The world's interest in the fascinating history of Titanic has endured for more than 100 years.

Lifeboats of the RMS Titanic

Related article: The sinking of the Titanic.

Titanic lifeboats

Its design used advanced safety features like watertight compartments, yet the Titanic carried remarkably few lifeboats. Some of the Titanic lifeboats that were present used a special design that contributed to the disaster.

Lifeboat Capacity on the Titanic

20 was about the number of lifeboats on the Titanic, or enough to save about 1/3 of the crew and passengers on board the boat. It was originally designed to carry 32 boats, but the number was reduced because designers felt that the deck would be excessively cluttered. The ship actually had enough davits, or lifeboat supports, to carry 64 lifeboats, but most of them remained unfilled.

Most of these boats could handle about 65 people each, but there were also a small number of 47-passenger collapsible lifeboats and two emergency cutters capable of carrying 40 people. The UK had not upgraded the lifeboat requirements for passenger ships since 1896, stating that ships were safer and less likely to require lifeboats, making an update to the rules unnecessary. After the disaster, laws regarding safety requirements were changed significantly.

Because of this inconsistency in safety precautions, combined with a “women and children first” policy, most of the ship's men were left to drown or freeze. About 90 percent of these men were second class passengers. Interestingly, Sir Alfred Chalmers stated that if the Titanic had carried fewer lifeboats, more people might have been saved, since the existing boats would have been filled to capacity instead of partially empty when the ship sank.

Lifeboat Types

Fourteen of the Titanic's 20 lifeboats were standard Harland and Wolff types used in many boats of the era. Another four boats were special Englehardt “collapsible” lifeboats lettered A through D. They were capable of carrying close to 50 people each, but two of the boats were left in their collapsed condition on the roof of the officer's quarters.

Unlike the other boats, they weren't connected to lowering davits and were impossible to remove when the Titanic crashed. Approximately 100 more people might have been saved if these boats had been correctly stored or replaced by conventional boats. In addition to designated lifeboats, the Titanic included a pair of cutters; open rowing boats used for emergency situations, kept swung out into place in case of a time-sensitive problem.

Canceled Drill

Ironically, the passengers on board the Titanic, were scheduled to undergo a lifeboat drill the same day the ship struck the iceberg. The drill was canceled, not because of the accident, but by the captain. No one has yet been able to figure out why the lifeboat drill was canceled, but many more people might have been saved if it had occurred, since passengers would have been more likely to follow proper procedure. There where many lifeboats half empty when the Titanic Sank.