Specialist simulation on ships

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 14 May 2017


Bridge simulators are often used for the purpose of training on a particular manufacturer’s ECDIS or navigation equipment but this is not the only option. Engine room simulators are just as common and can come in various configurations. Some will replicate control panels on the monitors as would be found in an engine control room and others may incorporate 3D representations of machinery spaces which trainees will have to navigate around to view and reset controls and alarms.

At the higher end of the scale, the simulator can, as with bridge systems, be a full mission simulator with actual control panels, switchboards and the like. The engine control room may be represented by any combination of interactive mimic panels, operational panels/consoles or desktop stations. The concept allows individually laid out control rooms to meet exact customers’ requirements.

Makers of engine room simulators usually have a library of different engine types that can be selected. Some will be generic types such as medium-speed engine or low-speed two-strokes with or without electronic control and other swill be based on actual engine types. As with the navigation simulators, engine room versions can provide training in a variety of tasks. Kongsberg lists the following as typical training scenarios:

Typical basic operational training for junior officers

  • Preparing for getting underway
  • Manoeuvring to open sea
  • Steady steaming
  • Approaching harbour
  • Finishing with engine
  • Operation of auxiliary boilers and cargo turbines

Typical advanced operational training for senior officers:

  • Failures and Emergencies
  • Team training
  • Fault diagnosis and tracking
  • Crisis management
  • Restoring to normal operation

Typical economy/optimising studies for senior officers:

  • Fouling & wear
  • Combustion performance
  • Control loop optimising
  • Heat balance/recovery
  • Variable pitch
  • External conditions

Tankers and gas carriers are well catered for by simulator providers with specialist systems for cargo handling and management and pump room operations. An example of such a simulator is the ARI Chemical Cargo Handling Simulator which accurately reproduces the typical cargo handling systems found on a chemical tanker.

The simulator is modelled on the cargo systems found on IMO type II and type III chemical tankers suitable for the carriage of category X, Y, Z and other substances in bulk. The simulated cargo space is divided into 20 cargo tanks with individual loading and discharging lines including manifolds. An individual tank venting line is provided for each tank along with a segregated ballast system, designated slop tank arrangements and a tank cleaning system. The simulator allows trainees to operate the complete set of systems and to carry out all standard chemical tanker cargo operations. ARI also has detailed models for LNG carriers, oil tankers (crude and products) and LPG carriers in addition to the chemical tanker simulator.

Experience counts at sea

Simulator training allows for competence to be gained in situations that might be difficult to replicate in the real world. VSTEP has developed a RescueSim Advanced Fire Fighting Simulator that will allow training institutions and shipping companies to add STCW AFF training to their current curriculum. The AFF Simulator comprises a RescueSim Trainee Station and a Fire Panel installed on VSTEP’s NAUTIS Simulator.

The RescueSim AFF Simulator functionality includes environments, emergency equipment, watertight doors, fire flaps, and many more objects all common to specific shipboard incidents. These are essential for STCW compliant AFF Training. The compact and modular design of the simulator allows it to be used almost anywhere and can be setup according to training requirements and team size. A typical setup includes an instructor station and trainee stations for the on-scene commander and fire team leaders.

Another niche use of simulators is that of propulsion specialist Schottel which offers simulator training for its propulsion systems at the Schottel Academy at the company’s headquarters in Spay. Academy participants are seated as if on the bridge of a real vessel and learn how to deal safely with the different propulsion systems, control levers, operator panels and displays.

The training programme currently covers a wide range of different propulsion unit sizes with various configurations in a current total of ten different vessels, with examples including ferries, tugs and offshore vessels. Six ports and waterways are stored in the system, including St. Petersburg, the Bay of Kiel and the Suez Canal.

Even more specialised is Heerema Marine Contractors’ (HMC) Simulation Center in the HMC Academy at the company’s HQ in Leiden, the Netherlands. In conjunction with Kongsberg, HMC has developed a system to train crane operators and conduct detailed pre-mission training for heavy lift projects. The Kongsberg Maritime simulation equipment is based on the same Kongsberg Maritime K-Pos DP systems used on Heerema’s vessels. To achieve highly realistic training, the simulator features detailed models of three HMC deepwater construction vessels.

Kongsberg Maritime has also developed a set of library objects and models of offshore installations and equipment used for simulating specific heavy lift projects; such as lifting jackets, top sides and subsea templates from barge to vessel or from vessel and overboard. Also included is an extensive instructor and debrief system, and two deck operator trainers (deck position simulator) designed to train for communication and teamwork between the crane operator and deck operators.

Canada-based Virtual Marine Technology (VMT) has a very specialist application with its SurvivalQuest Lifeboat Simulator System. SurvivalQuest is an enclosed cabin, full-mission simulator system, which uses lifeboat-specific helm controls and virtual environments to allow lifeboat coxswains and crew to practice emergency lifeboat launches too dangerous to complete using conventional training and drills.

With incidents and accidents continuing to happen at an alarming rate, the response of the maritime industry has been to significantly reduce or discontinue the practice launches of lifeboats with crew members on board. Lifeboat and lifeboat launch system designs have become increasingly complex in recent years. As a result, operators require more frequent and extensive training to ensure they are prepared to evacuate and escape during emergency situations.

In May 2016 Maersk Training and Virtual Marine Technology (VMT) announced the installation of the first freefall lifeboat simulator training system in Denmark. The simulator is located at Maersk Training in Esbjerg.

Using the simulator, trainees can be repeatedly exposed to emergency evacuation situations, high seas and extreme weather scenarios not possible to train in conventional lifeboat coxswain training programs. Maersk Training has developed a simulation-based freefall training course combined with the conventional STCW 2-1 Lifeboat and Man Overboard Boat (MOB), which has been approved by the Danish Maritime Authority.

Future uses for simulators include training in fuel switch over procedures, bunkering and especially LNG bunkering for which a new training requirement was agreed at MSC 96 in May 2016. Similarly, simulator training in ice navigation is also on the cards, although the cutbacks in oil and gas exploration and the cooling of interest in the Northern Sea Route may lessen demand for that.

Such uses highlight the fact that the main purpose of simulators is to provide realistic training but there are new applications for the technology. In several projects around the world simulators are being used for training in studies related to maritime operations such as, human factors, fatigue studies, sub-sea research and seamanship/organisation. Combined with psychometric testing, simulators can be instrumental in determining whether or not an officer is employed on a particular ship or even at all.

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