tim Foecke who suspected the rivets were weak. As it turns out, the vast majority of rivets that were found and recovered from the wreckage had high amounts of a smelting residue known as slag. This would indicate they were made from iron, which was lower quality than steel. White Star Line allegedly made this decision to save on time and labor costs. They theorized that the weaker iron rivets could have popped out on contact with the iceberg.

There's also the 16 watertight compartments that were supposed to seal off in the event the boat took on water. Unfortunately, the walls separating each compartment did not go from floor to ceiling. Therefore, water could easily spill into all the compartments, which would bring the ship lower with each passing minute. Seems like a major oversight there.

7 Radio Communication Issues

Part of the problem with the Titanic's distress messages was that radio technology was still in its infancy in 1912, and surprisingly complicated to use. Restricted to Morse code for transmissions, most radio transmitters at the time were referred to as "spark" transmitters, as they relied on sparks of electrical energy. This type of transmitter could not continuously emit radio signals, making voice messages virtually impossible.

Spark communications also covered a large bandwidth, making interference from outside messages inevitable. As a result, despite being marketed as a maritime technology, radio was considered a relatively inefficient means of emergency communication.

The radio on board had two operators, yet it was mainly used as a means for passengers to communicate and not actually intended for emergency use. Complicating matters further was the fact that the Radio company Marconi had a near monopoly over the radio industry in 1912. They did not like to do business with their biggest competitors, Telefunken. Additionally, due to the scope of early radio communication, it was incredibly easy for inexperienced operators to intercept and interfere with the airwaves since they were not regulated at that point in time. It would be like making a 911 call and the operators couldn't answer your call because of prank calls. This situation eventually led to the Radio Act of 1912. This act mandates that all ships must have their radios manned 24 hours a day and tried to eliminate interference in the airways for emergency messages.

8 No Access to Binoculars

You'd think the lookouts on the Titanic would have binoculars to identify icebergs ahead of time, but surprisingly, they didn't have any. For some reason, the binoculars on board were locked up, and the key was held by David Blair, an officer who was bumped from the crew prior to departure from Southampton. It's unclear why the binoculars were locked up in the first place and why Blair was removed from the crew just before departure.

The fatal iceberg could have been spotted sooner, and the crew could have taken action a lot sooner to avoid disaster. It doesn't help matters that the night of the collision was characterized by very poor visibility, with the lack of a moon and a haze present, making seeing the iceberg in time a near-impossible task.

9 Potential Wrong Turn

This reason is according to a 2010 claim made by Louise Patten, who is the granddaughter of Charles Lightoller, the most senior Titanic officer to survive that fateful night. In this account of what happened, apparently one crew member panicked and was confused when he was ordered to "turn hard a starboard" in order to avoid the iceberg. Since ships at that time operated on two different steering systems, there was confusion, and he made a fateful wrong turn.

This was about the time that ships were transitioning from sailing ships to steamships, so some of the crew was familiar with "Tiller orders" for sailing ships, and some were more familiar with the "Rudder orders" which were supposed to be for modern steam vessels. These orders were opposite from each other, which makes it easy for there to be misinterpreted commands. Tiller orders were basically the opposite of the direction you wanted to go. So, if you were told starboard, the ship would turn to port side. So, this whole claim of misunderstanding the order is entirely plausible.

10 The Ship Couldn’t Be Maneuvered Very Easily

Obviously, the Titanic was massive, which means the ship wasn't super easy to steer and maneuver. William Murdoch, the First Officer on the Titanic, ordered the engine room to reverse the vessel mere moments before colliding with the iceberg. By this point, it was too late. His intentions to reverse the ship were impossible. The main propeller on the Titanic could only be stopped and not reversed. Also, it was too small for a vessel of its size. The White Star Line just didn't think it was necessary for the Titanic to have a bigger propeller because it was assumed that it wouldn't be navigating around too many obstacles. Therefore, it could not steer out of harm's way at such short notice.

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