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)