Why were so few on board the Titanic rescued?

When the RMS Titanic – described as the 'unsinkable' ship – sank on 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean, more than 1,500 people died and there were just 705 survivors

An emergency cutter lifeboat carrying a few survivors from the Titanic, seen floating near the rescue ship Carpathia on the morning of 15 April 1912. Why were so few on board the Titanic rescued? (Photo by Ralph White/Corbis via Getty Images)

The mighty ocean liner set sail with too few lifeboats to hold everyone on board, a decision based on the assumption that – in the unlikely event she ran into trouble – other ships would come to the rescue. They didn’t, but why?


There were two reasons. First, a miners’ strike caused a shortage of high-grade steam coal in Britain, which meant that far fewer ships than usual were at sea in the North Atlantic.

Under normal circumstances the Titanic might have expected to be in sight of two or three ships at all times – but those ships were simply not there. The second reason was that not all ships had radios, and those that did have them did not man their radios 24 hours a day.

At least two ships, the SS Californian and SS Parisian, could have reached Titanic in time to rescue everyone on board had they received the distress call – but the radio sets on both ships were switched off that night.


This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine