Warning Factors

Although it was considered a technology masterpiece of her time, the sinking of the Titanic had many engineering flaws (both in the design of the ship and the implementation of safety procedures) that lead to her catastrophic failure and the loss of over 1500 passengers. The naivety of many involved, believed that the R.M.S Titanic was so great, that it could never sink. Even the Captain, Edward Smith, admitted “I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship [the Titanic] to founder” (1907) [4]. However, the flawed ship collided with poor environmental conditions and insufficient rescue equipment ending the voyage and resulting in one of the most catastrophic marine failures in history.

The Titanic was a British passenger ship sailing her maiden voyage from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 en route to New York City. On April 14th, a large iceberg was spotted at 11:40 PM, and it collided with the ship’s starboard side 40 seconds later. By 2:20 AM, the ship had sunk into the Atlantic Ocean and over half of the ship’s passengers perished with the ship [2]. Although there are significant environmental factors, several of the factors leading to the failure of the ship can be attributed to design flaws, which pose ethical issues for the safety of the passengers.


Titanic collided with a 150,000-300,000 ton iceberg at 11:40 PM on April 14th, which, although many argue is an unpredictable environmental condition, other ships in the area had been sending warnings of ice for 60 hours before collision [3]. The warnings were not uncommon, but they were sent frequently and it was known that ice lay in the Titanic’s path. However, the ship was cruising at maximum speed (22 knots), on a moonless night, which made it difficult for the crews to spot icebergs [3]. This was another decision that strongly influenced the sinking of the Titanic, as the crews were not emphasizing safety for the passengers.

The original design of the Titanic had two rows of lifeboats, enough for every passenger on the ship. However, one row was removed in order to improve the aesthetic appeal of the ship [1]. This decision supported the concept of the ‘unsinkable ship’ and the designer should not have approved this change that directly lead to the death of many passengers. This decision also did not have the safety and the needs of the passengers at best interest.

Another engineering flaw that was directly related to the sinking of the ship, was the design of the ‘watertight’ compartments that were located in the hull of the boat. There were 16 compartments that were supposed to seal, in the chance of water intake onto the Titanic. However, these compartments were not sealed and the walls between them did not connect with the ceiling. Therefore, if a sufficient amount of water was filled into the compartment, the water would flow over the wall and begin to fill the adjacent compartment. Unfortunately, the portion of the hull that was damaged by the iceberg filled with water quickly and tipped the bow forward, and water filled the other compartments. This design was not watertight, and the engineers/designers made clear assumptions of the amount of water they predicted would enter the hull. Because the water spilled over the walls, the compartments all filled and the ship was no longer able to remain afloat.

After the Titanic sank, several investigations and inquiries were held, although many of the ship's senior crew as well as the Naval Architect/Engineer, Thomas Andrews, perished in the ship. The International Convention for Safety of Life on the Sea was held in 1913, it changed the laws of passenger ships, enforcing each ship to carry enough lifeboats for every passenger.


  1. [1]  Bassett, V., 1998. Causes and Effects of the Rapid Sinking of the Titanic, Undergraduate Engineering Review. Available online. http://www.writing.eng.vt.edu/uer/bassett.html.
  2. [2]  Chawla, N., 2007. Engineering Disasters: Learning from Failure. Available online. http://enpub.fulton.asu.edu/chawla/Home.htm
  3. [3]  Felkins, K., Leighly Jr., H.P. and A. Jankovic, 1998. The Royal Mail Ship Titanic: Did a Metallurgical Failure Cause a Night to Remember?, JOM, 50(1), pp. 12-18. 
  4. [4]  Tenner, E., 2012. A Model Disaster, Popsci. Available online. http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-03/model-disaster


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