-- carmine marcantonio (, September 10, 1998


Hello Carmine: There are differing opinions on how many compartments could be flooded and the ship still float. The problem was though, that the watertight bulkhead between 5 and 6 only extended as high as E deck so as the bow was being pulled down by the weight of the water in the more damaged compartments, the water would eventually overflow from 5 to 6, 6 to 7 and so on much like filling an icetray and dooming the ship.

Regards, Peter

-- Peter Nivling (, September 10, 1998.

I believe the ship was designed to stay afloat with any succession of two compartments flooded, providing that there was a buffer non-flooded compartment separating the ones flooded; a couple of three compartments, again separated; or any four compartments. Anything else would have sunk the ship, which is exactly what happened.

-- Dan Draghici (, September 10, 1998.

Just to expand a little on Dan and Peter's answers:

Titanic and Olympic were designed with fifteen transverse bulkheads which divided the hull into sixteen watertight compartments. The ships were designed to float with any two compartments flooded. The ships could withstand flooding in any three of the first five compartments. They could even survive flooding of the first four compartments. The damage from the iceberg opened the first five compartments to the sea. As Peter mentioned, the bulkheads didn't all carry up to the same deck level. Those in the foremost part of the ship (i.e., the three bulkheads) were carried higher in the ship than the fourth. When the ship began flooding, the bow was pulled down so far that the water overlapped the top of the fourth bulkhead, and ran down into the fifth compartment. From there on, the ship flooded like an ice cube tray, until it sank.

After Titanic, Olympic was refitted to carry the bulkheads up higher into the ship, so that theoretically, she could withstand flooding in the first five compartments.

The third sister ship, Brittanic (originally to be called Gigantic) was still under construction at the time of Titanic's sinking, and considerable modifications were made to her as well, including a double-hull. The modifications were for naught, however. Brittanic was requisitioned by the British government to server as a hospital ship in World War I. In 1916, while steaming the Adriatic en route to the Gallipoli penninsula, she struck a German mine and sank in less than an hour.


-- Kip Henry (, September 10, 1998.

One other point:

Many people today claim that the Titanic disaster was, at least in part, a result of faulty design. I find this argument unconvincing.

While there are things that could have been done at the drawing boards (inner hull, higher bulkheads, etc.) which might have averted the disaster, the Olympic class ships ***were*** very safe ships. It is easy to criticize with hindsight. The way the iceberg damaged Titanic was about the only way the ship could be sunk: a long sideswipe down 1/3rd of the ship. The Britannic barely even counts as a safety problem, at least to me: all bets are off when bombs come into the picture.

As I understand it, very few ships today could survive the kind of damage that Titanic took. Most modern cruise ships are built on same the two-flooded-compartments priciple Titanic had. (Where safety standard are much higher is in fire protection, although this will always remain a concern at sea.) I doubt any of them could withstand having 1/3rd of their hulls flooded. Then again, they probably won't see too many icebergs down in the Carribian, so they probably are safe on that one.

-- Thomas Shoebotham (, September 11, 1998.

Agreed Tom! I have always felt that this disaster, to oversimplify, was the ultimate, and horrible, example of Murphy's Law. Who could have envisioned the circumstances in which this tragedy occured? No engineering fine tuning available in that day could have prevented the collision and resulting damage. One would have had to be able to forsee all possibilities and that just is not a rational expectation. However, ridiculous procedure and standards for safety at sea were certainly not reviewed beforehand and changes made to account for the size of the Olympic class ships and that, I believe, is the "smoking gun" in this instance. Unlike the engineering failures of Challenger (faulty o-rings), TWA800 and now SwissAir111 (faulty wiring, possibly), Titanic was state of the art not only in accomodations, but in design also. I, myself, do not buy into the inferior steel theory. Has any comparison or tests been made of the steel and rivets in other ships built around the same time? I believe the quality of the material used to build this ship was standard for it's time and the folks at H&W would have not tolerated anything less. To me, lifeboat regulations, lack of training, management pressure and absolutely horrid seamanship (Captain Lord and Co.)among other things were the mitigating factors in the loss of life on the Titanic. We can't blame the ship. We can't even blame the iceberg! It's like these computers we all use, great machines but they are only as good as what is put into them (you know-GIGO- "garbage in..garbage out!). All of the above, of course, is just my opinion. Now.. Back to our program!

Regards, Peter

-- Peter Nivling (, September 11, 1998.

Thank you, Peter, Kip and Thomas! Good comments.

-- Dan Draghici (, September 11, 1998.

Hello Again All: First, I want to correct myself in referring to the hull as being made of steel. It was, of course, made of iron! Just an old habit! Second, I just ran across this from Reuters which may be of interest:

Regards, Peter

-- Peter Nivling (, September 11, 1998.

4 compartments can be overflown with water.

-- Toi Ching Pan (, February 13, 2004.

the Titanic could float with any 2 of her 16 water tight compartments flooded. She could float with any 3 of her first 5 compartments flooded. she could even float with all of her first 4 compartments gone. But she will not float if the first 5 are comletely flooded.

Thomas Andrews words exactly

-- Joel Matyas (, February 20, 2005.

At least to my knowledge, the Titanic was designed to stay afloat with any four watertight compartments flooded. With five rapidly flooding, and a sixth with a small leak that the pumps could handle, it still adds up to six compartments breached. And ultimately 1500 people in lifebelts treading 32 degree water. How the system was supposed to work is in the event of a single-compartment breach, such as the one Titanic's sister ship RMS Olympic had with the HMS Hawke, the water would rise only to the normal waterline of the ship and no further, due to the water pressures inside and outside the hull being balanced. In this case the system worked as designed and the Olympic and the HMS Hawke survived the encounter. In Titanic's case, most of her bulkheads went only to "F" deck, a mere 10 feet above the waterline. With five rapidly flooding compartments, the weight of all that water pulled the bulkheads below the waterline before the "equilibrium" point was reached. As a result, compartment five filled up and overflowed into compartment six, then seven, then eight, and so on. In order to avoid a repeat of such a disaster, Olympic was pulled and retrofitted with much higher bulkheads, 30 feet above the waterline, as well as enough lifeboats to accomodate all on board. Now Olympic could float with any six compartments flooded. The Titanic's third sister, HMHS Britannic, was built with basically the same design as Olympic's retrofit. Britannic sank in 55 minutes as a result of hitting a mine in the Aegean Sea. In this encounter, five compartments were breached, the sixth was flooding because the watertight door between the two didn't close properly. Six compartments plus a wild card, the lower portholes were open, supposedly for airing out the ship, allowing even more water in. The Lusitania had 68 watertight compartments, built to a classified British Navy design, and she went to the bottom in 18 minutes as a result of being torpedoed. While torpedo itself may not have caused all that much damage to the outside, it caused major damge inside, such as destroying watertight bulkheads that would normally contain flooding as well as triggering that rumored "second explosion" that caused even more damage. My guess is the compartments-to-stay-afloat number is a best-case scenario with no other secondary damage.

-- Rett Wakeman (, March 07, 2005.

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