FaceForward September 2015: Technology-Enabled Learning - Memorial University of Newfoundland Capt. Chris Hearn and his team stand ready to train mariners using virtual reality.

September 2015 | Technology-Enabled Learning

On Deck
Capt. Chris Hearn
and his team stand ready
to train mariners using virtual reality

Technology-Enabled Learning - September 2015

Seasickness doesn’t just happen at sea. As director of the Centre for Marine Simulation (CMS) at MI, Capt. Hearn has seen many mariners turn green from seasickness without ever leaving shore. That’s the thing about simulated training: it has to feel real. Trainees must sway with the rolling waves, feel the lurch in their stomach and test their nerves as they risk capsizing into the violent, blue abyss. Now, all this can be done while sitting inside a room designed to simulate manoeuvring a ship at sea.

Capt. Hearn places a high value on quality simulation. The more realistic the scenario, the better chance a user has of practicing and preparing for the real thing.

CMS is home to 24 simulators. Capt. Hearn oversees the centre’s crew of administrative staff, experienced instructors and seasoned industry professionals. Technology at the centre ranges from computer-based desktop simulators to large full mission systems; including a full-motion bridge simulator, a Ballast Control simulator, which is a replica of the Ocean Ranger, and a full-motion offshore operations simulator, the centre’s newest addition.

The offshore industry has many risks — from harsh conditions and ocean storms to failed equipment and at-sea collisions. Capt. Hearn says offshore operations located in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and Labrador’s shores are exposed to an even higher proportion of peril, including hazardous sea ice. With bigger ships and more complex operations , he says the industry is feeling more pressure than ever to ensure mariners are proficiently trained and equipped.

Captain Chris Hearn explains how virtual reality is helping mariners train at the Marine Institute.

Two years in the making, the initiative to create the centre’s newest simulator started with an in-depth conversation between the centre and the local offshore industry. Field operators and supply vessel companies were expressing their concerns that the industry is seeing its most experienced and capable crews retire, taking with them a wealth of knowledge and skill.

When you combine that with the current worldwide shortage of marine officers, the offshore industry is growing increasingly concerned about training the next generation. These key decision-makers expressed strong opinions about what is required from a technically capable, next-generation training facility. Capt. Hearn and his team listened. Then they raised the bar to meet those demands.

The new simulator was designed to replicate offshore supply ships. Housed in a three-storey room, the black octagon-shaped structure looks like it could be found in the NASA space center. The interior of the simulator includes all the components normally found aboard a supply vessel bridge. A network of 18 commercial-grade, 139-centimetre LCD display screens work harmoniously to provide a 360-degree view. Sitting atop an electric-pneumatic motion base, the bridge’s simulated experience is enhanced by kinetic force and haptic feedback. Along with visuals of rolling waves, the immersive motion-base experience has been known to test mariners’ sea legs as well and their knowledge.

Capt. Hearn says trainees will learn to position and moor offshore rigs and supply platforms, and to assist tankers during offshore loading. The well-secured rails of the gangway, the sturdy form of the Capt.’s chair, the exact amount of resistance in the throttle — no detail was spared in recreating the supply vessel bridge environment.

Meet the team.

Maria Halfyard Manager, Applied Research and Industrial Projects
Greg Moss Technical Manager
John Hillier Technical Engineer
Jesse Frampton Software Engineer
Eben March
Lead Instructor

While Kongsberg, an aerospace and marine technology supplier, designed the simulator, all programming for training modules is performed by engineers and technicians on staff at the centre. Capt. Hearn says the unit prides itself on being self-sufficient, including having access to talented people who can adapt and respond to any simulation request.

Capt. Hearn says having that integrated capability makes the centre a rare facility in the realm of simulation providers. When you consider that this specialized level of expertise and technology is offered in the fairly remote location of Newfoundland and Labrador, and that people choose to travel here from all over the world to train, it’s clear the centre is a huge player in the market.

Prior to attaining this technology at MI, it was costly and difficult to conduct offshore supply and anchor-handling training. Some international companies had built their own facilities for training, but this was limited to the employees within those companies.

MI’s bridge simulator will open enrolment to all clients, locally, nationally, and internationally. Capt. Hearn says it’s important that the Marine Institute increases competency throughout the industry to ensure safer operations everywhere. The simulator will provide an unprecedented level of supply vessel training for mariners in Newfoundland and Labrador, and beyond.

Simulated training offers more dynamic and robust learning opportunities. With complete control over the conditions, Capt. Hearn and his team are able to create challenging training situations on demand — whereas training at sea is left to Mother Nature’s will.

Capt. Hearn says the most valuable part of simulated training is error. At sea, an oversight could cost an employer millions, or worse — a life. In the simulator, trainees learn the ropes without that risk. It’s an advantage the industry wouldn’t have without advances in learning technology. Capt. Hearn admires this innovation and the limitless opportunities it will afford future mariners. He believes some of the most beneficial lessons learned come from mistakes. And now those gut-wrenching lessons can be learned without ever leaving dry land.