Simulator training & assessing for the Maritime industry

A simulators “fidelity” is the extent to which it can replicate the experience of a real work environment.
Todays simulators have taken the lead in training and assessing tools that mirror real life scenarios.
It has been inferred that computer generated simulators and those simulators with higher realism are likely to produce better training and assessing outcomes than traditional methods.
Simulators are now a primary learning tool in maritime education to provide opportunities for seafarers to obtain technical, procedural and operational assessments while avoiding both the risks and expense that accompany on-the-job training.
In recent mariner review’s, results revealed that mariners preferred bridge simulators over traditional methods and experienced higher motivation and confidence.


Maritime training and assessing has been around for years. It’s an effective way to learn, practice and be assessed in real time skills without damaging vessels, facilities, injury or death.

Technology  has advanced tremendously in recent years and simulation has benefited greatly from this technology .

Most seafarers encounter few emergencies throughout their careers and no seafarers will experience the same emergencies enough times to learn from their mistakes.

Can we expect our crews to respond correctly to a challenging situation they have never encountered , trained or been assessed for?

Well designed simulation enhances learning, improves performance, assessments and reduces error.

Simulation training and assessing improves mariners perception and assessments of dangerous situations, improves training outcomes in comparison to conventional  on board training exercise and creates more collaborative critical thinking.

Under provisions in the STCW convention they have decided to recognize five days of training in a full bridge mission simulator as equivocal to fifteen days of sea service.

The Towing industry is using simulators to have mariners assessed for their TOARS ( towing officer assessment record ) which is a safe, time saving and cost effective way to help fill the shortage of wheelhouse personal. In addition simulators are replicable, so every mariner can face the same scenario. In real time training and assessing this is impossible.

One mariner may never experience the same task or emergency, while another mariner may encounter several in their first week underway.  

With Maritime Toar Assessments at the United States Maritime Resource Center we have found a proven platform to assist the mariner in understanding the tasks to be performed to successfully prepare and be assessed for their towing endorsement. 

Simulator training & assessing for todays mariners

Todays simulators have improved greatly over the last decade. Simulators presently offer a platform for mariners to preform tasks in a virtual world, which otherwise would be expensive, time consuming and a risk had it been done in real time.

It is imperative that each of the training methods used is assessed by engaging the course participants in a feedback process , this ensures that the training is effective and that  trainees get the required knowledge and skills as planned.

Simulator Training can be imparted in different ways, but it is essential to match the training methods to the situation.

This process should focus on four levels of training outcomes

Reaction, learning, behavior and results.

As Ben Franklin quoted Tell me & I forget. Teach me & I remember. Involve me & I learn.

The growing need for Toars on bridge simulators

Simulation assessments merit a system that is comprehensive, valid and reliable to assess the necessary elements along with the critical knowledge and skills of a mariner to validate that  they can demonstrate proficiently in a realistic setting.

At Maritime Toar Assessments Inc. the assessment process in itself is important in curriculum development as well feedback & learning. Our examiners have found that these standards have been efficient in assessing professionalism, communication, procedural drills and maneuvering skills.

Ideally, simulation developers should reflect on the purpose of the exercise to determine if the focus is on teaching ,if so then the assessing should focus on performance criteria with an understanding for a skill set based on the experience of the training.

SUBCHAPTER ‘M’ – OPTIONS – How did we get here and what are my options?

It was a quiet and foggy morning on September 22, 1993 as the Amtrak “​Sunset Limited
​ ” was heading east near Mobile Alabama, towards its ultimate destination of Miami, FL. Unfortunately for the 200 passengers and crew on that train, at approximately 0245, in this same foggy condition up ahead of them, the Captain of the tug MAUVILLA, pushing several barges, was having difficulty determining exactly where he was located and where he could lay up his barges to wait out the fog. Unsure of his position, the barges struck the Amtrak railroad bridge, which crosses Big Bayou Canot, dislodging the tracks from and damaging the bridge.

