Virtual Training

In the past, the first experience a cadet would have of the bridge of a ship was onboard the real thing. That is no longer the case and with the advent of simulators even visitors to any major marine equipment exhibition will be able to get a taste of what modern navigators experience. For would-be officers, basic training will still be likely to be undertaken at a training establishment somewhere in the world and the need remains for them to complete service at sea before being granted basic certification.

Simulators, their use and the quality of instruction are given a whole section (A-I/12) of the STCW 2010 text. There are two performance standards – one applying to simulators used for training and the other for simulators used to assess competence. In addition there are some additional requirements for radar and ARPA simulators.

Throughout the tables that are included in STCW 2010 detailing the minimum standards required for different ranks and specialisations, simulators are mentioned in the majority of cases as being a method for demonstrating competence. The use of simulators is ranked third in the choice of ‘Examination and assessment of evidence obtained’ after approved in service experience and approved training ship experience. This is confirmation of the often expressed view that modern seafarer training is becoming more aimed at competence than experience. Considering that recent report by the ICS forecast a shortfall in officer numbers of around 147,000 in the very near future this is more a necessity than some believe desirable.

Today, every training centre worth its salt will have a simulator of some sort – most likely supplied by Transas, Kongsberg or VSTEP – on which cadets will undergo much of their ‘practical’ training. Early simulators cannot match the performance of their newer counterparts and the view from the bridge will be like something from a 1980s computer game rather than the sophisticated graphics that are in use today and which fool even experienced hands. Although from outside, a modern simulator looks nothing like a real ship, the view from inside is very different and surprisingly realistic.

The IMO has attempted to build a database of approved simulators which can be accessed in the GISIS database. The database is free to use but ShipInsight’s examination of the list shows it to be somewhat limited in number. Certainly the list falls far short of the numbers claimed by leading simulator makers. Transas claims to have around 45% of the simulator market and boasts of 5,500 of its systems installed in over 1,500 training and simulation centres in more than 100 countries worldwide. The market is not limited to just the three companies mentioned above. PC Maritime, BMT Rembrandt, FORCE Technology, Marin and ARI are other players that are active in the sector – sometimes serving niche markets but often with a wide range of products.

While there is a general perception that all simulators are of the type that can sometimes be seen at equipment exhibitions featuring an integrated bridge system and screens showing a virtual view of a port or harbour with other ships and structures presenting hazards, this is not the case.

Simulators come in many sizes and guises with even a simple PC and monitor able to meet the performance standards demanded of simulators by certificate issuing authorities. Although a PC simulator can be controlled by mouse and keyboard it is common to use a special controller that makes use of control panels that replicate typical bridge controls.

Those entering the industry today are more than likely to cut their teeth in ship handling and navigation on a simulator rather than on the bridge of an actual ship. Stand-alone simulators representing a particular piece of equipment or system are meant for equipment familiarisation, refreshment of knowledge and some basic training. Classroom simulators which are usually desktop PCs are intended for operational training and certification.

For instance, ECDIS training, which became mandatory according to the latest STCW requirements, can be done on a class or mini-lab simulator. While full mission simulators include a lot of controls or as in the most advanced training centres, replica of the real equipment. Their primary goal is conducting advanced training and certification, certain configurations and courses – DP systems are a good example – can allow even for sea time reduction training.

The modern trend in simulator capability shows the following specific technical requirements for marine simulation:

  • Requirements to simulate specific type of equipment, control and operation systems including mimic and logic rather than working with a generic solution;
  • Mathematical modelling becomes a major value in the product chain due to complexity of the reflected processes and requirements for precision and computation speed;
  • There is more interest expressed in integrated solutions where various types of simulators act in a common training scenario. The increased sophistication of today’s vessels and terminals has created intense demand for total vessel integrated training. This training need has not only expanded to the combined navigation/cargo/engineering integration, but moved past the ship/shore interface to include the terminal as well.

Transas and other market leaders say they are focusing investment on development of technological tools that will help to overcome those challenges. The most important part of this process is introduction of new visual object-oriented modelling package and physical libraries to speed up the simulator manufacturing and make it extremely flexible and competitive.

