The bridge team flinched as the ship crunched to a sudden stop in the ice. Someone had the presence of mind to pull the telegraph to stop. They stared at each other – then blinked. The lights came on, the simulator screens froze, and the instructor strode in.
For deck and engineering officers, maritime simulation training has been around for years. It’s an effective way to learn and practise real-world skills without destroying ships or killing crew. Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years, and simulation hasn’t escaped the trend. Simulation now includes extended reality (XR) immersive simulation for both individuals and groups.
While most seafarers encounter a few emergencies throughout their careers, no seafarer will experience the same emergency enough times to learn from their mistakes. Maersk Training asks, “Can I expect personnel to respond correctly to a challenging situation they have never encountered or trained for?” It’s a fair question.
While full-mission ship and engine simulators have been around for years, advanced simulation is moving into areas that have always been the domain of practical training. Deck machinery, firefighting, rescue boats and lifeboats, and even familiarisation training, can be carried out in virtual reality.
Personnel no longer need to be in the same room–or even the same country–to practice together in a shared VR simulation. This gives companies the opportunity to train their crew without the trouble and expenses of sending them to a training facility.
What’s advanced simulation?
“Advanced simulation” is a descriptive term for a range of digital simulation technologies. It’s often used to encompass XR and simulations that allow people to work together in a shared simulation.
Virtual reality (VR) simulations immerse users in a virtual world. That world could be an engine control room, a bridge, a crane cab, or even a fire or damage control scenario. For companies, platforms like Immerse and frameworks like Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit simplify VR content creation. With these resources, even smaller companies can create affordable, targeted VR content.
Consumer VR headsets range from the sub-$10 Google Cardboard to the $1500 HTC Vive. Even $1500 is affordable compared to a full-mission simulator, making in-house VR training accessible for even small companies.
Does simulation training work?
Most studies on simulation training focus on traditional simulators. Despite that, it’s likely that VR training will have at least similar outcomes.
In A Study on the Effectiveness and Improvement of Simulation Training for Apprentice Officers, Lee, Park and Ha found that, “well-designed simulation enhances learning, improves performance, and reduces errors. Furthermore, simulation training improves trainees’ perception and assessment of dangerous situations, improves training outcomes in comparison to conventional classroom-based exercises, and creates more collaborative, critical thinking and case-based learning.”
Other studies show that high-quality simulation creates a higher perceived skill development in participants than low-quality simulation, but a well-designed simulation is effective regardless of the fidelity.
In July 2020 the MCA signalled their opinion of simulator training. Under provisions in the STCW Convention, they decided to recognise five days of training in a full-mission bridge simulator as equivalent to fifteen days of seagoing service, and ten days as equivalent to thirty days at sea. If it’s successful after a year, they will extend the scheme to allow twenty days of simulator training in lieu of up to sixty days of seagoing service.
What are the pros and cons of advanced simulation training?
Compared with classroom or on-board training, simulation training is safe and cost-effective. In addition, simulations are replicable, so every candidate can face an identical scenario. In real-world training, this is impossible. One seafarer may never experience an emergency, while another seafarer may encounter several in their first week at sea.
Full-mission simulators are expensive, and students need to attend dedicated facilities. With the advent of affordable VR headsets, the barrier to entry for VR simulation training is much lower. Companies can carry out training on their ships or in their own offices, saving time and money.
Which companies are using advanced simulation training?
Wartsila’s cloud based simulation platform enables users to access the same scenarios as their physical simulators anywhere with an internet connection. This makes it possible to run full training simulations that don’t require learners or instructors to travel to a physical training centre.
Virtual Marine specialises in developing state-of-the-art maritime safety training simulators. Their simulators offer hands-on, realistic, risk-free training. They incorporate science into advanced training systems to produce unique and memorable learning experiences.
v360marine creates virtual reality experiences for the yachting and marine industry. They visualise and simulate hazards through engaging and targeted virtual environments. Their VR training aims to maximise knowledge retention and improve safety on board.
Immerse provides a one-stop solution for creating, scaling and measuring effective VR training. Through VR training, companies can create training that is not only more engaging but also more effective than traditional training methods.
Thetius subscribers can access a full list of advanced simulation providers by clicking here. Don’t have a subscription? Click here.
What’s next for simulation training?
While tried and tested training methods remain effective, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced authorities and training institutions to consider alternatives. Travelling to college to attend a refresher course is no longer a practical option. Conversely, granting extensions to seafarers’ certificates can only ever be a stopgap measure.
Advanced simulation offers a practical, affordable alternative for seafarers to expand their skills. COVID-19 presents an opportunity for companies, training institutions and maritime authorities to adopt advanced simulation and try a fresh approach to training.
Nic Gardner is a Maritime Technology Analyst at Thetius. She is a master mariner who holds an unlimited UK CoC and has seagoing experience on capesize bulk carriers, ro-pax ferries, sail training ships, hospital ships, general cargo tramp ships, container ships and fisheries protection boats. When she is not at sea, Nic writes about a range of topics including technology and the maritime industry. Nic is also the author of “Merchant Navy Survival Guide: Survive & thrive on your first ship”, a book to give aspiring seafarers the knowledge and tools they need to make a success of their first trip to sea.