When thinking about shipwrecks and deep diving the first name that will probably pop into your head would be the RMS Titanic. Since the sinking and subsequently, the discovery of the Titanic wreck, many people have been trying to figure out ways to get down and explore the wreckage. As technology has advanced tremendously in recent years, we want to know if and how we can investigate this famous wreck. Can you scuba dive the titanic, freedive down, or use a submersible vehicle to reach its depths and secrets? Today we will look into if this is possible or still out of reach.
How Deep is the Titanic?
In Belfast, Northern Ireland it took 14,000 men two and a half years to build the Titanic, and at the time it was the largest passenger ship in the world. Thought to be unsinkable, the Titanic set sail for its maiden voyage on 10th April 1912.
Around 2:20am on the 15th April 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank. The Titanic was located about 400 miles south of Newfoundland in Canada, but the exact location remained a mystery for many years.
It wasn’t until September 1st 1985 that explorer Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic. While mapping two sunken US Naval Submarines, Ballard used extra time allowed by the US government to look for the Titanic. During this time using underwater camera equipment suspended from his vessel, pieces of the Titanic were seen for the first time in 73 years.
The wreck of the Titanic lies at a depth of roughly 3,800 meters (12,500 ft) in the ice cold water of the Atlantic Ocean. We now know the location to be about 370 nautical miles south-southeast of the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. It lies in two main pieces about 600m (2000ft) apart.
Read More: Q&A with a Maritime Archaeologist who studies ship wrecks!
Can you Dive to the Titanic?
We have many types of diving that we can take part in, be it freediving, scuba diving or inside a submarine. In the following paragraphs we will talk about each of these individually.
The safest way to dive to the Titanic is with a submarine or using a remotely operated vehicle. Due to various factors such as depth, pressure, water temperature and location, using scuba equipment or freediving to the Titanic’s depths are not realistic options.
As most of us don’t have access to a submarine the chances of actually seeing the Titanic with your own eyes are very remote. However as of 2021 tourists can now book trips to go down and see the Titanic. The OceanGate Titanic Survey Expedition is making it possible for you to go and explore the Titanic using a state of the art submersible. As you would imagine however, this is not the cheapest activity you can do in the water, costing around $125,000 per trip.
Can you Scuba Dive to the Titanic?
The simple answer to this is no, but let’s look at why it is not possible.
The biggest problem or factor that we need to think about is the depth. 3,800m (12,500ft) underwater is a very long way down. The maximum depth for recreational diving is 40m (130ft), while the world record depth for a scuba dive is 332.35m (1090ft 4.5in) so as you can see we are a long way off making it to the Titanic.
The pressure caused by the weight of the water above also makes it impossible for humans to go to the depth of the Titanic. The pressure at the depth of the Titanic would be 380 bar (5510psi). This means we have 370 times more pressure than what we experience at the surface acting on our bodies. This would make it impossible for our lungs to expand fully to allow us to breathe.
Read More: How Deep Can You Dive Before Being Crushed?
Tanks or Cylinders
The next challenge would be taking enough air with us to last the dive. The submersibles that have been down to the Titanic for filming and research take around 2.5 hours to get to the bottom. A normal scuba cylinder would last around 45 minutes to an hour at 20 meters / 65 ft. I can’t even work out how many tanks would be needed to complete a dive to the Titanic but it is far too many to be a sensible and safe option.
Next up is gas narcosis. Going to this depth using even Nitrox or even a tri-mix of games would still result in breathing far too much nitrogen, causing extreme gas narcosis which would induce an altered state of consciousness that is not safe. It is similar to the effects of alcohol intoxication such as severe loss of judgement, and increases in intensity the deeper you go.
We would also have big problems with Decompression Sickness diving to the Titanic. Diving to that depth would require an extraordinary amount of time completing decompression stops to avoid DCS. This comes back to not having enough gas to complete all these stops.
For argument’s sake, let us say we have figured out a way to have enough gas to dive down to that depth and the pressure wouldn’t be a problem. (This is a very hypothetical argument I know!) We would still have the freezing cold water of the Atlantic Ocean to contend with. For reference, when the Titanic sank, the water temperature was recorded as being −2 °C (28 °F). Being submerged for such a long time in similar temperatures would result in hyperthermia setting in, even with the use of a drysuit.
Read More: How Does a Drysuit Work?
Can you Freedive to the Titanic?
As we have just learned, one of the biggest problems of trying to scuba dive down to the Titanic is the amount of air we would need to carry with us. So can we get around that problem by freediving down and holding our breath?
Again, sadly the answer to this is no. The same problems we had with scuba will still apply to freediving. The immense depth being the main factor. The current world record freediving depth is 214m (702 ft) with the longest freedive time being 11 minutes 35 seconds. Both of these would not be sufficient enough to reach the Titanic.
Read More: How Long Can Freedivers Hold Their Breath?
The First Dive to the Titanic
Since the Titanic was discovered in 1985 there have been several dives completed with various submersibles, some being manned while others have been remotely operated. It was using one of the remotely operated submersibles that had been designed specifically for photography that explorers were able to see the interior of the Titanic for the first time since it had sunk. It was during these various excursions to the Titanic that scientists were surprised to find around 24 different marine life species including corals, crabs and fish.
Since then numerous excursions have taken place, for either research or artifact removal. The most famous of these excursions being the one that film director James Cameron undertook in 1995. Over the course of 12 dives James Cameron recorded as much footage as possible which he later used in his 1997 Blockbuster film Titanic.
Can you scuba dive the Titanic? This is a very commonly asked question to dive professionals when talking about wrecks or diving in general. Most people know the story of the Titanic but might not be aware of why scuba diving to see it is just not possible.
As we have seen, due to the depth and extreme pressure at that depth, any kind of scuba or freediving is just not possible. Sadly for many of us if we wish to see the Titanic in this lifetime, it would be a documentary on TV. A lucky few might have the chance to go on excursions for scientific or research purposes, but most of these people would be looking at a live feed rather than viewing with their own eyes. Unfortunately, arguably the most famous shipwreck in the world is just too deep to make visits affordable or logistically viable. For me, part of the intrigue with the Titanic is the fact that we can not go and see it. If the Titanic became a popular tourist dive site, I think the mystic and charm would be lost.