One of the recent developments by Transas is a new mechanical interaction in its navigational simulators. This function allows for raising the training realism to an unprecedented high level. Mechanical interaction Simulators algorithm ensures comprehensive interaction between ship’s superstructure and scene construction elements. 3D object geometry and mass parameters are taken into account precisely for the interaction calculation.

This provides new opportunities for emergency scenario training. Among other features are enhanced stability and quality of modelling of operations involving floating fenders; multiple collisions between the floating objects and an ownship; cargo damage scenario; realistic grounding and stuck scenarios modelling and support of special training cases including boat free-fall and landing elements.

With current development of technology, there is no doubt that simulators can provide realistic and cost-effective training that should be supplemented by sea time. In addition, simulators allow for practicing troubleshooting procedures which cannot be done in real conditions without risk to personnel and assets.

High end full mission simulators can be expensive items of equipment which is why the majority are found in large training facilities. There are however a small number that are owned by individual shipowners or jointly by a small group of owners.
Star Cruises was an early adopter and opened its own simulator centre in Port Klang in 1998. Offshore operator Farstad Shipping has a fully owned simulator centre in Perth Australia and is also involved in the Offshore Simulator Centre (OSC) in Ålesund, and the Fosnavaag Ocean Academy both in Norway. Maersk Training has several training centres around the globe with some having simulator facilities including for specialist training such as drilling operations.

The most recent operator to develop its own simulator centre is Carnival Cruises with the CSMART (Center for Simulator Maritime Training) training facility located in Almere, Netherlands planned to open this year. CSMART offers two full mission bridge simulators, six part-task bridge simulators and the ability to simulate fixed propeller and azipod simulation. On the engineering side CSMART offers two full mission Engine Control Rooms with four machinery outstations and 16 part-task Engine Room simulators. The facility also features large instructional classrooms, meetings rooms and a catering facility.
While such operators could make full use of their own simulators, some will also offer training for other operators. Companies that cannot justify having their own facility may be able to lease a simulator for their private use for a period or else will have to send staff on open training courses. The advantage of having sole use is that own procedures and training programmes can be accommodated.

For some applications, portable simulators can be better suited than large fixed installations. Transas has designed a portable version of a simulator for ECDIS courses. A trainer can bring it to a customer’s site or even onboard reducing travelling and accommodation costs for trainees and saving time. Recently this ECDIS generic training and mobile classroom solution for type-specific training has received approval from the German flag.

However, mobile solutions cannot replace fixed simulators for advanced training and certification for certain areas. Where it is possible to replicate the bridge of an existing – or planned – vessel, complex exercises in both ship handling and crew resource management operations can be carried out.

An example of this is provided by Maersk Line’s training of officers for the Triple-E ships at Force Technology’s simulator centre at Lyngby in Denmark. Maersk released a video of some of the reactions of officers who talked of the big difference in steering the vessels because of their twin skeg configuration and lack of stern thrusters. The officers praised the realism of the training that included the vibration of the ship and the sound of the wind.

Another option is onboard simulator training. It is not suitable for all applications, but is gaining popularity for training vessels where it becomes a perfect match with sea time training. One of the recent examples is an engine room simulator installed by Transas onboard Avatar. The training solution includes a full mission engine room simulator and six trainee stations classroom. This simulator is used for training of ex-navy marine engineers who have left the Republic of Singapore Navy, but are recalled annually for refresher training/standard operational procedures.

Simulator training need not be restricted to one aspect of a ship or indeed to a single ship. With bridge and engine room simulators common place, connecting the two together can dramatically increase the training scenario permutations. Even more variety can be added if simulators can be run in a mode that enables multiple vessels to operate in a single exercise. This could involve vessel and tugs or vessels navigating independently in confined waters.

Training exercises of this type are of particular value if the purpose of the training is to develop bridge team management skills as several trainees will be undertaking training at the same time. Simulators have been recognised as a very good tool for this type of training. The skill of the trainer can also add value in that it will be possible for him to change the parameters if it seems desirable. This could for example involve a possible mechanical problem, loss of steering, deterioration in weather and visibility, an encounter with another vessel or any similar problem that could arise at any time.

