Predicting Survival on the Titanic

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On April 15, 2012 it is exactly 100 years ago that the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. 1,496 people lost their lives. Only 712 survived. The Titanic became iconic, being built as a fast and unsinkable ship, yet sinking on her maiden journey.

There is an enormous amount of data available on the Titanic, her journey, her passengers and crew. We have taken some of that data and ran it through our algorithms, to see what we could learn from it. We created a predictive model, based on “Age”, “Gender”, “Fare Price” (in modern Pounds), “Class/Department”, “Group”, “City of Embarkment” and (as objective field) “Survived”.

As it turns out, the single most important thing you could have done to survive was . . . be female.  The phrase “women and children first” was taken seriously on the Titanic, and women had a much better average survival rate than men.  “Class/Department” was also very important for your chances of survival. Working in food service or in the “Engine Room” greatly reduced your odds.  Working on deck, however, gave you a head start to the lifeboats. For passengers, the first class passengers had far better luck than those down in third class. 

Behind the nodes, branches and colors of the decision tree, there are stories that the model doesn’t tell.  If you go to the Titanic museum in Atlanta, you can get a reproduction of a Titanic boarding pass with information about one of her passengers.  Like this one, with information about Mr. Austin Partner, a stockbroker from Surrey who had made the voyage to Canada 17 times, and had just started a new job.

Boarding pass reproduction for the titanic

Unfortunately, Mr. Partner did not make it to Canada.  Although a majority of the first class passengers survived, the model tells us that Mr. Partner had other factors working against him.  He was a man, middle-aged, and had a ticket that was cheap among the first class tickets.

Mr. Partner's path through the model

Mr. Partner left behind a wife and a pair of young sons in Surrey.

Another story with a more happy ending is that of surviving crew member mr Frederick Fleet (age 24), who boarded the Titanic as Lookout. He reported the iceberg, when on duty late night on Apr 14, 1912.

“On April 14, 1912, along with Mr Reginald Lee, Fleet took watch at 10pm, relieving Mr George Symons and Mr Archie Jewel from the previous watch. Just after seven bells, Fleet saw a black mass ahead, immediately struck three bells and telephoned the bridge. He reported “Iceberg right ahead,” receiving the reply “Thank you.” While still on the telephone, the ship started swinging to port. The lookouts saw the starboard side of the ship scrape alongside the iceberg, and saw ice falling on the decks. They had thought that it had been either a close shave or a near miss. The lookouts remained in the crows nest until relieved about 20 minutes later.” (From

Frederick Fleet made it to life boat 6, the first boat to be launched from port side. He would  return to sea and continued sailing with various companies for another 24 years.

There is always more to analysis than just the mere data and models. Tell the story and let the model come alive.


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