Enhancing Safety at Sea: South Florida's New Simulation Center


Exterior of the Resolve Marine Academy in Fort Lauderdale // All photos by Susan J. Young

The old saying, "practice makes perfect,” is exactly what cruise lines desire to achieve when their bridge teams encounter difficult channel conditions, hefty maritime traffic or rough seas. 

Captains and other bridge officers who have experienced handling shipboard challenges or emergencies in a simulator before such events occur on the actual bridge of a cruise ship at sea are simply more prepared to respond effectively.

That's always been important in maritime circles, but particularly so this year as the Costa Concordia accident has intensified scrutiny of cruise line training and training practices.

Recently, maritime executives from Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Cruise Lines International Association (www.cruising.org) and Port Everglades, FL, journeyed to a new 7,000-square foot simulation training center in South Florida to show reporters just how high-tech the industry has become when it comes to enhancing safety.

Located adjacent to Port Everglades, the new $6.5 million training facility is owned and operated by Resolve Maritime Academy (www.resolvemarine.com) a subsidiary of Resolve Marine Group.

It's housed within an office building at 1510 SE 17th St. in Fort Lauderdale and convenient to the corporate headquarters of many cruise lines.


Bud Darr of CLIA addresses reporters touring the Resolve Marine Academy

Simulator Helps Avoid Accidents

Realism counts when simulating a training exercise. In this facility, it's easy to see how mariners actually believe they're working on the bridge of a cruise ship. The simulation center features a Class A Full Mission Bridge Simulator with 270 degree views.

Joseph Farrell Jr., Resolve Marine Group’s president and CEO, explained that from this highly realistic vantage point, a bridge crew essentially has the exact equipment – either a Sperry VisionMaster or NACOS Platinum integrated bridge system - that's utilized on their cruise ship's bridge.

They also have views to the ocean or a specific port that they might have on their own cruise ship bridge. Realism counts, so digital screens replicate the horizon, show other cruise and cargo ships in motion and depict land obstacles and ship piers.

For example, during Travel Agent's visit, the navigational entry to the Port of Miami was depicted on one training set-up. On another, a Princess ship and then an MSC Cruises ship sailed out of port in close proximity to "our vessel," which was approaching the same port.

Bud Darr, CLIA’s new vice president of technical and regulatory affairs, told reporters taking a tour of the new simulator center that the facility is an “extraordinarily valuable tool to enhance safety."

The training simulator center was built to the specific requirements of three of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s brands – Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises (www.cruisingpower.com); those lines are already using the facility. 

Other lines may also use the center, as will cargo and tanker companies. The simulator can be programmed to replicate bridge conditions for 50 different type of vessels.

While Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) uses a simulation training facility in Europe, Minas Myrtidis, Norwegian's vice president of fleet regulatory compliance, who was on site during the recent reporters' tour, said his line may consider using the new South Florida facility for some training as well.

Myrtidis said the beauty of any simulator is its "ability to implement all kinds of different scenarios.” It gives bridge teams the opportunity to find weaknesses and make mistakes in a simulator, so crew members or the captain don’t make them later on the water.


One of the mini-simulators

The simulator can help a bridge team learn to deal effectively with quirky port characteristics, bad weather including driving rain and snow, avoidance of obstacles, a man overboard situation and a loss of power, to name a few of the scenarios that can be replicated.

And, yes, the bridge simulator can create an encounter with such open ocean water hazards as rogue waves and an iceberg ahead.

Instructors set up the computer scenarios, based on the training needs of the line and its crew members.During our visit, the weather viewable from the bridge turned from sun to rain, the seas from calm to choppy, and the time of day from afternoon to night-time.

A fog horn could be heard in the distance during a murky visibility approach to one port.

Bridge team members typically might train within the main bridge simulator for 45 minutes or so, and be in the simulation center training for multiple courses over a period of several days.

Crew are evaluated on their skilled use of the integrated bridge systems and positioning system, their communication skills, leadership on the bridge and more.


The full bridge simulator boasts realistic water conditions and ports of call and boasts 270 degree views.

Bridge Resource Management


Rich Pruitt of Royal Caribbean, Bud Darr of CLIA and Joseph Farrell, Jr. of Resolve Maritime Academy in the full bridge simulator

Not only is the captain’s knowledge being tested in the simulator, but so are the captain's and the bridge team's resource management skills. That interaction is critical to keeping a ship safe.

“I think it’s very important for the bridge officers to work together as a team, implement [challenges and situations] and then see how they react to the situation together,” Myrtidis said. 

The maritime industry over the years has adopted many lessons learned from the aviation’s industry’s cockpit resource management concept, which looks at the safe operation of an airplane as a team-focused approach.

Yes, the captain is in charge in any scenario. But captains and crew are taught that just as important as following orders and doing the right thing mechanically or operationally is approaching an issue as a team.

Each member of the team should contribute and provide the captain with vital information and an opinion as to what’s happening – what the radar shows, what they see out the window, what their electronic systems are registering and so on.

So-called "human factors" are closely evaluated. Why? In past aviation, train and maritime accidents, investigators have discovered that it’s rarely ever just one event that has caused a major accident. Rather it's a series of factors or human interactions along the way that created a chain of events that led to disaster.

Often by eliminating just one tiny event or action via a “resource management” approach, the potential chain of events can be broken and an accident avoided.

With so many new cruise ships launching and lines adding new ports to their itineraries worldwide, it’s also increasingly important to help captains and their crews learn about ports first-hand, stressed Rich Pruitt, director, environmental and public health programs, Royal Caribbean International.

Typically, bridge crews wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit every new port of call. But with the simulator, the captain and bridge crew sailing into a port for the first time can actually know - having "sailed" there in advance perhaps several times within a simulator - about the port's navigational nuances, tidal conditions, docking facilities and so on.


Mariners practice their skills in an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) classroom and navigation lab.

Additional Safety Facilities

Separate from the full bridge simulator, the new training facility also boasts an attached Bridge Wing with an independent visual system. 

Farrell shows an aerial view of the firefighting facility.

As Travel Agent toured the facility, eight mariners were visible quietly practicing their skills in an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) classroom and navigation lab.

Electronics are clearly important in operating a vessel safely, but officials stressed that crew also must also be sure to simply look out the window and visually survey the horizon and water - not rely solely on what the instruments say. 

In addition, the new training center has several mini-bridge rooms, essentially a smaller version of the full bridge simulator with visuals, propulsion controls, ECDIS, radar and so on.

They allow two people, such as a captain and first officer, to practice scenarios without the full bridge team.

In a nearby facility at the port, Resolve Maritime also operates a shipboard fire-fighting training facility. More than 8,500 crew from RCCL brands have received the specialized fire-fighting instruction on a training vessel.


Dwain Wall of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. sits in the simulator's Captain's Chair.

Steven Cernak, port director and CEO, Port Everglades, cited the fire training facility as a valuable asset for the port and the region. In total, more than 18,000 mariners, local fire fighters and port personnel have received training at that center.

Duly impressed with the new simulator facility and related training options was Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., who toured the center and felt it a "fantastic tool" to help assure the safety of the industry for the traveling public.

If practice makes perfect, then this type of simulator center certainly has the arsenal of electronic tools, computer generated "challenges" and safety evaluation processes to help mariners fine-tune their skills and enhance safety at sea.

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