Nautical Terminology and Practices in 1912.

This page provides information about nautical matters as they stood in 1912. Many of the topics covered have been repeatedly asked about in the alt.history.ocean-liners.titanic newsgroup.


Able Seamen. Master at Arms.
Blue Ensign. Officers.
Compass Errors. Points of the Compass.
Depth of the Ocean. Poop Deck.
Distress Signals. RMS and SS.
Dressing Ship. Schooner Rig.
Graving Dock. Ships and Boats.
Knots. Steerage.
Latitude and Longitude. Time at Sea.
Log Book. Tonnage.
Naming Ships. Visibility of the Iceberg.
Nautical Miles. Watches.

Able Seamen.

An Able Seaman was originally a seaman able to "hand, reef and steer". That is, he could handle sails and ropes, reef sails in heavy weather and steer the ship accurately and safely. These skills implied the ability to work aloft in any weather and a fair degree of fitness. Climbing to the royal yard on a big sailing ship was equivalent to climbing fifteen floors or so almost straight up. Even in the days of sail, they were not necessarily skilled in boat handling, as a well conducted voyage began and ended at a wharf, without boat work. There is some evidence that by 1912 standards were declining. After the sinkings of Titanic and Lusitania the seamen received a good deal of criticism.

An Able Seaman on Titanic was paid £5 ($25) per month. The unskilled workers at Harland and Wolff were paid £1 ($5) per week, and of course had to find their own homes and pay all their living expenses. The seamen were not too badly off, if they could find regular work and not spend like the proverbial drunken sailor in port. Most had no allegiance to any particular line and moved freely from ship to ship as work became available.

In 1911, White Star and other lines recognised the various unions involved in the shipping industry. The bulk of Titanic's crew were recruited by the unions at White Star's invitation. Some would have found White Star employment a shock to the system. Titanic was a dry ship, and not in the sense appreciated by seafarers.

By law, the seamen's pay stopped at the end of the voyage, even if it were ended by the ship sinking. As shipwrecked mariners, they were then supposed to be promptly repatriated by the ship's owners. The White Star Line followed the usual procedures with the Titanic's crew and there was nothing especially mean or sinister in its actions. Indeed, the Account of Wages for Steward James Witter shows that he was paid for the six days of the voyage, including full pay for the early hours of April 15th. He was also paid a bonus of 13 days pay, representing the time from the sinking to his return to England on April 28th.

An interesting fact is that originally seamen rated themselves. Those who considered themselves Able Seamen signed on as such. Those who admitted they were less skilled signed on as Ordinary Seamen. They were kept honest by the use of a book called the Certificate of Continuous Discharge in which each seaman's history was kept. He had to present this book to every prospective employer, who looked at his last captain's report therein. Woe betide the man who signed on for more pay than he was worth! This woe would come from the treatment he would receive from his shipmates and officers. Neither seamen nor officers wanted to be saddled with an incompetent, so the system worked quite well, give or take the odd belt with a belaying pin.

By 1912 the status of Able Seaman was attained by giving three year's satisfactory service as an Ordinary Seaman. As the duties of an Ordinary Seaman were quite undemanding, skills remained low. Proposals for formal training of seamen were dismissed as impracticable, though today they are common, at least in advanced nations.


The Blue Ensign.

Normally Titanic would have carried the British Red Ensign on her stern. Careful observers of films and photographs will have noticed that she actually flew the Blue Ensign. This was because at least ten of her crew, including Captain Smith, were members of the Royal Naval Reserve. They had volunteered to serve in the Royal Navy in time of war, at ranks appropriate to their qualifications. In recognition of this, Titanic was granted the right to fly the Blue Ensign. (The rules governing the use of the Blue Ensign have been greatly relaxed since 1912.)

The Royal Navy was formerly divided into three Squadrons, each under an Admiral. Each squadron flew a distinguishing ensign, namely the Red, the White and the Blue. In 1864 this system was abolished. The Royal Navy then flew the White Ensign, the Merchant Navy the Red and the officers of the Royal Naval Reserve the Blue.