An example of the extended training available involved a mass rescue simulation exercise within the International Maritime Mass Rescue Conference 2014 held by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF). The conference was hosted by the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS). The event used the simulator facilities of both the Chalmers University of Technology and the Swedish Maritime Administration. Both organisations use identical Transas navigational simulators. To run the exercise, both simulator facilities were interconnected on root level creating a large complex simulator consisting of five full mission bridges and two debriefing rooms. The objective of the exercise was to demonstrate a methodology how to coordinate, communicate and act during a mass rescue operation.

The simulator bridges were manned by real masters and pilots with rescue professionals controlling the VHFs for target ships and rescue centres. During the exercise, the delegates were invited to join the bridges or debriefing rooms where the exercise was monitored in real time on instructor monitors and on selective visual cameras on projector screens.

Debrief was coordinated by the SSRS personnel. An IMRF official said after the event that the ability to move between the five bridge simulations and gain the varying perspectives the masters were dealing with, gave many of the shore based SAR practitioners attending the conference a better appreciation of the challenges MRO incidents pose on the water.

Some simulator developers have modelled actual port environments allowing the trainees to experience bringing a vessel into a specific port or berth. This sort of exercise can be valuable for new crew joining a ship that regularly calls at the particular port or to investigate potential problems if a new port is being added to a ship’s operational pattern. Not only crew but pilots can profit from this sort of training.


Written by – Malcolm Latarche (Ship Insight)

The Evolving Standard of Simulated Bridge Team Training

We ask ourselves more and more “How well prepared are traditional maritime institutions at providing training for modern seafarers to operate on evolving new ships with vast and varied new equipment?  How relevant and appropriate are the varying BTM, BRM and CRM syllabi offered around the World?”

Unfortunately, initial outlay for a new simulator is expensive. An average FMB of 360 degree costs over £300,000 GBP.  This in conjunction with rapid changes in marine technology is putting pressure on colleges to adopt several of the 38 different manufacturers of ECDIS alone for their simulators. This raises the questions; can these institutions reasonably keep pace with the current demands that are needed to train the industry as a whole?  We have to approach the dangerous question of how effective is a bridge training course if it does not use any of the actual bridge equipment fitted to the student’s vessel.  Yes we could argue that the courses can still teach the principles of navigation, but surely the closer we are to practicing on our actual equipment the better.  Perhaps try to imagine an aircraft training centre that teaches Pilots how to fly planes in a simulator that has no equipment similar to their actual plane.  Would we still be happy to get on board for our summer holiday assuming the first time the pilot worked through the ‘what if’ equipment and team failures was during a real emergency or accident at 35,000 feet?

There are currently 75,000 SOLAS registered vessels operating at sea that require bridge team and resource training. As a result of the sheer number of varying vessel types and Bridge Interfaces, and of course different navigation systems, there is huge demand for preparing our current and future seafarers with the most genuine realistic environment for true bridge training.

To provide a solution we first need to establish what the main problems are;

  1. Ships now sail to and from many more coastal ports and marinas than ever before. Can all simulators replicate this?
  2. Who is the modern seafarer and what are their training requirements? Does the modern seafarer require more training than perhaps seafarers of the past?
  3. Does a classroom/simulator environment actually work?

Since coming ashore in the maritime industry I have now taken a role as an Instructor for Navigation and Bridge systems. There are obvious issues we seafarers face, in particular the emerging and swiftly changing world of technology that may be daunting for mariners. As a seafarer now ashore as an instructor, I have been able to look at some of these problems in greater detail and from a different perspective – and see both sides of the fence! Maritime training facilities not only have to make international Bridge equipment systems `talk` to each other, but also overcome the issues of the multiple OS (operating systems) used at sea from Windows to Linux and Apple, so that there simulators reflect the real world.  Further to this are the varying range of ergonomic options needed when creating full mission bridge simulators, in order to create the most realistic experience for the seafarer in line with their  actual vessels.  This is not a complaint, as this is very much the job of the training institutions to adapt and provide a solution. However the industry must accept the implications of this investment, which is hard during difficult financial times for many.

