How A Single Key Could Have Stopped The Sinking Of The Titanic

April, 2022 marks 25 years since movie-goers saw Leonardo DiCaprio yell out, "I'm king of the world!" aboard the Titanic in the 1997 film "Titanic." It also marks 110 years since the real Titanic set sail across the Atlantic Ocean, but infamously sank on her maiden voyage. What was thought to be a perfectly crafted "unsinkable" luxury ship hit an iceberg just five days after leaving England for New York City. Passengers varied from high-profile businesspeople and celebrities traveling first class to immigrants in third class, but even third class on the Titanic was better than any other third class accommodations for similar ships (via History).

The reason for the Titanic's disaster is a combination of factors. The iceberg cut through five watertight compartments in the side of the ship, but tut the iceberg was also carrying rocks from Greenland along with it. This added to its strength when it hit the Titanic, according to Smithsonian. Perhaps there were prior flaws in the ship's structure too, such as those caused by a fire just before the ship set sail. 

The lookout crew did not have binoculars

As time has passed, more theories regarding what could have prevented the Titanic from sinking have surfaced. At the time the iceberg struck the ship, the lookout crew members did not have binoculars. The binoculars were in the crow's nest locker, but the key to the locker was not on board anywhere. Crew member David Blair was replaced without much notice before the ship embarked, but he did not remember to give the key for the crow's nest locker to whomever would replace him. 

The theory is that if the lookout men had binoculars, they could have seen the iceberg sooner and instructed the driver to move out if the way. Maybe a simple key could have saved the ship. This leads to another theory about events and responsibilities leading up to the disaster. 

According to historian Tim Maltin, ships similar to the Titanic at the time did not use binoculars to look for icebergs at night. Binoculars were better suited for inspection rather than detection of large objects. So did it matter whether the lookout crew had binoculars or not?

The Titanic disaster sparked maritime law changes

Regardless of its theorized importance or insignificance, David Blair's key labeled "Crow's Nest Telephone Titanic"  sold at an auction for £90,000 (around $114,000 as of April 2022) in 2007. Blair kept the key even after news broke of the ship's demise (via BBC News).

Lookout crew member Fred Fleet survived the wreckage. Contrary to Tim Maltin's statements, Fleet believes that using binoculars to spot the iceberg would have made a difference. He stated that with binoculars, "we could have seen it sooner" (via Daily Mail). Clearly there is no sole reason or person to blame, even 110 years later.

If there is any silver lining to the sunken ship, it's that the Titanic inspired changes across maritime governing bodies. In 1914, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea created a law requiring ships to carry enough life boats to account for every passenger aboard — a law that the Titanic would have broken. 1914 also saw the founding of the International Ice Patrol to better survey oceans for icebergs.