Philosophy Titanic

10 Lessons from a Sinking Ship -108th Anniversary of The Titanic

Written by Stuart Wickes

10 Lessons from The Titanic

What are the lessons Titanic could teach us today? The luxury ship hit an iceberg shortly before midnight on 14th April 1912, more than a hundred years ago. By 2.20am ship’s time, on 15th April she was gone. In 2020, as the 108th anniversary of the Titanic sinking approaches, we reflect on some of the lessons we learnt on a trip to Belfast, and pull together ten lessons from the titanic…

The Titanic was a famous ship that became infamous through bad decisions, lack of safety and a random iceberg that just happened to be in the way. Back in 1912 she was, for a time, the largest man made moving object on earth. Unsinkable, or so people said. Over the years news footage has mixed with myth, and Titanic has come to symbolize ‘great disasters.’ Titanic may be an ‘old story’ but she still has lessons to teach us about life, the universe and everything, as we discovered during our twin city Titanic tour

10 lessons learnt from Titanic sinking 

What are the lessons we can learn from Titanic’s sinking?

What can we learn from the Titanic on the 108th anniversary of the sinking?

1. Your greatest achievement may turn out to be a disaster

Back in 1912 when Titanic left Belfast for her sea trials, she was said to be bigger, better and bolder than anything on the planet, the ultimate in luxury cruising, and almost unsinkable. Yet within weeks this great achievement became a great disaster. Once she hit that iceberg it really didn’t matter how fast she could go, how elegant she was, how much she cost, she was never going to escape her fate. Although if she’d had a few more or a few bigger lifeboats the human cost may have been less.

2. Tragedy & disaster may in time fuel great achievement

100 years after the tragedy of the Titanic, Belfast has turned what may at one time have been an embarrassing association with the berg struck ship into a dynamic regeneration project, the centre-piece of a strategy for attracting more tourists to the city. A £90m museum was the jewel in the crown of the huge Titanic Quarter redevelopment scheme and it has been followed by much more redevelopment. Even the local cafes and bars have cashed in on the Titanic wave of affection, painting ship murals on the walls and naming themselves after the disaster. Anyone want a night out at the Thai Tanic? Or fancy a cup of Tea Tanic? Go to Belfast!

Harland and Wolff Crane and Titanic Belfast Visitor Attraction Belfast

Legacies of shipbuilding live on in Belfast in different ways.

3. There may be icebergs ahead

There’s something in that song ‘There may be trouble ahead’ although when it comes to Titanic while it seems there was music on deck, there was apparently no moonlight, which of course contributed to the difficulties in seeing the trouble. But this is not a call to pessimism, rather to realism, or as the song puts it ‘to face the music and dance’. Whether you think of yourself as an individual passenger, as a member of a particular class or community or as part of society in general, you can be sure there are bergs ahead. You may already sense them, perhaps you’ve already been warned about them (Titanic had 6 ice warnings), but unless you watch out for them, take notice and take appropriate action in good time, you could be doomed. Have you got a good lookout or are you fast asleep in steerage?

4. Control is an illusion

Perhaps some situations demand graceful acceptance of fate rather than futile attempts at controlling what is beyond our influence. If you ended up on the deck of the Titanic was there much you could do to control your fate? Or was it already determined by the number of lifeboats, the prevailing weather, the capabilities of captain and crew, the vagaries of wireless telegraphy, the proximity of other ships, the class of your ticket, the temperature of the sea. Some of the most moving stories are of those who accepted their fate and acted in those critical hours with grace and dignity controlling the only thing they could, their personal behaviour.

5. Live life to the full

No one who boarded the Titanic could even begin to contemplate what lay ahead, although some books had been published years before that foretold of just such a disaster. But to most, she was the ‘unsinkable ship,’ offering new life to all who sailed on her. But our life is not for us to give or take away. 100 years on, we are no closer to being able to predict how and when it will all end than they were back then. So make every minute count.

The White Star Line Lighting Masts, Donegall Square, Belfast

The White Star Line Lighting Masts, Donegall Square, Belfast

6. Make every LAST minute count

It’s hard to tell how you will behave under conditions of extreme stress, but your last minutes could be your defining moments. Don’t waste them on thoughtless, thankless, selfish acts. Those who cheated and lied their way onto the life boats came to regret it later. And history still judges them. They paid for their cowardice with their name and reputation.

7. It pays to be upwardly mobile

Here’s a striking lesson the kids pointed out to me, that while money can’t buy you your life, your class and position may help you save it. On the Titanic that fateful night, those in first class were first in the queue for life boats. In terms of percentages many more first class passengers survived than those in third class. Isn’t that just the way of the world? Although when the lifeboats are gone and the ship goes under I’m sure all those coins in your pocket must weigh you down. Perhaps I should be encouraging my kids to be more upwardly mobile, or maybe even pursue it myself, but I think we’ll go for cards and notes, not coins.

Is this the real story of the Titanic?

8. Shout loudly and maybe the world will listen

Belfast’s play The Wireless Room showed how critical the Titanic’s wireless operators were in saving lives by calling for help. Without their relentless tapping, sending CQD (Come Quickly Disaster) and SOS messages to alert nearby shipping to their predicament and position, perhaps no-one would have survived that icy night. They had a job to do, to call for help, and they did it clearly, concisely, persistently, professionally, until they could do it no more, when the water entered the wireless room. There’s a lesson for us all there about asking for help when we need it, of the right people, in the right way, on the right channel.

CQD – the distress call: Come Quickly Disaster

9. If in doubt, blame someone else

It’s hard when things go wrong. Hard to figure out what happened and why, how best to avoid it happening again, what or who’s to blame. Apparently after the disaster, and once the inquiries and mourning were over, little was spoken of Titanic in Belfast. These days, ‘She was alright when she left here!‘ is the motto among Belfast locals who say it with a wink and a grin. They’re so charming, you can’t really argue.

10. Nothing lasts for ever except a good old Irish story

Even as I sit writing this the bacteria Halomonas titanicae is eating away at the wreck of the Titanic on the seabed of the North Atlantic. This bacteria eats rust and apparently scientists predict that within 20 years or so it will consume the wreck of the Titanic until the physical remains of the ship exist no more. With all that’s going on in Belfast, there can’t be many people left on earth now who don’t know that the Titanic launched and sank 100 years ago. Or that it was built in Belfast. And no matter what happens to the wreck, beyond the 108th anniverary in 2020, I get the distinct impression the people in Belfast will make sure the story lives on.

The enduring story of Titanic – on its 108th anniverary in 2020

This post is part of our Tales of Titanic Cities Tour.

We’ visited Liverpool and Belfast to find out more about how the two cities are connected to Titanic, joined in the Titanic Festival and tried to  figure out what the story of the Titanic has to teach us one hundred years on.

Read these other posts from our Titanic Season.


About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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