Question: Would Titanic lookouts having binoculars made a difference?
Likely the same outcome.
The question of binoculars has always been an issue. Binoculars work best in lighted and semi lighted environments. However on dark moonless nights where there is dead calm on the ocean, they would be least effective. Remember that binoculars limit your view to just what you are looking at rather than a wide area. Lightoller stated the purpose of the lookouts was not to identify but to alert the bridge, which they did by ringing bells. One gong meant look port, two gongs look starboard, and three gongs right ahead. The senior officer on the bridge usually had binoculars (Murdoch did) so they could look at what the lookouts were warning about, if not already aware of the issue.
White Star was unique in that employed men for just lookout positions. Other lines usually assigned men on an ad hoc basis (meaning they were on duty at the time). Lightoller told the US inquiry that he preferred those who had experience in such duties, especially on other ships he had been on. And he points out they became experts at detecting things on the horizon.
According to Ben Golby in the Sunday Mercury, a new book by Tim Maltin dispels many myths and reveals new truths about Titanic. Some myths dismissed include the infamous mummy or conspiracy theories that argue Captain Smith was drunk. On item written by Golby drew my attention:
“But Tim’s research shows the Captain – who famously went down with the ship – could do nothing to avoid the sinking which made headlines across the world.”
Really? That is not the impression one gets from reading the testimony of both inquiries into the catastrophe. It was avoidable. There was nothing predestined about Titanic going down that night. Complacency was a major factor in what happened. No one seriously considered Titanic could suffer a catastrophic event that would sink her. Lifeboats for all was considered a foolish notion by nearly every ship line as unnecessary, cumbersome and expensive. No lifeboat drills were done on Titanic so the crew was unfamiliar on how to properly lower them (which was done all by hand). Nor was it commonly known that each lifeboat had been tested by Harland & Wolff to hold 65 fully grown men. This was never mentioned to Captain Smith because Harland & Wolff assumed Smith and his officers knew this. Also a factor is that neither the officers or crew really knew the ship.
And it gets worse when you add Titanic was traveling fast through an ice field in the dark of night. No one paid close attention to those ice warnings. Had they done so, they would have known they were in the middle of a large ice field. They ought to have slowed down or stopped for the night. Smith thought it was not a problem and went off to his stateroom. Meanwhile the lookouts had no binoculars to see a looming shape ahead until it was nearly upon them. And Murdoch’s maneuver likely would have worked on a smaller ship but not on Titanic.
Smith was considered one of the most respected sea captains of his day. But the new class of ships handled very differently and Smith had reasons to be concerned after his experience on Olympic. To argue though that nothing could have been done to avoid the sinking is totally wrong. There are many things, large and small, that could have averted the catastrophe. It was neither predestined nor fate that Titanic would sink that night. Which is why its sinking is tragic.