The ensign was flown only during daylight hours. Cameron's film correctly shows Titanic sinking without the ensign flying.


Compass Errors.

Titanic used conventional magnetic compasses, which by 1912 were highly developed. It was common practice to use a dry card compass as the standard compass and to provide liquid filled compasses for other purposes. Titanic's compasses were made by Kelvin and James White Ltd, Lord Kelvin having played a leading role in improving the compass during the nineteenth century. The compasses were not connected to each other. Some attempts had been made to make repeaters for magnetic compasses but none succeeded on a large scale. Gyro compasses were under development but were a long way from general use.

A magnetic compass is subject to two principle errors and by 1912 these were well understood and allowed for. This contrasts with earlier times when the discoveries of scientists and of expert navigators were not appreciated by most seamen. During much of the 19th century the state of the compasses on most ships was scandalously poor.

The compass course is calculated by finding the true course from the chart, adding or subtracting the variation at the ship's location and adding or subtracting the deviation for the true course.


Depth of the Ocean.

By 1912 the depth of the Atlantic ocean was known in general terms. Much work had been done in the 19th century when the Transatlantic telegraph cables were laid by ships similar to Mackay-Bennett. Due to the difficulty of taking soundings prior to the invention of sonar there was an average of one sounding for every 5,400 square miles. After the disaster, some hopeful relatives of those missing tried to find out whether divers could be sent to the wreck. They were correctly informed that Titanic lay far below the reach of the technology of the time. The actual depth is 3,965 metres, or 2,168 fathoms, to use the measurement of 1912. (A fathom is six feet. Fathoms are still used in some places where the charts have not been converted to metres).


Distress Signals.

In 1912 the internationally recognised distress signals were as set out below. The only one employed by Titanic was the third among the night signals. Fourth Officer Boxhall told the British enquiry that he fired socket signals, which were rather like mortar shells, rather than rockets as commonly understood. All were white in colour. Two little Titanic mysteries are why 65 minutes elapsed after the collision before they were fired and why the huge foghorn was not tried.

It should be noted that these lists do not mean that there was an order of preference. Each signal was equally valid. It was also provided that a doubtful signal was to be taken as a distress signal.

Signals of Distress.

When a vessel is in distress and requires assistance from other vessels or the shore, the following shall be the signals to be used by her, either together or separately:

By Day.

  1. A gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute.
  2. The international code of distress indicated by NC.
  3. The distant signal, consisting of a square flag, having either above or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball.
  4. The distant signal, consisting of a cone, point upward, having either above it or below it, a ball or anything resembling a ball.
  5. A continuous sounding with any fog-signal apparatus.

By Night.

  1. A gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute.
  2. Flames on the vessel (as from a burning tar barrel, oil barrel, etc).
  3. Rockets or shells, throwing stars of any colour or description, (my emphasis) used one at a time at short intervals.
  4. A continuous sounding with any fog-signal apparatus.


Dressing Ship.

On special occasions it is customary to dress ship by way of celebration. On Titanic this was done only once, on Good Friday, April 5th, 1912. It is said that this was ordered by White Star as a small compensation for the fact that the public was unable to inspect the ship, due to lack of time. Before Olympic's maiden voyage, visitors had been allowed on board for a small charge and the proceeds went to a local charity.

To dress ship, strings of signal flags are hoisted along the full length of the ship. The flags are put in no particular order, as long as they make a cheerful impression. Strictly speaking, a ship should never be dressed when underway, but this rule is often ignored, especially by yachts. Yachts also ignore tradition by flying plastic pennants, such as are seen on used car yards. They would not impress Captain Smith!


Graving Dock.

Accounts of Titanic and other ships sometimes mention them being worked on in a graving dock, notably the Thompson Graving Dock at Belfast. A graving dock is merely a very large dock into which a ship may be floated. Watertight gates at the dock entrance are then closed. The water is then pumped out of the dock and the ship is allowed to settle down onto carefully placed supports.

