Simulation & Ice Navigation Training

By Bob Parsons

In a anticipation of the growing need for deck officers and masters experienced in operating in ice covered waters and as evidenced by the relatively rapid increase in vessel traffic in areas of the Arctic Ocean due to the receding ice coverage, the Alaska’s Institute of Technology (AVTEC) in Seward, Alaska has developed a comprehensive course of instruction in Ice Navigation.  This two week course is directed toward masters and mates without or with minimal experience in ice covered waters. The course of instruction is a combination of classroom lectures, case studies and simulation exercises, operating various vessel models in a myriad of ice conditions.  The AVTEC Ice Navigation course of instruction is U.S. Coast Guard and International Maritime Organization approved and graduates receive a “Certificate of Training”, indicating the course meets the requirement of Section A-II/2 and Table A-II/2 and Section A-11/3, Table A-11/3 of the STCW Code, as amended 2010, and tasks from section 1.1.A.4 of NVIC 10-14 and 1.1.A.3 of NVIC 11-14.
A recent International Maritime Organization (IMO) announcement of an agreement for mandatory training requirements for deck officers operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters is designed to prepare mariners for the unique conditions found in Polar regions.  The goal is to enhance safety of navigation and to ensure that the crew is prepared for special conditions.  It is anticipated the requirements will be incorporated in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) by the Maritime Safety Committee this June and will become effective in 2018, however, some States may place the requirements in force in 2017. 
The Ice Navigation course is relative new with the first class presented in November 2014.  The initial class included members working in the offshore oil and gas industry, a member of the Alaska Marine Pilot’s Association and members of the Alaskan fisheries.  Although the course of instruction is designed for entry level bridge watchstander personnel, this first class of experienced sailors, validated the goals of instruction and provided meaningful feedback for overall curriculum improvement and input on the simulation exercises.  It is anticipated that the course will be presented several times a year, based on increasing demand as companies and individuals strive to meet the recently approved IMO and STCW Polar Code requirements. The course of instruction is applicable to ship operations in all Polar waters, including both Arctic and Antarctic Oceans and the unique operating conditions found globally.  Early discussions of the Polar Code committees (referred to as the committee for Harmonization of Polar Ship Rules) centered just on the Arctic, however, with a number of accidents and increased traffic (especially from the cruise industry) operating in the Southern Ocean the Polar Code was amended to include Antarctica.
The AVTEC full mission simulation suite consists of an instructor master control suite and three separate independent bridges, each uniquely configured to represent the various bridge arrangements on different vessel classes and each outfitted with  Radar/APRA, depth sounders, GPS, gyro compass and ECDIS displays, with  control consoles that emulate the actual shipboard equipment installed on the bridge.  The software was designed and manufactured by Kongsberg Maritime AS, Kongsberg, Norway.  The Polaris bridge simulator software replicates actual conditions in the Bering Sea, Cook Inlet, Norton Sound and the Western Arctic Ocean.  Using the bridge simulator, for example, students can make an approach; to Nome for the off-loading of fuel, to the marine fuel terminals in Cook Inlet (with the inlet partially covered in ice and drifting with the tide), to a transit to the facilities in Norton Sound and to maneuver near an off-shore oil/gas platform surrounded with ice. All scenarios can be conducted in a wide variety of weather conditions such as high winds, strong currents and reduced visibility, in day and night operations.
The individual exercises can use various classes of vessels from icebreakers to off-shore supply vessels, tugs, or large tankers, some vessels with conventional propulsion or others with Azipods. The instructor can input various weather and environmental conditions and introduce new scenarios during the course of the exercise. 
Flexibility is the key and holding the students interest throughout the learning experience is paramount. 
Various ship-handling exercises are conducted to gain experience in working in ice covered waters, such as, passing another vessel in a field of ice, maneuvering alongside another vessel or pier where ice is present, or practicing ice avoidance in a relatively open ice pack.  All situations a mariner may encounter when working a vessel in the ice and the exercises can be performed under various environmental conditions (low visibility from snow, high winds, in areas with ice ridges and/or rafting, etc.) 
The simulation exercises are conducive to Bridge Team building, calling for coordination between the navigator, helmsman and conning officer.  Proper bridge terminology and established procedures are employed to present the student with the most realistic experience. 
The simulation has the ability to build some of the stress encountered on the bridge and leads to a very valuable learning opportunity.
According to Captain Terry Federer, Maritime Department Head, the stated goal of the Alaska Maritime Training Center is “to promote safe marine operations by effectively preparing captains and crew members for employment in the Alaskan maritime industry”.   In addition to the standard courses offered in engineering specialties, culinary, ship handing (such as Dynamic Positioning), bridge team training, bridge equipment certification (APRA, ECDIS, etc.);  customized training is available to meet the specific needs of maritime companies and specific operating areas. With modern classrooms and up to date equipment the professional staff provides training that meets the current needs of the marine industry and individuals seeking certification for employment. More information is available at .
Having personally commanded icebreakers operating on the Great Lakes and in the Polar regions, I found that “driving” the simulator approaching the port of Nome or a drilling platform in the Chukchi Sea was extremely realistic and gives today’s operators an advantage that didn’t exist without actually operating in the ice just a few years ago. Masters and deck officers can perfect their individual skills in a no harm environment and be much better prepared for the real thing when called upon to act.

The Author
Robert Parsons, a retired Coast Guard captain and former commander of the icebreaker Polar Star, is a writer and consultant on Polar Marine issues.


(As published in the April 2015 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News -

Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 32,  Apr 2015

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