Skip to comments.How the sinking of the Titanic sparked a century of radio improvements
Posted on 04/12/2012 10:02:53 AM PDT by dickmc
When the RMS Titanic scraped an iceberg on the night of 14 April 1912, its wireless operators began sending distress calls on one of the worlds most advanced radios: a 5-kilowatt rotary spark transmitter that on a clear night could send signals from the middle of the Atlantic to New York City or London. The equipment was owned by Marconis Wireless Telegraph Co. and operated by two of its employees, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride.
What Phillips and Bride lacked, however, were international protocols for wireless communications at sea. Shipboard operators were still an unregulated novelty, and they reported to their companies, not to the ship captain. They sent business and personal messages alike using assorted spark transmitters over various wavelengths. The vast majority of ships had only one radio operator, who was obligated to serve only a 10-hour shift each day. Efforts to regulate wireless at sea drew challenges from governments and corporationsmost notably Marconis own company.
But after a series of maritime accidents in the early 20th century, the need to standardize procedures and systems for wireless maritime distress became increasingly apparent. The Titanics sinking accelerated a process that to this day continues to improve communications technology at sea.
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2012- Costa Concordia's Captain uses lifeboat radio communications, setting new protocols on ensuring the ships Captain and crew remain safe. Experts say this new use of lifeboat communications will have the effect of saving the lives of countless ships Captains involved in maritime disasters. (There was no comment on the safety of the passengers.)
The ss California passed within sight of the titanic and could not be alerted as the radio operator had finished his shift for the day. One of the improvements that came out this was having ships fitted with a device called the international auto alarm which could be activated my a signal by a distressed vessels radio operator, and ringing a large alarm bell on ships over a wide ocean area, thus calling out the radio operator who was off watch and alerting ships able to assist. Before the age of satellite communication this system workd for many years and saved many lives. .....Been there, done that.
I'm sure they did, what about the passengers?
Another change that was brought about by the Titanic was the requirement that ships must have enough lifeboats on EACH side of the vessel to accommodate everyone on board. When a ship is listimg hard enough to one side, the lifeboats on the other side could not be lowered. The Titanic was the first time the international distress signal “SOS” was ever used. FWIW.
I’ve long wondered why they don’t just put some wheels on the sides of the lifeboats so they can roll down the side of the ship if they need to?
titanic was NOT the first time SOS was used. the first time SOS was used was mentioned in the timeline in the article. I have a copy of IIRC the Boston paper on the titanic. there’s an article onthe back page about another ship issuing an SOS before the titanic does.
Marconi was a thief.
I was thinking that an IEEE Spectrum article might get into the details of this, but this one doesn't.
2182 is still the standard hailing and distress frequency in the HF band. HF has much greater range than VHF. Satellite emergency beacons, EPIRBs and PLBs, are excellent for sending a distress signal when things go bad fast. They also help rescuers find you. But it is not practicable to make detailed communications about an emergency, such as one below that of a “MAYDAY”.
A “PAN-PAN” message, such as having someone on board with a medical emergency wouldn’t be something that you’d want to activate an EPIRB for if the rest of the ship and crew were not endangered.
The other problem with satellite is that other vessels in the area won’t hear it. A broadcast on HF at 2182 and on VHF 16 (or now with DSC, 70) can be heard by other vessels which may be in a much closer position to respond and assist than shore-based rescuers.
“I have often heard that one problem that was highlighted by the Titanic sinking was that radio transmission in those days did not really involve defined frequencies, so there was a lot of interference and confusion among different transmitters.”
The problem was that “damped wave” spark transmitters broadcast across a wide band of frequencies, with only limited tuning ability. The result was like talking and listening to many people across a crowded room. Very chaotic. More selective broadcast tuning was impossible until the invention of controlled-oscillation vacuum tube transmitters a few years later.
You may e right, I wont argue the point. I only know that at that time the international signal was CQD.
yes. national geographic has timeline on emergency radio signals, IIRC. the above article also.