The origin of the term has nothing to do with human graves or even the German Graben, meaning a ditch. It comes from the very old French term grève, meaning gravel in general and especially the gravel found on a beach where a ship might be grounded for repairs. Naturally a gravel beach would be better for this purpose than a muddy one, as many a dishevelled yachtsman knows!



A knot is a speed of one Nautical Mile per hour. It is considered incorrect to speak of "knots per hour", although a number of witnesses at the Titanic disaster enquiries did so. Neither does a ship sail so many knots. She sails nautical miles at a speed of so many knots.

The term comes from the old practice of determining a ship's speed by trailing from the stern a rope (the log line) with a piece of wood (the log) on its end to act as a drogue. The log line had knots worked in it at regular intervals and as the log dragged it out the number of knots pulled out in a set time was counted. The timing was originally done with a special sandglass. By practical experience the spacing of the knots and the size of the glass were adjusted so that the number of knots dragged out equalled the ship's speed in Nautical Miles per hour. A common combination was knots spaced at 25' 4" intervals (1/240 of a mile and a 15 second glass (1/240 of an hour).

On a fast ship the log line required quite a bit of strength to stop it when the time was up. This produced the legendary exchange: "How fast does she go, Mr Mate?" "Seventeen knots and a boy, Sir!"

By Titanic's time mechanical logs were in use. These consisted of a long log line which towed on its end a torpedo-like impeller. This rotated the line and the line operated a dial or dials showing the speed and the distance run. Originally the dials were on the impeller and only the after end of the impeller rotated. The log line had to be hauled in to read it. Later the dials were on board the ship. Trailing logs worked quite well at modest speeds, but were not much trusted on fast liners. Titanic was equipped with a Neptune log, which was designed for speeds in excess of 18 knots. It was on a minimum of 80 fathoms (146 metres) of line. From the speeds recalled by Quartermasters Rowe and Hichens, it was slightly over-reading.


Latitude and Longitude.


The Log Book.

The Log Book is the official record of all that happens to the ship and her company. It is normally written up from the deck log or scrap log, which is the book in which things are quickly recorded as they happen. It is always the responsibility of a senior officer to see that the log is properly kept. If the ship sinks, efforts should be made to save the log and it is a mystery why Titanic's log was not saved, as there was plenty of time to do so.

An additional Log Book was kept by the Chief Engineer. Naturally this recorded the work in the engine room, including things like coal consumed, engine revolutions and any problems. It too was lost, though this was more understandable, as no engineer survived.


Naming Ships.

Titanic or the Titanic?, that is the question. Grammatically, there is no reason why the name of a ship should be preceded by the definite article. We do not refer to the Great Fire of the London or the Battle of the Gettysburg. On the other hand, English usage is inconsistent in the matter of the names of inanimate objects. I am at home in Adelaide, using software from Microsoft. If I went east, I could cross the Mount Lofty Ranges by way of Mount Gawler and reach the River Murray. Heading west, I would reach St Vincent Gulf and could sail to Yorke Peninsula. In my yacht, Chloe II, I might meet the Accolade. How did my Chinese mate learn English???

The custom of using the definite article before the names of ships is very old. When Shakespeare wrote, "Master of the Tyger", he was following a well established tradition. Melville, Conrad and most others followed suit.

If there are any rules, they are something like this---


Nautical Miles.

A Nautical Mile is defined as the length of one minute of latitude at the position of the observer. Strictly speaking, its length varies a little from place to place, due to the earth not being perfectly spherical. For general purposes the International Nautical Mile is defined as 1,852 metres. To be really pedantic, Titanic used a British Nautical Mile of 6,080 feet (1,853.185 metres).

The Nautical Mile exists because the results of celestial navigation observations are expressed in degrees and minutes of arc and it would be inconvenient to convert these to Kilometres or Statute Miles.


Master at Arms.

