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How Long Did It Take for the Titanic to Sink? [Final Hours]

Written By Denis Cummings
Last updated: June 25, 2023

Over a century has passed since the tragic night of April 14, 1912, when the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg and subsequently sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Even after all this time, fascination with this historic event has persisted. One question that often comes to mind is: how long did it take for the Titanic to sink? Delving into this question provides not only a captivating timeline of events, but also critical insights into how such a catastrophe unfolded and invaluable lessons that can be learned from it.

In this blog post, I will take you on a journey through time as we explore the various stages of sinking, right from the moment of impact with the iceberg to Titanic's ultimate demise beneath the waves. Along the way, I will highlight some key factors that influenced how quickly water filled its compartments and discuss how emergency response measures failed or succeeded in ensuring passengers' safety before ultimately providing you with an estimated time frame for this tragic event to unfold.

How Long Did It Take for the Titanic to Sink?

The sinking of the Titanic was a gradual process that spanned approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes. The collision with the iceberg occurred at 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912. By 2:20 AM on April 15, the Titanic disappeared beneath the waves of the North Atlantic.

How Long Did It Take for the Titanic to Sink [Final Hours]

To properly understand how long it took for the Titanic to sink and why, we need to delve into a detailed timeline of events. This includes examining factors like the iceberg collision and its immediate aftermath, the flooding of various compartments, evacuation efforts, challenges related to lifeboats, and finally, how each crucial moment added up during the ship's last struggle before sinking.

Additionally, we will explore what measures were taken by crew members and passengers during this tragedy along with assessing what could have been done differently. Keep reading as I unravel these aspects in depth in subsequent sections within this article.

More Titanic Facts:

1. When Did the Titanic Sink? 
2. How Big Was the Iceberg That the Titanic Hit?
3. How Cold Was The Water When The Titanic Sank? 
4. How Many People Died on the Titanic?

The Iceberg Collision and Initial Damage

The fateful encounter between the Titanic and the iceberg marked the beginning of a tragic sequence of events that would ultimately lead to its sinking. Understanding the circumstances that led to this collision and the immediate aftermath is crucial in piecing together how quickly things deteriorated on board.

The Sighting of the Iceberg

By sheer misfortune, it was a moonless night when lookout Frederick Fleet first spotted the iceberg directly in Titanic's path. At 11:39 PM, he rang the warning bell and telephoned the bridge to report "Iceberg, right ahead!". Given such limited visibility, he had done his best under extremely challenging conditions.

Crew's Actions after Spotting the Iceberg

Reacting immediately to Fleet's report, First Officer William Murdoch ordered "Hard-a-starboard!" to turn Titanic away from impending danger. Simultaneously, he instructed closing watertight doors in an effort to contain potential flooding. While these actions were undeniably swift, they were sadly not sufficient to prevent disaster.

Initial Damage Assessment

Although Titanic scraped by about 20 feet from direct contact with the towering iceberg, it still inflicted a fatal blow as it struck against her starboard side. This caused a 300-feet-long gash across six compartments; much larger than her designers had ever anticipated. Titanic was engineered with watertight bulkheads and designed with redundancy in mind; it could theoretically stay afloat with four flooded compartments. However, this initial damage negated any chance for survival as she began taking on water far faster than anyone could have predicted.

The Gradual Flooding and Evacuation Efforts

As the Titanic began to take on water, a series of events unfolded, leading to its ultimate demise. This section delves into the process of gradual flooding and the evacuation efforts executed by the crew members and passengers.

How Long Did It Take for the Titanic to Sink? [Evacuation Efforts]

Timeline of Flooding Compartments

The Titanic was designed with 16 watertight compartments in an effort to provide maximum safety. However, upon impact with the iceberg, multiple compartments were punctured almost simultaneously.

  • Initially, the first five compartments (the mailroom, peak tank, cargo holds) began flooding.
  • Around midnight, two more compartments (the boiler rooms) started taking on water.
  • By 1:10 AM, two more boiler rooms started to flood.

Although the crew attempted to delay flooding by closing watertight doors between compartments, it was not sufficient to stop water from spilling over into adjacent areas.

Passengers and Crew Reaction

At first, not all passengers realized they were in a dire situation due to limited communication from officers. As soon as people came to terms with the calamitous turn of events, hysteria slowly began spreading through the crowded decks.

  • Wealthier passengers in first class were woken up discreetly by their stewards soon after impact.
  • In second class, there was marginally more urgency but still confusion.
  • Third-class passengers were largely left helpless due to lack of guidance and language barriers.

Captain Smith played a crucial role during this time as he gave orders for the lifeboats to be prepared for evacuation.

Attempts Made for Delaying Flooding

Aside from closing watertight doors earlier mentioned, other efforts included manually operating seawater pumps and attempting localized damage control. Tragically though, these measures proved insufficient against that fateful night's extraordinary series of events.

Lifeboats: Insufficient Numbers and Misuse

One of the most notable shortcomings of the Titanic's design was the insufficient number of lifeboats available on the ship. This fact was particularly concerning given that this shortage was combined with improper use of these life-saving vessels. Delving deeper, we will examine the capacity and availability of lifeboats and how their deployment, or lack thereof, contributed to the tragedy.

