The Failure Of A Captain – Maritime History

Tim Konrad
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June 25, 2008

The General Slocum was a steamship that set sail in 1891. She caught fire wile traveling down New York’s East River on June 15, 1904. The Captain of the General Slocum, Captain Van Schaick, made a number of critical mistakes that led to the tragic loss of more than 1,000 lives. Up until the events of September 11, 2001 it was the deadliest disaster in New York City’s history.

The events that led to this tragedy were avoidable and fall directly on the worst Captains in Maritime history. The blunders of this (add expletive here) Captain stand as test a guideline of what not to do as a ship Captain.

Failure to address a History of Incidents

The General Slocum had been involved in seven different incidents leading up to the tragic fire of June 15, 1094.

Failure to Prepare

Captain Van Schiack did not respond to the fire until more then ten minutes after the fire had been discovered despite being warned.
Failure to adequately train crew and maintain safety gear

Failure to prepare ship for Fire Emergency

The crew of The Slocum had never had a fire drill. In addition,
Captain Van Schaick he did not demand that hoses and faulty lifejackets be replaced.

Failure to Respond Decision-making

Captain Van Schaick badly mishandled the situation. He decided to continue his course rather than run the ship aground or stop at a nearby landing. By going into headwinds and failing to immediately ground the vessel, he actually fanned the fire.

To make matters worse, when Schaick finally beached the boat at North Brother Island he found he couldn’t get in as close as he wanted. “He caught a rock and people on the stern were actually in water that was substantially over their head,” says O’Donnell. For people who didn’t know how to swim the water might as well have been a thousand feet deep.

*Captain Van Schaick was found guilty of criminal negligence, failing to maintain proper fire drills and fire extinguishers. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.


Captain William Van Schaick Trial: 1906 —

1904 Paddleboat Fire:

Death of Captain Van Schaickhttp:

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