This is a very old position on a large ship. Originally the Master at Arms was responsible for training a warship's seamen in the use of small arms. He eventually became the ship's policeman, serving out rough justice to minor offenders and reporting others to the captain. The position was also seen on merchant ships, where he dealt with unruly crew or passengers. Today the title is still used in some navies. On modern passenger ships the Master at Arms has been replaced by Security Officers under various titles.



The number of officers on a liner varied a good deal, as did their titles. Some people at the Titanic enquiries and some later writers have been confused by this.

Titanic had seven officers, under the Captain or Master. The Senior Officer was called the Chief Officer. (Wilde) and the next down was somewhat confusingly called the First Officer. (Murdoch). The rest were numbered down to Sixth Officer. (Moody).

Smaller ships sometimes dispensed with the title of Chief Officer. Their second in command was the First Officer and they had fewer officers overall. To further confuse us, on Californian the Senior Officer was referred to as the Chief Officer (Stewart) and the next was called the Second Officer (Stone).

The officers all held formal qualifications, having passed examinations and served an apprenticeship. For most if not all involved, this would have commenced on sailing ships. Their certificates ranged from Second Mate, (Groves) to Extra Master (Captain Smith and most of his officers). It was common for officers to fail to attain command although qualified to do so, as supply exceeded demand. On Mount Temple the Fourth Officer was a qualified Extra Master, while his captain was a mere Master.

It might be noted that the title of "Officer" was something of an ocean liner affectation. Strictly speaking, they were "Mates" and signed on as such.

Partly as a result of the Titanic disaster and other shipwrecks, the post of Staff Captain was later introduced. The Staff Captain's task is to free the ship's Master to concentrate on purely nautical matters by attending to the general organisation of the ship and relations with the passengers.


Points of the Compass.

Readers will notice that those on board Titanic sometimes refer to the direction of objects sighted in terms of points. This term is a relic of earlier times when the compass card was not divided into degrees. Early compasses were so unstable that no purpose was served by providing them with fine graduations and so early instruments were marked with 32 divisions, created by dividing each 90° segment between the Cardinal Points of North, South East and West into eight. Each point was therefore equal to 90° divided by eight, or 11¼°. As compasses and steering improved, compasses came to be divided into half points and quarter points and ultimately into degrees. The use of points lingered on for many years when indicating the general direction of objects sighted in relation to the ship. Thus several survivors mentioned seeing a ship's light two points off Titanic's port bow.

Until well into the twentieth century, a seaman was expected to be able to recite the thirty-two points of the compass in order. This was known as "boxing the compass". The first quadrant is N, N by E, NNE, NE by N, NE, NE by E, ENE, E by N, E. The author takes no responsibility for mental trauma caused to readers attempting to complete the full card.


The Poop Deck.

The poop deck, where so many of Titanic's company spent their last minutes, is simply the raised portion of the deck at the stern. The term is from the Latin puppis, meaning the stern. It reached English via various European languages.

To be pooped meant to have a very large wave break over the poop. This could have serious results, such as the loss of men overboard and flooding of the ship. That's why today it means exhausted to the point of dropping.


Port and Starboard.

The sides of a ship are named from the point of view of an observer facing the bow. The left side is Port and the right side is Starboard.

Starboard appears to be the older term. It comes from Old English steorbord, steor meaning steering and bord meaning side. On early ships it was the side on which the steering oar was fitted. The origin of Port is less clear. It may come from the practice of laying that side of the ship alongside a wharf when in port, in order to keep the steering oar clear. Port was sometimes called Larboard but this was not done when giving orders as it could be taken for Starboard.

At night navigation lights or running lights are shown on each side. Each must be visible over an arc of 112½° from dead ahead to 22½° behind the beam. The Port light is red and the Starboard light is green. When in doubt, ask, "Is there any port wine left?". In 1912 each light was in front of a screen which matched its colour. Today the screen must be black.


RMS and SS.

