Shipboard Training Comes of Age

Technical innovation continues to revolutionize the maritime industry, touching almost every aspect of life at sea.

The trend for larger vessels - in particular cruise, container and LNG ships - and the desire of the vessels' operators to bring them into smaller ports in more remote waters impose greater navigational and ship-handling demands on the crew.

Modern podded propulsors, complex control dynamic positioning (DP) units and advanced integrated bridge systems provide aids to navigation and ship-handling and are testament to the changing environment which a ship's Master will encounter.

Although such technologies bring unprecedented potential benefits, ensuring that they can be used safely and effectively is a key concern. A ship's bridge is becoming an increasingly complex network of computers, displays, consoles and control levers; as technology changes, the industry must ensure adequate training and familiarization in its use.

Cunard's Queen Mary 2 (QM2) is not only the largest passenger ship ever built, but also the first to include four podded propulsors combined with an Alstom DP system. In DP mode the whole vessel is controlled by a single lever (similar to a PC's joystick), with an onboard computer determining the thruster angles and rpm.

To address the issue of familiarizing the ship's officers with this array of hardware and software and the ship's handling characteristics; Cunard has installed a PC Rembrandt ship maneuvering simulator linked to a DP system provided by Alstom.

This enables training exercises to be conducted onboard in any of the ship's ports of call and is the first time such a simulator has been linked in this manner onboard.

Despite the many innovative aspects to this installation, the QM2 is just one of a large number of vessels to have PC Rembrandt installed onboard.

Typically the simulator is being used for the informal training of junior officers, for passage plan and pilot briefings and for the Master to rehearse unfamiliar maneuvers with the forecast environmental conditions. In contrast to such training accomplished onboard, formal training of seafarers is governed by the requirements of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO's) International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping of Seafarers or STCW '95. This has traditionally required seafarers to undertake supervised shore based training and assessments. These formal and informal onboard training methods have traditionally existed and progressed independently.

However, with its new range of computer based training (CBT) products, BMT is seeking to transform the future of maritime training. A new ship maneuvering and handling CBT course, developed in collaboration with the Seattlebased Pacific Maritime Institute, offers a highly interactive learning tool, which provides flexibility as to when and where people study. BMT's CBT is based upon fully approved and accredited course material and is initially designed to complement and reduce the extent of the shore based training component for officers in charge of a navigational watch.

In this manner the remote or 'distance learning' aspect of training can be undertaken at a time and location to suit the student and their employer. Without the travel, venue, accommodation and other associated overhead expenses; a training solution can be provided very cost effectively.

In addition, this type of course material can easily be customized to a client's specific vessel and updated to keep pace with technological and regulatory changes.

Developing courses is only one aspect of the CBT solution; another is how to provide them to trainees. An innovative idea currently being developed by BMT is a concept by which remote training can be centrally coordinated, updated and monitored.

In this proposed system, called SeaTrain, training or information modules will be centrally stored on a server that permits direct access from home users and a 'virtual' direct access from shipboard users.

To address issues of adequate bandwidth and satellite access faced by ships, shipboard users' systems will be linked via the Internet to the central web server and storage facility.

With the SeaTrain concept, all manner of training courses and material can be accessed including specific ship or equipment familiarization material, public health, vessel security, safety and crisis management, regulatory information, company directives and the company's quality management system. The use of a specialized CBT player and modular design will allow components of any course (such as text, audio or graphics) to be easily changed without requiring a costly and time-consuming modification to the entire course.

For ship operators this facility provides advantages for cost and training time reductions. An individual's training or knowledge of company procedures can be tracked and logged and the system itself becomes a multi-functional, flexible and tangible asset.

The pace of change in the maritime sector shows no sign of slowing and training methods must be able to stay a step ahead. E-learning, which has been successfully used in other sectors, presents an opportunity to meet this challenge.

There has already been widespread interest in BMT's developments by companies such as Royal Caribbean International, V. Ships and Princess Cruises.

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Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 17,  Nov 2004 Van der Velden

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