Above Images:  Customer created ‘Modular’ Bridge designs allowing greater Training Academy flexibility using the online designer software courtesy of

Another significant evolution in the maritime industry is the variety of new emerging ports and the reality that modern vessels may be used to travel anywhere, at any time.  This leads of course to the need for training centres to be able to help seafarers practice some of these new ports prior to them arriving.  There appears to now be technological leaps to help this.  Trevor Linn, the CEO of Turbulent, explains:

“Port Creation technology has become so advanced and efficient that some companies like ours can create detailed ports tailored to the customer’s needs and time frames using methods such as satellite imagery to provide as much detail to an environment as technology continues to advance.”

A good example of this is a recent successful simulator project in Turkey where several sectors from tankers to tug operators co-ordinated together to construct a new simulator complex custom-built to their exact requirements that produced hundreds of miles of bespoke simulated areas to practice on.  A video of this can be found at

The third element of making modern and relevant simulator training courses is ensuring that the course and simulators reflects the needs and learning requirements of the modern seafarer.  The recently published 94 page ECDIS Type Specific White Paper (free download at deals directly with the needs of a modern seafarer using a model established by an education consultant called Prensky titled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.  An extract of the Type Specific White Paper reads:

What are the expectations of the seafarer we are procuring this equipment for, and what is their capacity to learn and use safely. If we follow Prensky’s model, a digital Native seafarer is one born after 1980, with technology in his hand. Essentially, here in 2016, a 36 year old seafarer is the first generation of mariners ‘in Command’. Perhaps this marks the current generation of seafarers as the ‘transformation Generation’ and the last chance for traditional seafarers to pass on (or not) their methods, ethics, and ideology before they have gone forever.”

The new bridge training syllabi is starting to reflect this notion of E-Navigation and modern seafarers concerns.  It has new modules such as simulated cyber attacks during ‘at sea’ exercises on the BTM course, and education of cyber security.  Like it or not the average age of seafarers is steadily falling and their needs are also changing from perhaps traditional ones to more current problems. An indicator of this is that current younger seafarers consider an internet connection and Facebook availability almost as important as pay! Research and development trials have begun to assess the impact of Bridge training on both younger and older seafarers.

Image:  Research carried out at the ECDIS Ltd training centre in co-operation with Bournemouth University

Admiral Nick Lambert a non executive director at ECDIS Ltd has been a keen participant in the documentation and development of training syllabi to suit the transition to digital native seafarers.

“Research through the eyes of current seafarers enables us to really understand their cognitive behaviour and as a result we can establish and provide the right training to really harness the potential of a bridge team.”

Recent reports and papers have indicated that in most cases, almost 96% of maritime accidents are due to the human error.  The MAIB and other private investigative bodies are working together with companies and colleges to look into incidents, attempting to understand ways to eliminate or reduce the risk of these happening at sea.

Richard North, a well respected Marine Investigator from MADI (Marine Accident Digital Investigations Ltd) delivers the Investigation module of the new Bridge Team Managment course at ECDIS Ltd, he states:

“We are all aware the marine industry is a reactive one, to attempt to curb this philosophy we must understand what is currently failing the system. By engaging shipping companies and using this information we can help provide specific training material and be proactive in raising awareness through courses such as Bridge Team Management”

An example of this would be the recent addition of Voyage Data Recording modules as part of the BTM course.  The evolution of adding new modules and elements to the traditional Bridge courses is what helps seafarers deal with their new concerns at sea.

In Conclusion

New ships, new ports, new skills, new Officers and a next generation of simulators are without doubt making bridge training courses more effective. Change isn’t coming; it’s already here but perhaps not spread as evenly throughout the world as we would hope.

A colleague of mine (Mark Broster) was recently presented a Fellowship with the Royal Institute of Navigation by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh for “In recognition of his significant and innovative contribution to the development of modern digital navigation and bridge team training in the global maritime industry”.  His passion is ensuring that seafarers receive the best and most comprehensive training without cutting corners to save money or time.  He is not alone in this quest, and there is significant work taking place all over the World to adapt to the needs of modern ships and seafarers.  It would appear that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

If we do not all adapt we run the risk of being swept away with the digital tide.  As we know, technology and tide waits for no one!



Author: Robert Gale

Digital native with traditional navigational values

Instructor at ECDIS Ltd (

Simulation Training

Is Simulator Training Worth It?

