#033–The Titanic had 20 lifeboats. Why did Carpathia only end up with 13 of them?

Years and years of checking figures and it came down to one sentence in a webpage that I’d missed until yesterday (Yes, I was watching A Night to Remember for the umpteenth time). This is a question I’d always wondered about.

I mean, the story was compelling as hell, and I get wrapped up in it, but always in the back of my mind was this: Titanic set out on April 10th with 20 lifeboats (4 collapsibles, 16 regulation lifeboats and “cutters”), but when Carpathia docked on April 18th, she lowered only 13 into the White Star Berth.

So, what happened to the other 7 lifeboats?

According to Wikipedia (a source I rarely use, but this one was well-researched and answered most of my questions)–

  • Collapsible A was partially used and abandoned early. It’d partially filled with water when it was washed off the deck and the few passengers that made it on had transferred off (with some bodies left behind)
  • Collapsible B had rolled over but still floated and that’s what Lightoller, Bride, and others were able to stand on til they could be transferred to another boat. So that one eventually lost its air and sank, too.

    Collapsible B scene from A Night to Remember (1958). I keep expecting somebody to slip and fall off every time I see it.

Two down, five to go.

I understand those two boats being useless (Collapsible A was still bobbing around a month later, but because of the water in it, couldn’t be taken aboard the Mackay-Bennett–which had been dispatched to retrieve bodies from the disaster for several weeks). But what about the others?

Well, Wikipedia and TitanicFacts.net had some great info on that, and boiled it down very well: they were allowed to float away.

Collapsibles A and B couldn’t be salvaged anyway, and Collapsibles C & D, Boat 4, Boat 14 and Boat 15 were left in the ocean.

It wasn’t that the boats were faulty, it’s that there wasn’t enough room on board for them all.

It’s important for us to remember that the RMS Carpathia was 10 years older and a much smaller ship than the Titanic.  (less than 45% the square footage, less than 30% the gross tonnage, and 300+ feet shorter).

Size Comparison illustration between RMS Carpathia (superimposed with red funnel) and RMS Titanic, found on Pinterest

Carpathia also had her own complement of lifeboats per Board of Trade regulations (being approx 13,500 gross tons, she should’ve had about 16 lifeboats of her own–though I can’t verify the number yet). Where could they store all those extra boats on a ship roughly a third the size of the Titanic in most respects?

Also, the 705 Titanic survivors brought aboard also meant more space taken up. Carpathia had about 740 passengers on her at the time (I can’t get a crew number yet), and with a 1500 person capacity, there just wasn’t room to spare for extra lifeboats.

I’d always wondered what happened, because that’s one of the questions that lingers today–what happened to Titanic’s lifeboats?

Since they were so new (and in good shape), presumably they had their nameplates removed (the ones not swiped by souvenir hunters) and were given to the Olympic when regulations changed and she had to double her lifeboat capacity. Makes sense to me.

That difference between 20 and 13 always bugged me. Just surprised the books I’d read had never mentioned it before.

(courtesy Encyclopedia Titanica) The Titanic’s lifeboats being lowered into the White Star Berth, where Titanic should’ve been on April 18th, 1912.

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