RMS stands for Royal Mail Steamer and preceded the names of British ships which carried the mail. This was regarded as a mark of speed and reliability and companies which owned such ships used the RMS title in their advertising. Even before they were completed, signs in the Harland and Wolff shipyard proclaimed Olympic and Titanic as Royal Mail Steamers.

SS stands for Steam Ship and was used to distinguish steamers from sailing ships, which were still fairly common in 1912.

The titles were used indiscriminately. The medal given to the crewmembers of Carpathia refers to RMS Carpathia and SS Titanic, possibly because RMS Titanic wouldn't fit on the tapered medal. Many monuments, including Captain Rostron's tombstone, also remember SS Titanic.


Schooner Rig.

Modern readers may be confused by seeing Titanic described as schooner rigged. This seems a piece of nautical pedantry, but you can't beat sailors for pedantry.

A two masted schooner would usually be a fore and aft rigged sailing vessel with the aftermost mast as tall or taller than the foremast. The largest sail is set on the aftermost mast which is referred to as the mainmast.

Titanic had masts of equal height but had no sails or means to set them. In 1912 the age of sail assisted steamers was not fully over. A picture taken on board Californian shows what appears to be a furled sail on a boom. It may have been used occasionally, if only to reduce rolling. Probably contemporary writers described Titanic's rig for tradition's sake.


Ships and Boats.

This is a topic guaranteed to start an argument. One man's ship is another man's boat. Over the years, usage has varied quite a bit, and many examples can be found to support different opinions.

In the days of sail the pedantic insisted that the only true ship was a vessel having at least three masts, all of them fully square rigged. All the rest were brigs, barques, schooners and so on. However, in general conversation or writing any fairly large vessel was called a ship. Some insisted that a boat was any craft small enough to be carried on a ship. Others said that a ship was a vessel capable of ocean passages, while a boat was something less able.

Before the twentieth century, writers followed these rules pretty closely. Richard Dana, for instance takes care to refer to Pilgrim as a brig or a vessel. He only uses the term "ship" when writing about ships in general. Melville is also careful, describing merchant vessels by their rig and warships by their naval classification. Thus Pequod is always a ship but Neversink is a frigate.

As steamers became more common, they were frequently referred to as boats. At first this made some sense, as the early steamers were very small and limited. By 1912, however, ships as large as Titanic were often termed boats, especially when their function was mentioned. The terms "cargo boat" and "mail boat" were often used by seamen. In his book, Charles Lightoller refers to himself as a "mail boat officer".

The term boat is traditionally applied to some kinds of craft which once were small, though today they are much larger. Any fishing craft, short of a factory ship, is usually a boat. Submarines are usually boats, but the nuclear submarines are so large that they may be known as ships. James Calvert, writing about his command, USS Skate and her voyage to the North Pole, consistently refers to her as a ship.

Probably the best way to avoid looking silly is to avoid referring to large vessels as boats, unless you are trying to evoke a particular period and are familiar with its style. Referring to small craft as ships is a bit less risky. Some yacht owners proudly refer to their vessels as little ships and in view of the cost of yachts they may be allowed this indulgence.



Steerage was the lowest class of accommodation offered to passengers. On better class liners, like Titanic, it was referred to as Third Class. Steerage passengers on the cheapest ships slept in open dormitories, segregated by sex. Early drawings of Titanic show small areas intended for this type of accommodation, but in practice they were filled with permanent small cabins.

The term comes from the fact that originally the cheapest accommodation was in the stern, along with the steering gear. This space was cramped and liable to inspire seasickness, due to the rougher motion there. On early warships it was the home of crewmembers who were too important for the forecastle but not important enough for the officers' cabins. For the joys of living in the original steerage see Chapter 2 of Two Years Before the Mast.

The term has nothing to do with people living in the holds of cattle boats. That is an example of what linguistics calls false etymology.


Time at Sea.