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by Murray Goldberg) on February 11, 2013

For decades, simulation has been a part of maritime bridge and engine room training. But as with many safety initiatives, its effect is sometimes difficult to quantify. We know it has value, but it does come at a cost. Is the cost worth the value derived from simulator training? This article examines some recent research in an attempt to answer this question.

Is Simulator Training Worth It?


For decades, simulation has been a part of maritime bridge and engine room training. But as with many safety initiatives, its effect is sometimes difficult to quantify. We all know, both intuitively and empirically, that simulator training has value. It extends a trainee’s experience base in both typical and atypical scenarios. But while we all agree that simulator training is valuable, we also know that it comes at a cost. After all, simulators and the time spent on them are expensive. Is the cost worth the value derived from simulator training?

Cost vs. Benefit

One compelling argument applied to safety training in general is that the value of one life saved is greater than any cost – as long as it is affordable. Thus if we believe that simulator training has the potential to save one life, it is worth the costs associated with it and therefore no further analysis is necessary. But there are real problems with that line of reasoning. First, it does not provide us with any basis on which we can compare other safety initiatives. It may be that simulator training is indeed worthwhile, but that some other safety initiative can save more lives at a far lower cost. Unless we assess the costs and value of each we are unable to make informed decisions. Another issue is that without a cost benefit analysis, implementation decisions are sometimes more emotional than logical. After all, if it can be shown that simulator training actually saves money through a reduction in accident related costs or performance issues, then perhaps its use would be even more pervasive than it already is.

This is exactly the question addressed by a very interesting MET paper given by Professor Capt. Stephen Cross of the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz (MIWB) in West Terschelling, The Netherlands. Prof. Capt. Cross’ paper, “Aspects of Simulation in Met – Improving Shipping Safety and Economy”, was presented at the IMLA 20 conference on maritime education and training in July, 2012 at the MIWB (where I had the good fortune to meet Capt. Cross). His paper presents a concrete view of the economic effects of simulator training. The results are compelling.

The Idea

Prof. Capt. Cross expressed the motivation of his study as follows:

“If simulator training can improve safety of operations, this would result in fewer accidents, which in turn will save funds, which could be used to afford the additional training efforts.

Additionally if the amount of the increased costs of training is compared to the funds spent presently on damages from accidents, a simple cost benefit analysis could show if such training efforts are worthwhile”.

The Study

In order to answer this deceptively simple question, Cross needed to look at a wide array of information related to the desired objectives, the current conditions of MET and maritime operations, and then had to study (and sometimes project) the consequences of change. To give you some idea as to the complexity of the study,  Cross proceeded along the following path:

  1. First he determined what percentage of maritime accidents were attributable to human error.
  2. Next he determined what percentage of these accidents could be attributed to training shortcomings.
  3. Next he determined what percentages of competencies could be improved by simulator training.
  4. Next, he had to determine by how much the above competencies could be improved through simulator training.

Multiplying the various percentages together gave an estimate of the reduction in accidents through the use of simulator training. With that information, he could then look at the cost of simulator training in order to compare it to the cost savings through a reduced number of accidents. I summarize his analysis below. Please note that in the interest of space, only a portion of Cross’ analysis can be presented. I encourage you to read the paper for full details.

Finding the Percentages

  1. Human Error: Looking first at the percentage of accidents attributable to human error, Cross arrived at 80% based partly on the following:

“… the Norwegian DAMA database of accidents for the Safeco project (EU 4th FP, Safeco, 1996) whereby from 1981 to 1996 some 5400 accidents were included and some 1100 were analysed, the division of basic causes was 80% human factors and 20% technical factors.”

… Human Error: 80% of accidents

  1. Lack of Sufficient Training: Looking at how training influences accidents, Cross looked at a number of studies which evaluated the causes of accidents. Among them he cites the following three:
  1. “Wagenaar and Groeneweg (Wagenaar, et al, 1987) found 35% of the accidents were due to improper training and 46% due to bad habits, which could most likely be influenced by procedural training. This totals 81%.
  2. Inoue (Inoue, 1996) finds 55% of accidents to be collisions and 15% groundings. That means that implicitly 70% of the reviewed accidents could have been avoided … by better trained personnel. Although possibly technical failure can also account for some of this kind of incidents.
  3. For the Safeco project (EU 4th FP Safeco, 1996), 41% of the 80% human error related accident causes, indicate lack of knowledge, skills and attitude, which could be improved by training. Additionally 37% of 80% is due to lack of operational procedures. This means that up to 33% + 30% = 63% of the investigated accidents could have been influenced and possibly partly avoided through relevant competence based and procedural training.

