By Rachel Smith
The “perfect storm” overcomes us. Our ship rocks back and forth. Fog sets in obscuring our vision of the passing ships. We navigate the channels based only on our radar and control systems. Panic is beginning to set in. But, then I remember, this is a simulation.
I relocated to Washington, DC to be a student trainee for the summer with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). I recently had the opportunity to visit the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS) campus in Baltimore, Maryland with NTSB’s Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr and Tracy Murrell, Director, Office of Marine Safety. MITAGS is a vocational training center for individuals seeking to enter the maritime profession and for professional mariners seeking to advance their careers. This visit was particularly special to me, because I am from Florida and have grown up around beautiful water ways and beaches. Marine safety is vital, because it helps to protect people, marine life, animals and our precious natural resources.
The technology MITAGS has available allows students to experience challenging scenarios in the safety of a classroom setting. The ship handling simulation scenario we experienced is one of many MITAGS can recreate to prepare their students. MITAGS’ staff showed us the inner workings of their simulations. In addition to the ship handling simulator, MITAGS also has a 300° tug simulator.
After a presentation about MITAGS we made our way to the ship handling simulator’s wheelhouse, and the environment suddenly began to change to mimic that of a ship. The narrow hallway leads to a steep staircase and soon the wheelhouse came into view. The wheelhouse is equipped with navigational technology that would be on a fully equipped ship. There is a small table to lay out navigational material, and even a reading lamp to account for the dim lighting. Every detail makes you feel as though you are sailing through, in our case, the Port of Baltimore.
Surrounding the wheelhouse is a nearly three story tall 360° screen, which the instructor controls from an adjacent room. The instructor has controls to adjust your location, the weather, ship length and the cargo you are carrying. The instructor is also able to control the ships that are sailing in your view. For an extra layer of challenge during our simulation, we were faced with a burning ship on our port side. To monitor the student’s progress, the instructor is also equipped with devices that show every action the student takes to maneuver and monitor the ship, as well as streaming video feed of the wheelhouse.
MITAGS combines high education standards with rigorous simulation exposure and assessment, to equip their students with the tools to safely and successfully navigate their maritime careers. With more than 120 courses, MITAGS allows for specialized training in various areas. They have courses covering a range of disciplines from upgrading to the Chief Mate or Master’s level, continuing education for Tug and Barge, and everything in between.
My experience in a controlled simulation was only a small glimpse at the challenges mariners can potentially face during their time at sea. Although, you may not be maneuvering a ship this summer, remember to be safe as you enjoy your summer time on the water. Always be prepared for inclement weather, because you never know when the “perfect storm” could set in.
Rachel Smith is an intern with the NTSB