By 1912, a number of nations were using time zones on land, largely due to the needs of the railways, but it was normal for each ship to keep its own "Ship's Time", based on its longitude. Ship's Time was the time used to plan activities on board and was adjusted for eastward or westward progress as the captain saw fit. For instance, on the night of April 14th, 1912, Titanic's clocks were to be put back 47 minutes to allow for westward progress. To be fair to the crew, 23 minutes were to be added to the 8-00 p.m. to midnight watch and 24 minutes to the following watch. These adjustments were not made, the officers being otherwise occupied. As Third Officer Pitman said, "We had something else to think of".

As far as can be known, Titanic's clocks were 1hr 50min ahead of New York. This is not totally certain but it agrees with the radio log of Virginian, which heard Titanic's radio go dead at 12-27 a.m. New York time. This would be 2-17 a.m. on Titanic if the time difference was 1hr 50 min and fits in with the ship sinking at 2-20 a.m. The US enquiry concluded that the time difference was 1 hr 33 min. This comes from Captain Rostron's evidence, but it makes no sense when compared with the radio records. Rostron evidently got his information from Second Officer Lightoller, who assumed Titanic's clocks had been changed at midnight as planned.

Californian and Carpathia were also 1hr 50 min ahead according to evidence given by Captains Lord and Rostron at the the US enquiry.

Ship's Time on Titanic was kept by two master clocks, situated in the chart room. These relayed the time to 48 other clocks scattered about the ship. For navigational use, the ship had two chronometers showing Greenwich Mean Time. The radio operators kept clocks set to New York time and to GMT for use in recording their work.


Tonnage of Ships.

The following passage decribes measurement methods as used in 1912 and for many years afterwards. As mentioned below, a change has recently been made. It will appeal to lovers of nautical pedantry.

Ships are traditionally measured by several methods, depending on the type of ship.


Visibility of the Iceberg.

The exact distance at which Frederick Fleet sighted the iceberg will never be known. He told the US enquiry that he had no idea of the distance. I do not feel that he should be criticised severely for this, as judging distance at sea, even in daylight, is not easy. The empty ocean provides no reference objects of known size to assist the observer.

From trials later performed with Olympic at the presumed speed of Titanic, it was found that it took 37 seconds from the time a turn to port was ordered until the ship's heading changed two points (22.5°), as Titanic reportedly did before the collision. At 22 knots this amounts to some 420 metres. Allowing for the time taken to strike the bell and call the bridge, which may have taken as little as 10 seconds, as much as 120 metres can be added to this. It seems that the iceberg was sighted at no more than about 540 metres, or about twice the ship's length. This is well under Sir James Bisset's estimation that he could see an iceberg from half a mile (about 900 metres) off on the night in question. Bisset is reputed to have had exceptionally good eyesight, which is why he was stationed on Carpathia's bridge during her rescue mission.

Modern experts are much less optimistic than Bisset. According to Extra Master, Graham Danton's, Theory and Practice of Seamanship, (1985), on moonless nights icebergs are visible at no more than 500 metres. A modern edition of Knight's Modern Seamanship allows no more than 400 metres. This is more in line with Frederick Fleet's experience. The modern estimates disprove stories put about in 1912, especially by Steward Thomas Whitely. These claimed that the iceberg was sighted in good time but prompt action was not taken due to Sixth Officer Moody being slow to answer the bridge telephone. Fleet's own account is revealed as truthful, with the whole incident taking around 50 seconds from the sighting of the iceberg until the collision.

In daylight the iceberg would have been no problem. The lookouts' Height of Eye was about 27 metres and the iceberg was perhaps 22 metres high. Consulting my trusty Norie's I find that the top of the iceberg was on the horizon when 20.5 miles away and the entire iceberg was fully within the horizon when 11 miles off.

I give little support to the idea that the iceberg would have been more visible had a sea been running. Without the help of moonlight, surf is invisible at 200 metres. Even with the aid of a little light, if the sea is high enough to create surf on the iceberg there will be whitecaps everywhere, so the iceberg may not stand out. The iceberg would probably have been seen only as a black object against the starry sky, regardless of the sea state.

