This year, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) celebrates its 50th year. There are five campuses in the Metro Vancouver region, and adjacent to Waterfront Park in Lower Lonsdale, we find the Marine Campus. Recently, I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the facilities from a friend and Master Mariner who is an instructor at the campus, Master Mariner, Captain Manik Rudrakumar.
Captain Rudrakumar, whom I know as Rudy, kindly spent part of a morning showing me the many different classrooms, labs and machine shops within the school. At any given time, there is a student body of about 200 persons, and the school provides training courses that range from 3-days all the way to 4-years. A raft of different courses are taught here, such as navigation, collision avoidance, marine electronics, survival skills and much more.
At any one time, worldwide, there are about 35,000 ships moving on the waters. In the narrowest, busiest waterways, such as the Strait of Malacca, and the English Channel, there are 84,000 transits a year in areas where weather conditions can change rapidly necessitating strict attention to traffic separation and timing. These are the types of skills that the school teaches to its students.
Vancouver is the largest harbour in Canada, and the second largest on the west coast. Rudy estimated that probably 90% of the people working within the harbour had taken courses at the BCIT Marine Campus.
I enquired about staffing levels on ships, and Rudy told me that a cruise ship might have 5,000 on board, of which 1,000 would be officers and crew, whereas a recent visiting giant container ship that held 19,240 containers might be crewed by only about 20, or even as low as 13 people. The requirements have dropped dramatically over the years due to the dynamic increase in technology.
For me, one of the most interesting and intriguing parts of the tour was the remarkable simulator setup that is used to provide incredibly realistic scenarios for training both tug boat and freighter personnel in the intricacies of inner-harbour maneuvering. The tug simulator immerses the student in a 360-degree environment made up of eighteen 42″ monitors that show the entire tug and surrounding area. In addition to complete audio cues such as ship and weather noise, and even seagulls, the simulator can be programmed for a multitude of weather and sea conditions and can actually induce seasickness as the view pitches and rolls about you. Linked to the simulator’s multiple-server computer system is a complete set of controls that duplicate those in the actual tug, so the student sees and feels the movement dynamics true to life.
An additional simulator station elsewhere in the school is dedicated to bridge simulation, and naturally, the two systems are linked, and from the freighter’s “bridge”, you can see the tug maneuvering, as you similarly see the freighter from the tug simulator.
The 14 vessels available in the simulator are meticulously modeled mathematically on their real-world counterparts to embody the precise handling characteristics so that the simulation really is the next best thing to being there while providing a safe and repeatable training environment. A choice of viewpoints is also possible, so, for example, the scene may be viewed as if from an overhead aircraft.
As we watched the freighter simulation, Rudy’s colleague, Captain Subramaniam Susanthan, or Sam, created fog, rain and driving snow, all remarkably convincing and it made me realize just how important this type of training is to prepare mariners for the real world. Fifty-two percent of all marine simulator training in Canada takes place in the two sims in this facility. The school also features a comprehensive engine room/power plant simulator which engineering students use to hone their skills.
BCIT’s Marine Campus has a sterling reputation, and its students graduate and work as Captains and crew for some of the largest and most prestigious vessels all over the world. And it’s right here in our back yard!