Titanic FAQs: Time & Again


(Chronometer Photo Courtesy John Wright; Digital Art by Steve Hall)

Time & Again: Titanic‘s Final Hours

Question: A) How much time separated Titanic‘s shipboard time, during the disaster, and time ashore in places like New York, Washington, D.C., London, Southampton, etc.? B) Were there any clock setbacks made before the collision?

Answer: A) Titanic‘s shipboard time was 2 hours and 2 minutes ahead of cities like New York and Washington, D.C.; it was 2 hours and 58 minutes behind time in cities such as Southampton and London, England. B) No, no clock setbacks had been implemented before the collision, or before the ship sank.

It has been a subject that has created great confusion ever since the morning of April 15, 1912: how far apart were Titanic‘s clocks from clocks ashore when she sank? Very few people know today that each of the three inquiries into the disaster reached different conclusions on the matter: the American Inquiry concluded she was 1 hour and 33 minutes ahead of New York Time; the British Inquiry concluded she was 1 hour and 50 minutes ahead of New York Time; finally, the Limitation of Liability Hearings concluded that she was 1 hour and 39 minutes ahead of New York Time.

The passage of time has not helped matters. Sad to say, there is a lot of bad information out there on this subject. However, after months of painstaking research, an international team that I was proud to be a part of has released our nearly book-length technical article on this subject. It considers many different lines of evidence on the matter, and considers why some of the popular information on the subject (including a chronometer recovered from the wreck site) is not helpful and has actually proved misleading.

The Chronometer – Article Outtakes, Part 1.

As we researched the history of the chronometer (Artifact No. 96/0026) recovered from the wreck of the Titanic, we discovered that finding hard data on its condition before restoration and display to the public was very difficult. We knew that the time shown on the chronometer when on display (such as in the popular AP photo) was meaningless, because the hands were completely loose, not attached to any mechanism; however, we wanted to know if it had read anything before restoration.

Just when we were about to give up, a collector approached us and shared with us a photo of an information booklet that they had acquired from the 1998 Zurich, Switzerland exhibit. Although the chronometer had not been on display there, a photo of it (with caption) was reproduced in the booklet. The condition of the hands as shown in this photo made undeniable what we had suspected all along: that the hands were dismounted long before restoration, and could not be used to help support any time difference between Titanic’s ATS and New York / London times.

Below you will find a snippet of a photo taken of the actual brochure, open to the correct page that showed the photo of the chronometer. We have retained the caption that accompanied it.

Titanic_ChronometerThis photo of the brochure is being shared here (although we chose not to reproduce it in the article) for research purposes only, and to show that we really did have a hard photo to go on when we wrote Section 10 of our new article, lest some attempt to cast doubt on that. The caption, when translated, roughly reads:

“A chronometer from the wreck of the Titanic. It was recovered during the dive trips in the summer of 1996.”

At this point, there can be no question that the chronometer is utterly useless at determining the time difference between Titanic and time in various locations on shore. However, there are many other lines of evidence that actually aided us in determining correct shipboard time as it related to time ashore during the disaster.

The Virginian Transmissions – Outtakes, Part 2.

It is commonly believed that the last transmissions from the Titanic were received at 12:27 am New York Time, overheard by the Marconi operator on the Virginian. However, if true, this would preclude the 2 hour and 2 minute time difference ahead of New York which is supported by the vast majority of evidence, because that last transmission would have then have been sent from Titanic at 2:29 ATS (Apparent Time Ship) – nine minutes after the ship had sunk.

MarconiSet-Marconi Archives

This photo, ca. 1912, shows a 5kW Marconi set in the Marconi House training center in London, England. Marconi Company archives describe this set as identical to that aboard both Olympic and Titanic. On the extreme left of the image is the motor/alternator, to which the disc discharger box attached. — J. Kent Layton Collection

This question is particularly thorny because ever since Harold Bride testified in 1912, it has often been said that Titanic‘s Marconi set was completely unique, featuring a “rotary spark gap”-style discharger that Bride claimed was the only one of its sort then at sea. The sound of this set, it has been pointed out, should have been unmistakable to operators like the one aboard the Virginian.

We were already aware, however, of the fact that another vessel thought they heard Titanic transmitting long after she had sunk by any purported time difference; so her voice was clearly not wholly unmistakable. As we dug deeper on this subject for “Time & Again: Titanic‘s Final Hours”, however, we made some startling discoveries: 1) that all three of the late transmissions overheard by Virginian‘s operator were likely not from the Titanic; 2) that a number of sets using rotary spark dischargers had been installed on land and marine sets by the time Titanic sank; 3) that a critical gap in Virginian‘s log showed that her operator had apparently not heard Titanic transmitting even when other ships claimed they could hear her, but before he claimed to have heard those now-suspicious three late transmissions that no one else heard.

Clearly, the three late transmissions from the Virginian are not enough to discount all of the other evidence that favors a 2 hour and 2 minute time difference between New York and Titanic‘s ATS.

For all the details on why 2 hours and 2 minutes is the only believable time difference from New York, and why the other time differences are incorrect, please read the full article here:



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