A mere eight minutes later, while the Captain and crew of the tug were trying to free the barges from the bridge structure, the Sunset Limited, with 3 locomotive units, baggage and dormitory cars, and six passenger cars went off the bridge and into Big Bayou Canot at 72 miles per hour. Fuel tanks on the locomotive cars ruptured and a large fire ensued. So intense that it burned off the fog in the immediate vicinity. Tragically, 42 passengers and 5 Amtrak crew were lost and several more were injured.

It is worth noting that the Captain of the tug saved 17 people from the bayou and I believe, was at a great disadvantage in this situation. He was not provided with the tools needed to safely navigate in reduced (zero) visibility conditions. He was not required to be formally trained in how use the vessel’s RADAR for not only collision avoidance, but navigation as well. And the company didn’t appear have a sound plan on how to deal with these types weather and operating conditions. All of which may have prevented this tragic loss of life.

The NTSB, which investigates all modes of transportation accidents, especially those involving loss of life, made several findings after this tragedy. Some of which have to do with why the Coast Guard promulgated regulations that now require towing vessels to comply with new vessel inspection laws. Also known as ​Subchapter “M”
​ of Title 46 U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Prior to ​Subchapter M
​ , other regulatory changes were made, such as a new towing vessel licensing and training scheme, training requirements for the use of RADAR, and vessel navigational and safety equipment requirements.
For towing vessel owners and operators trying to sift through ​Subchapter M
​ , it is akin to navigating up a bayou in zero visibility without an operational RADAR or proper charts on board. Considering that the Coast Guard has not been funded to train more marine inspectors, Subchapter M allows companies to use Third Party Organizations (TPOs) to oversee their safety management systems, thus ‘verifying’ compliance on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard will still visit your vessel periodically, issue your initial Certificate of Inspection (COI), and monitor the TPOs and how they, in turn, monitor your operations. Of course this all comes at a cost.

Towing vessel operators are now be required to pay an annual U.S. Coast Guard vessel inspection fee of $1030, ​per vessel​, under the category of ​‘any inspected vessel not listed in this table’
​ (46 CFR 2.10-101). ​And ‘​seagoing towing vessels
​ ’ will be required to pay an annual fee of $2915​. “Seagoing” refers to those operating outside of the Boundary Line. This annual fee is required regardless if you use the TPO option or chose to have the Coast Guard visit your vessel on an annual basis. Third Party Organizations are private entities, which are free to charge fees for conducting vessel internal or ‘external’ vessel audits (more on audits in a later blog!). They are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and only those organizations can act in this manner.

However, there is another option. Subchapter M allows towing vessel owners and operators to use the “​Coast Guard Option
​ ”. By choosing this option, a Coast Guard marine inspector will visit each vessel annually, ensuring compliance. The COI will be issued during the initial visit and is good for 5-years. Each year after that, they will visit each vessel and conduct an inspection to make sure the vessel remains in compliance. Scheduling of these inspections does require filling out the proper forms and planning ahead as resources are limited in some Coast Guard Sectors. However, each office has personnel that specialize in these regulations, and marine inspectors are trained in dealing with all kinds of inspected vessels, including towing vessels.

In addition to COI inspections, each vessel will be required to be dry docked and inspected while it is out of the water. This will have to be done twice during the 5-year COI period, for those operating in salt water and once during the 5-year COI period for those operating in fresh water for a majority of the time. Those using the TPO option will coordinate with those organizations and will incur the costs of those visits as well. However, with proper planning and scheduling, the Coast Guard will also be able to come and visit the vessel out of the water, and conduct what is known as a “hull inspection”, for those using the Coast Guard option.

The process of obtaining and maintaining a Certificate of Inspection (COI) can be daunting and somewhat confusing under the structure of these new regulations. However, options are available and being apprised of those options can save your company time and resources. Subchapter M is here and it comes with a lot of questions. But we can help you answer ALL of those questions and what is best for you and your operation!