Did the RMS Carpathia have enough lifeboat capacity for its own passengers when it set out to rescue the survivors of the Titanic?
Yes. But only because it was sailing from New York to Europe, and so wasn't even close to its full capacity. Had she been sailing in the other direction, with more passengers in steerage, then the situation would have been different.
At the time of the Titanic sinking, RMS Carpathia was (probably) equipped with 18 lifeboats. The size of lifeboats at that time was not specified in terms of passenger carrying capacity, but, assuming they were of broadly the same type as Titanic's clinker-built wooden lifeboats, each would have been able to carry about 65 people. This is a reasonable assumption since both ships were in the same category under the UK Board of Trade regulations, and so were both required to carry lifeboats with the same minimum capacity (5,500 cubit feet).
That would have given a theoretical total capacity of about 1170 places in the 18 lifeboats.
Had Carpathia been running at its maximum passenger capacity that night, this would have been nowhere near enough for the number of people on board. As it was, she was only carrying 650 passengers on the journey from New York to Europe, so she would have had capacity to spare.
The passenger-carrying capacity of the Carpathia was changed many times over the years. She also underwent several re-fits, so the number and capacity of her lifeboats could have been changed over time.
The story of the Carpathia began in October 1900, when the Cunard board met to discuss the building of a liner to replace the Carinthia, which had sunk of Haiti on 15 May 1900. Swan & Hunter were invited to tender on 28 March 1901. At this stage, the proposal called for a ship to carry only "third class passengers and cattle". Their tender was provisionally accepted in July, and formally approved on 2 August.
The keel of the Carpathia was laid down in September 1901, and the ship was launched on 6 August 1902.
Changes to design
Several changes to the original design were approved during the building process before the ship was even launched!.
The first of these was on 11 December 1901, when the Cunard board approved a Swan and Hunter proposal to make structural changes to the ship's design which would allow the addition of Second Class accommodation and the extension to the Third Class accommodation. On 21 February 1902, the Cunard board formally approved further (non-structural) alterations allowing Carpathia to accommodate 200 Second Class and 500 Third Class passengers.
On 26 September 1902 the Cunard board approved changes to the design allowing Carpathia to accommodate 1,600 Third Class passengers (this was 1,100 more than had been originally planned).
The vessel was registered at Liverpool on 20 April 1903, and underwent sea trials from 22-25 April 1903. Her maiden voyage (from Liverpool to Boston) took place between 5 May 1903 and 14 May 1903.
Tonnage and Passenger-carrying capacity
When registered, the Carpathia's Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) was 13,555 tons. For comparison, Titanic's GRT was 46,328 tons.
According to the Board of Trade regulations in force at the time, British vessels which were over 10,000 tons had to carry at least 16 lifeboats, with a total minimum capacity of 5,500 cubic feet, capable of carrying a total of at least 990 people.
It seems that Carpathia carried 18 lifeboats (see below), and thus met the Board of Trade requirements, although this would have been nowhere near enough for all the passengers and crew on board if she was sailing at full capacity.
In 1905, Carpathia underwent a refit to add First Class accommodation. Cargo space was also reduced to allow Third Class accommodation to be increased to 2,250. At this point, her total passenger-carrying capacity was:
- First Class: 100
- Second Class: 200
- Third Class: 2,250
She underwent another refit in late 1911 / early 1912 (resuming service in February). It seems this was to allow improvements to be carried out to Carpathia's First Class accommodation, increasing capacity there to 125.
Her maximum passenger-carrying capacity was therefore 2,575 in April 1912.
Lifeboats carried in 1908
A 'Cabin Plan' given out to passengers on the Carpathia, and dated 1908, shows 18 lifeboats. Since there appear to have been significant changes to the ship's structure between 1905, and 1912, this is presumably the same configuration that she carried when she went to the rescue of the survivors of RMS Titanic.
(Click to enlarge)
The size of lifeboats at that time was not specified in terms of passenger-carrying capacity. However, all British vessels over 10,000 tons were subject to exactly the same regulations, so it seems reasonable to assume that Carpathia's lifeboats were of an essentially similar type to Titanic's clinker-built wooden lifeboats.
Those were each able to carry about 65 people. That would have given RMS Carpathia a theoretical total capacity of about 1170 places in her 18 lifeboats.
On 11 April 1912, Carpathia departed New York's Pier 54. According to Daniel Butler in The Other Side of the Night: The Carpathia, the Californian and the Night the Titanic was Lost, she was carrying 640 passengers (125 in First Class, 65 in Second Class and 550 in Third Class).
The 18 lifeboats should have been more than enough capacity for Carpathia's own passengers and crew, but not enough to also accommodate the 705 additional survivors rescued from Titanic (although they also brought many of Titanic's boats aboard).