REVIEW: Naval Simulator Tour on June 14 2018

On 14 June 2018, 25 members of the Men’s Newcomers Club visited to the Naval Fleet School in Esquimalt to learn about, and to experience, the use of ship simulators in today’s Navy training, and to gain an insight into training for ship officers, and commanders.

We were ushered into their theatre for a welcoming address by Retired Commander Jeff Climenhaga, ex Commanding Officer of HMCS Vancouver.  Now, as a civilian employee in the Naval Fleet School, Jeff heads up the simulator training facility with the assistance of many other retired ship’s captains as instructors and mentors.

This Naval Fleet School facility and organization is a combination of the previous ‘Venture’ program for aspiring naval officers, and the more recent ‘Fleet School’ organization for introduction and training of future naval officers.

Before 1990 the Training Squadron used 6 Converted Mine Sweepers and 4 Destroyer Escort frigates as part of their dedicated training for naval candidates to gain experience at sea and develop command and control ‘bridge’ experience.  Operating all of those ships in all weather conditions for training generated large ship, time and manpower costs for the Navy, and while time at sea is always beneficial, other training methodologies were investigated, and simulation training evolved.   The first ship simulators were built in 1997-1998 at the Esquimalt site.

The simulators are used for ‘navigation and piloting’ training. There is a Full Mission Simulator, and 2 Navigation Part Task simulators for use in collision avoidance simulation, and to teach the use of electronic charts with various radar and weather overlays.   There are 6 full mission bridges, one of which is a full 360 degrees, and two reduced visibility bridges.  The use of these ship bridge simulators have great cost savings, have no ‘bad weather’ problems, facilitate faster and better training, and can probe more difficult scenarios than real life situations.

Six hundred officers are trained each year with spring and summer time the busiest training periods.  The four pillars of the Navy training are “Leader, Mariner, Manager, and Warrior” addressing some 16 to 20 factors sought in a competent ship’s officer.  A typical course is 10 months duration for regular force.  Many university and naval reservists also attend during the summer months for their training.  Many of our coastal patrol vessels are mainly manned by naval reservists with only limited regular force personnel. There are courses for Junior Officers, Advanced Navigation, Senior Navigation Officer, Naval Reserves, and refreshers in general covering pilotage, navigation, ship handling, ‘bridge resource management’ and many special case studies.  There is no full submarine training.

A typical ‘Bridge Team’ includes an Officer of the Watch (OOW), Second Officer of the Watch (2OOW), a Navigator, a Helmsman, and a Communicator and a formal atmosphere is maintained – in lieu of any ‘video games’ expectations by younger candidates.

The highlight of the morning was time in the 360 degree simulator which is stationary in a large room – not mounted on any hydraulic jacks such as aircraft simulators.  We approached Vancouver Harbour and sailed under the Lions Gate Bridge with opposite direction freighter traffic, sailboats, tugs, cruise ships at their main dock, and daytime and night time scenarios.  The graphics and realism were very life like.  The weather was quickly changed from calm to thunderstorm conditions, even snow and fog.  In one instance the sea state was increased and visually we were riding the swells up and down and all of us were leaning into the swells – the visual effect very powerful, even though our deck or floor was not moving up and down.   Arctic seascapes were likewise produced and we navigated amongst ice bergs and bergie bits.  The manoeuvrability of the ship was also demonstrated with tight turns and the healing was seen/felt.  Bridge features were explained with the moving maps, radar images, ships steering and throttle controls, etc.   There were also two presentations replicating port and starboard wing bridge stations for docking the ship.   Besides the demonstrations questions were readily answered, although no ship emergency scenarios were presented.   There is software capability to present about 25 national and international harbours for ship’s crew entry training into those ports of call.

After the simulation training centre we were directed to the fairly new All Ranks Mess for our lunch.  It was cafeteria style dining with lots of food choices available.  Soups, Salads, sandwiches, two main meat dinner options, drinks, coffee, and deserts available.  The mess hall was large with many trainees and other diners besides our group.  Payment for the meal was in cash or credit card with one cashier handling the visitors; the regular clientele were served in a separate shorter line up with their ‘meal cards only’ lineup.

All in all this visit was an informative and pleasant experience.

Submitted by Rodger Miners