I found a very interesting film that was produced by the Pathe Film Company. It shows the R.M.S. Aquitania launching her life boats in a boat drill that they were performing on the starboard side to show how quickly and safe they could do it!
Source: YouTube, British Pathe
Title of Film: Item title reads - Safety First Always! "Abandon Ship" practice on the mighty Cunarder "Aquitania". Southampton, Hampshire.
That's all fine and dandy but when a ship is in immediate danger of sinking the launching of the life boats on any ship would have been a completely different story.
When you watch the three minute video you can see that they did have some difficulty and the ship was on a even keel. Now think of the Empress of Ireland how difficult it would have been with the Empress rapidly capsizing towards starboard side almost immediately.
This short film will give you a good idea on what it must have been like with panicking passengers, a continuous growing list to starboard and her life boats swing away over open water while her port side life boats could not be launched. Only if the captain had closed the watertight doors aboard the Empress and bought his ship more time to save the passengers.
And don't kid yourself even modern day ocean liners would have difficulty trying to launch their life boats when their ship is rapidly sinking!