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The Greatest Boating Disaster on the Great Lakes

Posted January 14th, 2010
by BoatInsurance.org Staff (no comments)

SS_EastlandBoating accidents aren’t especially uncommon, at least when it comes to personal watercraft. It’s why you buy boat insurance. It’s why many states require boating safety courses. It’s why you take extra caution with your boat when you’re out on the water. There are few things more frustrating and disappointing for a boat owner than a boat accident and the subsequent boat insurance claim filing.

Fortunately, at least these days, there are few public boating disasters. When a passenger boat does sink, it makes international news. Technological advancements both in the area of boat construction and in navigation systems pretty much assure us that there will never be another Titanic.

The S.S. Eastland

And that’s what you think about when you think about boating disasters: the Titanic. There was another boating disaster, back in 1915 in Chicago, just three short years after the sinking of the Titanic, another ship sank. This ship, the S.S. Eastland, was a passenger ship used for touring the Great Lakes. When this boat rolled over while tied to the dock on the Chicago river, it became the shipwreck disaster with the largest loss of life on the Great Lakes.

In all, 844 passengers and crew were killed when the S.S. Eastland rolled over. This was more than half of the 1,517 that perished in the Titanic disaster, in a ship that was much smaller in size.

An avoidable disaster

One of the truly tragic aspects of the S.S. Eastland disaster is that it could have been avoided. The ship was known to have design flaws, not the least of which was the high center of gravity. There were many incidents leading up to the 1915 disaster that should have served as warning signs.

The Titanic connection

There is a connection between the Titanic and the S.S. Eastland, and one that may also have contributed to the disaster. After the Titanic, the federal Seaman’s Act was passed. This act required many ships, including the S.S. Eastland, to be retrofitted with additional lifeboats. It is likely the extra weight of these lifeboats that made the ship more susceptible to tipping.

2752 passengers boarded the Eastland on the morning of July 24, 1915. The ship was packed, with many passengers traveling to the upper decks, adding to the top heavy situation. The ship began to list, and the crew attempted to stabilize it with little success. At 7:28 AM, a large number of passengers moved to the port side of the boat to see a passing canoe race. When that happened, the Eastland rolled over onto its side. Hundreds of people were trapped below deck. In spite of the fact that the ship was less than 20 feet from the wharf, those 844 met a tragic end.

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