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Luxuries vs. lifeboats

A grim cartoon of the Titanic sinking, indeed — even for Puck, the irreverent, satirical American publication that was popular in the early 1900s. It took this kind of shocking image to help change the way people thought about safety at sea.

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The facts of the disaster are well known. The “unsinkable” ship hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage; barely 700 of the more than 2,000 people on board survived. And there were only 20 lifeboats — enough for only a third of the people she carried. The ship had room for 64 lifeboats on its 16 sets of davits, enough for more than 3,600 people. But lifeboats at the time were looked upon more as ferries, transferring passengers from a ship in distress to its rescuer. Only 16 were required, so the Titanic actually had more than the law demanded.

That changed after the sinking. The U.S. Senate and Britain’s Board of Trade immediately opened detailed inquiries, taking copious testimony from crewmembers and passengers. The first result in the United States was the Radio Act of 1912, which ordered that ship-board radios operate 24 hours a day and remain in contact with vessels in the area.

In 1913, the Coast Guard’s International Ice Patrol was formed to collect and disseminate information about icebergs. In 1914, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS, was created to oversee maritime safety. It was agreed that ships had to carry enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone on board — crew as well as passengers — and conduct shipwide lifeboat drills.

April 2014 issue



Lifeboat Legends

This early twentieth-century image from Red Cross magazine illustrates a story on lifesaving.