Historically, the professional development of mariners has been based on a strong tradition of on-the-job learning. Graduate mariners supplement training garnered in the structured academic environment with colleague-assisted training and occasional structured training courses at union or other instructional facilities. Mariners who become marine pilots advance through apprenticeship programs.
There is a wide range of marine simulators in use worldwide. The capabilities of computer-based simulators range from radar only to full-scale ship-bridge simulators capable of simulating a 360-degree view. Marine simulators can simulate a range of vessels in scenarios of real of generic operating conditions (e.g., ports and harbor). Computer-based simulators can be used to train mariners in a number of skills, from rules of the road and emergency procedures to bridge team and bridge resource management.
Physical scale-model, or manned-model, simulators are scale models of specific vessels that effectively simulate ship motion and handling in fast time. These models are especially effective for teaching shiphandling and maneuvering skills.
As a training tool, simulators have a number of significant advantages:
In Applying simulation to training requirements, it is important to consider differences among simulators, that is, the different levels of simulator component capabilities. A high degree of realism is not always required for effective learning transfer. Often it is not necessary to use the most sophisticated simulator to meet all training objectives. However, the levels of realism and accuracy required should match the training objectives.
Ship-bridge simulators are different from commercial air carrier simulators. Commercial air carrier simulators are airframe-specific and are subject to industrywide standards. The simulators are validated and periodically revalidated (every four months) by the National Simulator Evaluation Program.
There are no industrywide validation programs for marine simulators. Ship-bridge simulators usually simulate a variety of real or generic ship types—from coastwise tugs to very large crude carriers.
Simulators are also used for mariner performance evaluation. These evaluations are usually informal and take the form of debriefings during the course of training. Occasionally, however, simulators are use for more structured