It is well known that the lookouts had no binoculars. This may have made no difference. Many seamen were and are of the opinion that it is best to look for objects with the naked eye, then identify them with the aid of binoculars. Graham Danton estimates that breakers on an iceberg might be seen at up to one mile on a moonless night if the bearing of the iceberg is known. He assumes the use of modern binoculars, which are generally at least 7 x 50mm. Having seen a pair of binoculars from Olympic, with their uncoated object lenses of about 40mm, I doubt if they would be of much help. Binoculars may have been of some use in shielding the lookouts' eyes from the cold air. They had a canvas windscreen behind them, but unless it diverted the airflow a little before it reached them, they would have been looking into a freezing 22 knot wind.



Titanic's seamen stood the traditional watches, which had been in use for centuries. As a device for keeping men in a state of chronic fatigue they have seldom been equalled. As Fifth Officer Lowe said, "When we sleep, we die." Only a few enlightened captains, such as Cook and Flinders, had the sense or the courage to change them when conditions permitted. The watches were as follows.

The seamen were divided into two watches, often referred to as Port and Starboard. Each was headed by a senior officer.

The two Dog Watches were introduced to give an uneven number of watches in each 24 hours. They prevent each watch having to be on duty at the same times every day. The origin of their name, which dates from the 17th century, is obscure. The idea that they are Dog Watches because they are curtailed is ingenious but wrong. I wish I had thought of it!

The passing of time was marked by the striking of the ship's bell by a Quartermaster. (A ship's bell is never rung in good nautical circles). A single bell signified the passing of the first half hour of the watch and an extra bell was added every half hour, up to a maximum of eight. Exceptions were made for the First Dog Watch, which ended with the striking of four bells and for the Last Dog Watch, during which bells from one to three were struck, followed by eight to signify the end of the watch. At midnight on New Year's Eve sixteen bells were struck.

A few of Titanic's seamen did not observe traditional watches, but worked at special duties during daylight hours. Special conditions applied to Quartermasters, who were on watch for four hours at a time, but only steered for two hours. For the rest of their watch they stayed on the bridge, ready for any job which might arise, or acted as lookout on the stern bridge. Lookouts worked as lookouts for two hours and performed other tasks for the rest of their watch. A portion of a watch spent on a special duty, such as steering, is called a "trick".

The Captain stood no set watches, but was available at all hours. The three Senior Officers, Wilde, Murdoch and Lightoller, worked only four hours on and eight hours off. The Junior Officers, Pitman, Boxhall, Lowe and Moody, stood traditional watches, working in pairs as assistants to the Seniors.

On 14 April 1912, the junior officers' watches were as follows.

Midnight to 4-00am.  Boxhall/Moody
4-00am to 8-00am.  Pitman/Lowe
8-00am to Noon.  Boxhall/Moody
Noon to 4-00pm.  Pitman/Lowe
4-00pm to 6-00pm.  Boxhall/Moody
6-00pm to 8-00pm.  Pitman/Lowe
8-00pm to Midnight.  Boxhall/Moody

The senior officers' watches was as follows.

Midnight to 4-00am.  Wilde
4-00am to 8-00am.  Lightoller
8-00am to Noon.  Murdoch
Noon to 4-00pm.  Wilde
4-00pm to 8-00pm.  Lightoller
8-00pm to Midnight.  Murdoch

Titanic had many in her crew other than seamen. These worked hours suited to their tasks, though not always to their health. Stewards began at 6-00 a.m. and worked far into the night, with perhaps a short break in the afternoon. As on shore, bakers and others in the Victualling Department worked by day and at night. Just setting the breakfast tables for more than 1,300 passengers was a major task.

The Engineers and their trimmers, firemen and others were divided into three watches. Each worked two four hour watches in every twentyfour hours, without any Dog Watches. The Chief Engineer, Joseph Bell, stood no watches, but was always available .

It will be seen that on Titanic the ancient traditional watches were observed by only a few. The needs of the passengers and the demands of the engine room had changed the old ways enormously.