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From the Titanic to Today: A Brief History of Marine Safety

The Titanic

The Titanic is unmistakably the most fascinating of all shipwrecks in marine history. Perhaps it is because of the number of lost lives, that the tragedy was avoidable, or because of the "capricious, icy demon, lying in wait in the dark Atlantic" that Richard Brown immortalized in his 1983 book Voyage of the Iceberg.

The sinking of the Titanic on 15 April 1912 led to the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), adopted in 1914, and still the most important treaty addressing marine safety.

The tragedy pushed the issue of marine safety to the forefront of public consciousness. Pressure was mounting around the globe for the creation of a permanent international body to promote maritime safety more effectively. The United Nations convened a conference in 1948 and the assembly successfully adopted a resolution for the formation of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) with a mandate to develop international regulations and to improve safety at sea. As a founding member, Canada has been active in the IMO since it began in 1948, and to date, has adopted more than 39 IMO conventions that are now referenced in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

Turning to home, the origins of marine safety can be traced back to an obscure 1834 Steamboat Act in New Brunswick. Fast forward to 1936 when the Canada Shipping Act (CSA) was enacted as the principal legislation governing the operation of Canadian ships in waters under Canada’s jurisdiction. As one of Canada’s oldest laws, the CSA was a piecemeal approach to shipping legislation that resulted in ad hoc amendments over the years. Canada’s long term strategy to harmonize domestic marine safety regulations with international standards only became possible sixty five years later when the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 came into force.

Today, Canada has more than 60 marine safety regulations in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, to ensure that in the event of an incident at a sea, passengers and crew have the greatest chance of survival. Improved vessel design and construction, better safety and communication equipment, modern day training of seafarers, and lifeboat design and drills, are but a few ‘then and now’ examples that contribute significantly to safety at sea.

Then. Titanic provided cork life jackets, offering limited buoyancy, no self righting ability and no thermal protection from cold water.
Now.  There must be a certified personal flotation device for every person aboard, having the ability to right an unconscious person face-up out of the water.

Then. Lifeboats on the Titanic were inadequate and only enough for half the passengers aboard. There were no emergency drills, which led to confusion of both passengers and crew.
Now.  SOLAS requires passenger ships to have lifesaving capacities to accommodate the total number of passengers and crew on board. Lifeboats must be fully or partially enclosed, and be motorized.  Regular drills are also required to ensure passengers are aware of emergency procedures.

Then. Titanic used wireless radio to make distress call with a limited range of 200 nautical miles.
Now.  Global Maritime Distress and Safety Systems govern maritime emergency communication and use satellite networks to communicate globally. Signals are promptly relayed to appropriate search and rescue operations.

The Canadian Coast Guard also complies with SOLAS and uses the latest technological advances in safety to ensure that lives are safe in our marine environment.

Environment Canada has created a Titanic 100th Anniversary site to provide details on the progress that has been made in Canada and around the world with respect to iceberg detection and monitoring.