World History

How many lifeboats were on board the Titanic?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Unfortunately, it's a well-known fact that the Titanic was grossly unprepared for disaster when it sank in the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, especially based on the number of lifeboats it had on board. The ship set sail with 2,208 passengers, as well as 899 officers and crew members on board [source: Titanic Inquiry Project]. Alas, the number of lifeboats on board was nowhere near sufficient for this mass of people. There were only 20 boats: 16 wooden and four collapsible.

    Part of the problem was with the maritime safety rules of the Board of Trade. The Board's 1894 Merchant Shipping Act required a ship to carry a number of lifeboats that directly related to the ship's tonnage. Unfortunately, the act only specified this for ships up to 10,000 tons, requiring them to carry 16 lifeboats. Thus, even though the Titanic weighed about 45,000 tons, it was still only required to carry the 16 wooden lifeboats it had on board [source: RMS Titanic].

    The 20 lifeboats that ended up on board the luxury liner were approximately half the amount required to handle the potential evacuation of the more than 2,000 passengers and crew members onboard. While the managing director of the shipbuilding company, Harland and Wolff, wanted to have 64 lifeboats on board, the justification for omitting them was the concern, expressed by the Titanic's owner, that an excess of lifeboats would have made the ship less visually appealing [source: RMS Titanic].

    Of course, another problem came about when the ship was sinking and people were climbing into the lifeboats. While they would hold 1,176 passengers if they were all filled to capacity, many of them were lowered into the water with just a few passengers on board -- the first lifeboat lowered, which was capable of holding 65 people, held only 12 [source: Titanic Inquiry Project].

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