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Was there any way that Titanic's collision with the iceberg could have been avoided after the iceberg had been spotted? Could the ship have been saved from sinking by the pilot or captain after the iceberg was sighted? Was it possible for more passengers to have been saved?

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Voted to close as the question is soliciting argumentation and speculation. – Sardathrion Feb 17 '12 at 8:55
There was a History Channel show on this a while back. As I recall, they concluded that it couldn't have been avoided although a direct collision would have saved the ship while killing a hundred or so people in the forward compartments. – jfrankcarr Feb 17 '12 at 12:01
Considering how we often get questions about military campaigns being turned around in some fashion, significant historical accidents can have turning points. Of course a follow-up on what might NOT have happened, a review of shipping regulations, stepped-up enforcement and rules on safety (ie. lifeboat counts) would be interesting if the ship had NOT sunk. – MichaelF Feb 17 '12 at 13:47
@harper89 - I tried to find the name of the show but I couldn't locate it. Google results for Titanic documentaries are clogged with "made for Adsense" sites and such and I couldn't find it right off on Amazon or NetFlix. – jfrankcarr Feb 17 '12 at 14:13
@DVK: The Titanic sinking was a major event in maritime history as it engendered many changes in maritime law and safety procedures. Certainly not a "minor technical" event. At any rate, regardless of its importance, I don't see how it's not a part of history. – Opt Feb 19 '12 at 19:46
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The Titantic tragedy was at least PARTLY avoidable, whether or not the collision was.


First, there were only enough lifeboats for half of the ship's passengers, meaning that at least half of the passengers "had to" drown. Nowadays, ships carry enough lifeboats for all passengers, following changes in maritime law.

Second, the lifeboats were mostly not filled to full capacity, could have taken on more passengers, but empty seats were saved for "women and children" first, to the condition listed above.

Third, nearby ships such as the Californian failed to hurry to the rescue of the Titantic, even though this ship, at least, had been notified.

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To balance some legends. The reason for the lack of lifeboats wasn't that only 1st class mattered. Before satellite beacons and SAR helicopters the aim of life boats was to ferry people to a nearby assisting ship - which would also have it's own boats. Being 'rescued' by being in an open lifeboat in a N Atlantic storm, 'manned' by women and children, with the coast 3000km away and no navigation instruments - wasn't much of rescue. Even modern inflatable rafts aren't much fun for the few hours it takes to get a helicopter to you. – none Feb 17 '12 at 18:38
@mgb True, but undoubtedly the class differences also played a role. – quant_dev Jul 24 '12 at 8:13
But even if there were enough lifeboats there was no time to fill them before the ship sank. It would help some more people, but definitely not everyone. – Mirjam Aug 22 '12 at 8:04
@quant_dev: After mgb's learned explanation, I am not so sure. Is there information somewhere about other ships' lifeboat complements? We could then compare it to the number of 1st class passengers they carried and see if there is a correlation or not. – Felix Goldberg Dec 11 '12 at 19:08
The historical value of the Titanic is that so many people survived and so lots of stories were told about the event. In the century before ships just didn't arrive - nobody knew what had happened. So there wasn't a focus on accidents/safety/lifeboat drills that we have now. This isn't as odd as you think - even into the 1960s most cars (except Volvo) weren't designed/sold with any safety consideration - it was assumed that in a crash you would die. In 20years we will be shocked that people flew in aircraft that didn't have smokehoods, fire suppression systems and backup remote control. – none Dec 12 '12 at 15:42

The Titanic was sunk because the iceberg hit the ship along the side, opening the first 6 compartments to the sea. If the ship had made no attempt to avoid the iceberg, but instead simply hit it head-on, it would have suffered extensive damage to its forward compartments, but would most likely have avoided opening more than a few compartments to the sea. Since the ship was designed to remain afloat with 4 compartments flooded, the direct-impact might have caused the ship to remain intact for much longer, potentially long enough to avoid most of the loss of life, even if the ship eventually wound up sinking later.

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True, people tend to forget the compartments made to prevent the ship from sinking. – MichaelF Feb 22 '12 at 15:43
That's what "compartments" are for. – Tom Au Feb 22 '12 at 16:57
Though to be fair it's a tricky decision in the heat of the moment. "Captain, Why did you deliberately ram the iceberg?" - "Because I thought it was safer than trying to avoid it!" – none Feb 24 '12 at 5:48
@mgb I didn't mean to imply for a second that the attempt to avoid the iceberg was negligent in some way; its just one of those things where the ship tried to dodge at exactly the wrong time. If they hadn't tried to dodge, or tried to dodge earlier, they'd probably have been fine. – GWLlosa Feb 24 '12 at 14:11
@GWLlosa - yes spotting it earlier and missing it would have been better! There is also a discussion whether it would have been better to open all the watertight compartments and allow the boat to flood evenly rather than have the bow sink and the (undamaged) stern rise which broke it in half – none Feb 24 '12 at 15:44

Mark Kozak-Holland argues that it was quite avoidable. Although popular history has it that the ship was designed to remain afloat with 4 compartments flooded (hat tip to @GWLlosa), the truth is somewhat more discouraging - cost cutting measures by the company during construction actually transformed those resiliency features into one of the causes for the disaster. Obligatory disclaimer; I'm not trying to promote Mr. Kozak Holland, and I have no financial interest in his book.

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