In today’s conclusion of a two-part Risk Tip on the subject of mistakes, we look at what we can learn from mistakes.
Everyone knows about the 1912 sinking of Titanic, which resulted in 1,514 deaths among its 2,224 passengers and crew. A mistake or two can be found there, including the ship’s speed in an iceflow, single-hull construction, and only 20 lifeboats. Shipbuilders learned from these mistakes in Titanic‘s sister ship, Britannic, which was still being constructed when Titanic sank. A number of improvements were made before she was launched, including the addition of a double hull and a larger complement of 48 lifeboats.
Britannic needed them. In 1916, while in service as a hospital ship, Britannic hit a mine and sank even faster than her sister, becoming the largest ship lost during World War I. Due to the changes, 1,036 of the 1,066 passengers and crew of Britannic survived. One moral of this story is that it’s good to learn from past mistakes.
Interestingly, though, Britannic might not have met the same fate as its sister, but for a couple of new wrinkles. First, the improved double hull of Britannic would have kept the ship afloat, but for the number of open portholes (used to ventilate the hospital wards) that allowed water to stream in, causing an irreversible list. Second, the captain tried to make a run to shore in an effort to ground the ship, but the enhanced speed only increased the rate of flooding. Lastly, but for these new mistakes, even the relatively few fatalities might have been avoided. Two of the lifeboats were, without order, loaded and dropped while Britannic was still under power. The turning propellers crushed those lifeboats, leading to most of the fatalities. As such, if there another moral from the Britannic story, it is that it is not enough to preclude past mistakes, it remains vital to prevent new ones.
Bonus Trivia (with thanks to the wonderful Futility Closet blog): A stewardess named Violet Constance Jessup, pictured above, was in one of those Britannic lifeboats, but jumped out just in time before it was crushed by the propellers. You might understand her desire to leave the ship early, as she also was one of 710 souls rescued from Titanic. Indeed, Ms. Jessup also worked on the third sister ship, Olympic, during its inexplicable collision with a British warship, HMS Hawke. Notwithstanding these events, Ms. Jessup continued to work on ships, and retired after 42 years at sea, passing away in 1971.