From these three studies it seems conservatively acceptable to say that from 65% upward of the investigated casualties has relevance to (lack of) sufficient training.”

… Lack of Sufficient Training: 65% of accidents

  1. Simulator Training Applicability: Not all competencies needed for safe operations can be taught and practiced in a simulator. Thus the next step was to determine what percentage of competencies were, in fact, “teachable” via simulator training. According to Prof. Capt. Cross:

“Part of the required seafarer training can be done using simulator systems. In order to estimate which part, a count can be made of the number of competences or skills per function and level, as stated in STCW Code part A where simulators are indicated. This figure in relation to the total number of competences for that function and level gives a percentage of simulator applications. …The average of the counted percentages equals 58%.”

… Simulator Training Applicability: 58% of competencies

  1. Competency Improvement Through Simulator Training: Finally, Cross needed to determine the level of improvement in performance that could be achieved through simulator training. To do so, the study provided simulator training to groups of mariners, both experienced and inexperienced. It then looked comprehensively at the outcomes of exercises for these groups over the time that they were involved in the training. In the end, both groups (experienced and inexperienced) benefitted significantly from Simulator training. In the words of Prof. Capt. Cross:

“Based on the … observations a calculated average performance improvement of 45% seems acceptable to be assumed [due to simulator training]”.

… Performance Improvement Due to Simulator Training: 45%

Putting the Numbers Together

Prof. Capt. Cross took the findings above, and then multiplied them together to arrive at a conservative estimate of the accident reduction possible via simulator training. The ultimate result, 14%, is shown in his table below:

Thus far, Cross’ analysis has estimated that through the appropriate application of simulator training, 14% of maritime accidents could be avoided. What does this mean for the economics of simulator training versus the cost of accidents?

So – Is it Worth It? The Economics of Simulator Training:

Prof. Capt. Cross indicates in his paper that there are many potential cost savings available through improved operations from simulator training, even when ignoring the potential for accidents. But to look at accident costs in particular, he cited the claims history of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund over the period of its existence. Even though the IOPC Funds claims represent a fraction of the cost of maritime accidents worldwide, they are well documented and thus provide a reliable source of information on accident costs. The results are impressive. According to Cross:

“Over the 28 year period of [IOPCF] observations used, at least 856 million $US have been claimed for accidents which in some way have a relationship to bridge, engine room or cargo handling procedures. …[A reduction of] 14% related to the simulator training course cost would allow for at least 376946 “average” student simulator courses to be afforded. As this figure is almost similar to the global officer population it means every officer could be afforded a simulator training course from the avoided accident claim costs of the IOPC Fund relevant accidents.”

So – if the 14% accident reduction estimate is accurate, and it is applied to the relevant IOPC funded accidents, the cost saved could provide every officer in the world with a simulator training course. And since there are far more accidents (and their related costs) than are funded by the IOPC, the conclusion is that simulator training has the effect of both reducing costs and improving safety – a win-win.


Prof. Capt. Cross’ analysis is a compelling argument for simulation training as both a cost-saving measure and a safety improvement measure. Even if you find an argument with one or another of the numbers presented in his analysis (and he is clear that there are many factors which would influence the 14% he arrived at), one could argue that the “margin of safety” in the analysis is very large. That is, it seems unlikely that his assessment could be so far off as to make simulation training a net cost, as opposed to a net saving. And even if it were a net cost, as unlikely as that might be, we can go back to the original visceral argument: if one life is saved, the any affordable cost is one well spent.

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About The Author:

Murray Goldberg is the founder and President of Marine Learning Systems (, the creator of MarineLMS – the learning management system designed specifically for maritime industry training. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 as a faculty member of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create WebCT, the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education; serving 14 million students in 80 countries. Murray has won over a dozen University, National and International awards for teaching excellence and his pioneering contributions to the field of educational technology. Now, in Marine Learning Systems, Murray is hoping to play a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.