Lifeboat Capacity

The Titanic carried a total of 20 lifeboats, 14 standard wooden boats, 4 collapsible boats, and 2 smaller cutters. Notably, these lifeboats could only accommodate about 1,178 people—a far cry from the approximately 2,208 passengers and crew on board. Consequently, even if all lifeboats had been fully utilized and launched at their maximum capacity, over a thousand people would still have been left behind to face certain doom.

Disparity between the Number of Passengers and Lifeboat Spaces

While safety regulations at that time did mandate a minimum number of lifeboats based on shipping tonnage rather than passenger count, it is hard not to question why there were not more lifeboats aboard. As it turns out, while assessing proposals for Titanic's construction in 1911 - over a year before her voyage - inquiries were made about fitting up to forty-eight lifeboats; however, concerns over aesthetics and deck space led this idea to be ultimately rejected.

Inefficient Deployment of Lifeboats

Regrettably, during the evacuation process most of these already limited number of lifeboats were far from fully utilized. Factors contributing to this inefficiency included widespread confusion among passengers as well as crew-members' lackadaisical attempts to fill them adequately before lowering them into the water.

In some instances, procrastination played a significant part in lives being lost; one example being Lifeboat No.1 which had a capacity of 40 but carried just 12 passengers and crew. Similarly, Lifeboat No.5 launched with merely 44 occupants, while Lifeboat No.7 could carry up to 65, yet left the sinking ship carrying only 28. Furthermore, Lifeboat No.2, which had a capacity of around 40 occupants, was lowered with only about 17 people on board.

Improper Training and Lack of Drills

Lack of appropriate training and practice drills for crew members exacerbated the problems facing the Titanic's lifeboats. As many crew members were unaware of proper procedures and protocol for lifeboat loading and launching, this led to misinformation being shared with increasingly panicking passengers. Plus, no coordinated training plan was in place for adjusting launching equipment quickly during such a crisis.

Going Down Faster – The Final Moments before Sinking

In the final moments leading up to the Titanic sinking, the gravity of the situation became apparent and panic took hold among those still on board. Let's examine the critical events that unfolded during these last minutes, as well as how some passengers and crew members made their desperate attempts at survival.

The Ship's Inability to Stay Afloat

As water continued pouring into the Titanic, its designed safety features were no longer sufficient. With six compartments filled beyond capacity – two more than it was designed to withstand – the ship's weight shifted drastically forward, causing it to tilt.

The Climb for Survival

This tilt meant that lifeboats were even more challenging to launch, as their mechanisms struggled to function properly. Panic-ridden passengers clambered onto any available deck space, creating scenes of chaos and desperation. Many opted for makeshift life-saving devices such as wooden furniture or broken-off pieces of the ship in hopes of floating until rescue arrived.

Breaking Apart

At around 2:18 AM, just minutes before completely submerging, the Titanic broke apart in two. As a result, all remaining passengers and crew clinging onto any solid surface tumbled into the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Courageous Efforts

Despite these dire odds, there were individuals who braved through unimaginable circumstances until their final moments. For example, Titantic's band continued playing music in an attempt to calm panicking passengers. Moreover, several crew members devoted themselves solely to rescuing many women and children by guiding them towards lifeboats or helping others stay afloat till rescue arrived.

Total Time Taken for Titanic to Submerge

As mentioned earlier, the Titanic took approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes to fully sink after its collision with the iceberg. Understanding the events that transpired during this time allows us to gain insights into how a disaster of this magnitude unfolded. Below, I discuss various contributing factors in more detail.

Compartment Flooding Timeline

  • 11:40 PM: The iceberg collision occurs.
  • 11:50 PM: Water begins flooding the first five watertight compartments – affecting boilers, coal bunkers, cargo holds, and crew areas.
  • Around midnight: The sixth compartment starts flooding.
  • 1:00 AM - 1:45 AM: Water continues rising, with higher decks beginning to flood as they fill the lower compartments.
  • 2:10 AM - 2:18 AM: Loss of power occurs as water floods the engine rooms; consequently, ship's lights go out.

Critical Moments in Sinking Process

  • Post-collision efforts to buy time included activating watertight doors and pumping out water (italic).
  • Ensuing complications like an insufficient number of lifeboats and improper launch attempts worsened evacuation efforts.
  • As certain decks flooded more rapidly than others (e.g., stern rising as bow submerged), panic escalated among passengers due to lack of information and leadership.

Ultimately, from the moment of impact until Titanic's full submersion beneath the North Atlantic waters (Table illustrating time elapsed):

Iceberg CollisionFinal Submersion
April 14, 1912 - 11:40 PMApril 15, 1912 - ~2.20 AM

This tragic event provides valuable lessons on humanity's vulnerability in the face of nature's power, the importance of communication during a crisis, and the need to regularly reassess safety measures and technologies to ensure tragedies like this never occur again.

Charles Eames

Denis Cummings is a history enthusiast and author, with a passion for uncovering the stories of the past. Through his writing, he seeks to share his love of history with others and provide a unique perspective on the events that have shaped our world.

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