Home' Ships and Shipping : January 2010 Contents Qualified watch officers are in short supply but trading sea
time for simulator practice could be a dangerous way of
satisfying industry demand.
The pressure from some ship owners to consider shortening
training time for watch officers prompted Jean-Pierre
Clostermann, manager of ship handling simulation at the Le
Havre Merchant Marine Academy in France, to bring objective,
experimental results into the debate about how much simulators
can replace at-sea experience.
A rough trade could be one week on the simulator for six weeks
at sea but Mr Clostermann warns that similar attempts made in
civil aviation were quickly found to be dangerous.
"If we go too much in that direction, we will have experts at
handling very risky situations but these people will not even
recognise when this situation is about to occur," he says.
During an experiment with 90 cadets on a ship simulator, one
third of the trainees performed an illegal and unsafe manoeuvre,
even though they knew the appropriate rules perfectly.
This led him to the development of decision games where teams
evaluate a situation and actively discuss and review their decision
making processes. While the games helped to improve the results
of the collision avoidance simulation for another group of 81
cadets, they did not eliminate the difference in competence
demonstrated by cadets who had experience involving similar
vessel types at sea.
According to Mr Clostermann a simulator cannot compete with
normal life at sea when it comes to accumulating ordinary
non-event situations where an officer learns to do the routine
things that enhance situational awareness until it becomes an
automatic part of their thinking. This in turn leads to the ability to
recognise the difference between a potentially dangerous situation
and a normal one.
Central to building a proper situational awareness is the
recognition of a generic "pattern", derived from former encounters
with similar situations, called "pattern matching", says Mr
Clostermann. "To be able to use that specific decision making skill,
a person needs a good data bank of real life experience. If the bank
is not big enough, they may not recognize at once the situation
and its demands.
"You learn by sailing a ship in normal conditions, without any
danger, because you deepen your skills doing things without
thinking about them. You cannot do this in just a few hours on
the simulator. Training means repetition just like an athlete trains
by running a few hours every day, all week long and all year long."
This limitation in learning potential is not a function of
simulator realism and simulator training is certainly valuable.
"Mainly what we do on the simulator is check that the knowledge
is there and that the trainee has started the process of turning
knowledge into skill. We also push the trainees to their limits
because we can provide some very difficult situations without
threatening their lives."
Mr Clostermann, a former seafarer himself, says there is no real
alternative to seagoing experience. "Nevertheless, if we want to
improve the skills of the cadets faster, the studies at management
level could be focused on mastering a specific seatrade (liquid
bulk, offshore support, passenger vessels, cable lying, etc.), just as
the aviation industry offers type ratings for specific aircraft. This
could also prevent us from training our cadets to be future
Studies have demonstrated that while simulator training is a powerful and effective complement to learning, it could
also be a dangerous, because false, substitute for actual training hours at sea in a real context of responsibility
January 2010 SHIPS AND SHIPPING
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