Sweat drips from the tip of my nose – despite the wind and the driving rain rattling against the dark bridge windows.  I know that the Captain is going to give me hell for the wet stains on the chart, but I can’t pluck up the courage to call him to the bridge… yet.  I have to figure out what to do about the mess I’m in first!

That damn fishing vessel!  It keeps altering course – first to port, then to starboard and then back to port again…. What’s hell is the matter with him?!  Surely he knows that he is the Give Way vessel – surely he can see my navigation lights at this range? 

“Excuse me Sir,” the lookout chimes in, “have you seen the vessel 4 points on the Port bow?”

“Yes-yes” I gasp, “I know about it…. Thanks.” 

What to do?  It’s only a mile away now and we are heading for disaster!  I strain to focus on the ship.  There it is – still 4 points, still no change to its aspect – the green sidelight looming larger with each passing moment…

“Lookout! Man the wheel – Hard a Starboard!” the Captain’s voice booms behind me – I freeze, knowing that he has somehow read the situation the instant he stepped onto the bridge. 

The AB scrambles to the wheel, “Hard a Starboard Captain!” – I feel the ship heel to port as the ship starts to turn and a warm hand clamp down on my shoulder: “Alright, let’s stop the exercise there and discuss what happened, ok?” 

The lights go on as I stagger out of the Bridge simulator – just a game?  No – it felt too real for that!

How things have changed – and yet stayed the same?  The international shipping industry has evolved a great deal from the simple days of sail where an owner/master and his family lived on board and sailed the world, buying a hold of cargo here and selling it for a profit there, to a sophisticated and regulated industry of oil tankers, container and bulk cargo vessels that cross the seas carrying raw material and manufactured goods.

Gone are the days of tall sailing ships and steamers that tramped the oceans manned by large crews of sailors – who were either pressed into service, or sent to sea as boy-sailors to learn the trade under guidance of stern Officers and Master Mariners.  The trend now is “lean and mean” – a large crew is simply too expensive and there’s no place for excess.  Nevertheless, ships must be navigated safely, the engines and systems must run efficiently, and seafarers must somehow be trained to perform their tasks without a deviation from the ships planned route.   How can we accomplish the latter? One of the answers is the increased utilization of simulation training to supplement the experiential training component that is so vital to enable the trainee to assimilate the knowledge, grasp the concept and hone the skills required.

Since 2003, the South African Maritime Training Academy – a Non-Profit Company, has provided around 13 000 seafarers of various disciplines, with skills enhancement training.  It has grown a product offering of 9 simulator-based courses to over 50 training courses and programs.

The sketch above represents the type of immersive training experience that a Full-Mission Bridge simulator, such as those in use at SAMTRA, can provide.  Mistakes are made without the tragic loss of life, property or damage to the environment – rather in the simulator that out there in the deep!

At SAMTRA learners get the chance to feel the reality of the simulated scenarios and lessons learnt in this manner are truly lasting.  They are able to bridge the divide between theory and practice in a safe environment and step out into the international shipping industry with growing confidence in their ability to compete with the best in the world.

David Wolfaardt

Training Manager