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Lifeboat Simulation – The Safe Alternative1


									                  Lifeboat Simulation – The Safe Alternative1
Capt. Anthony Patterson
President and CEO, Virtual Marine Technology Inc.

The ability to launch and operate lifeboats in the event of an emergency is a safety critical
competence. International training standards established by the International Maritime
Organization (IMO), require that seafarers are trained to operate lifeboats and to maintain
proficiency through regular drills onboard the ship.

The ability to launch under high sea states is one of the competencies required under the
international standards, however there has not been any safe means for seafarers to demonstrate
their competence using real equipment. As a result, seafarers are only required to describe how
they would launch under rough conditions without providing a practical demonstration of their
abilities. In addition, recent accidents have highlighted the dangers of conducting practice
launches using real equipment even under calm conditions.

Notwithstanding the difficulties in providing practical training for seafarers to operate lifeboats
under adverse conditions, it is part of their duties that they are able to do so. In the worst case,
they will be asked to launch under extremely hazardous conditions in which they have never
operated and are ill prepared. The result is often catastrophic.

The international community is seeking an alternative to live launches in order to demonstrate
and ensure the proficiency of crews is maintained. Simulation, which has been used in the
marine industry for the training of officers for many years, offers a potential solution which is
safe and effective.

Escape, Evacuation, Survival and Rescue
In the unlikely event of an incident at sea, all seafarers must be prepared to deal with the
emergency, and – if required – abandon their vessel and survive until rescue. Since such
instances of distress are rare, seafarers must rely on training and continual practice (through
drills) to ensure that they are prepared should an incident occur.

Once containment of the event (fire, flooding, etc.) is no longer possible, the main goals of the
seafarer are escape, evacuation, survival and rescuei. The ability to take quick action is
paramount. Gaps in training and practice drills can result in the seafarer being unprepared and
unable to deal with the situation. The goals of training regulations and standards are to ensure

 Originally published in the 2007 Proceedings of the Company of Master Mariners of Canada, Newfoundland and
Labrador Division.
that the likelihood of a training gap is minimized, and that seafarers are competent to react to a
wide range of foreseeable emergencies.

Regulation and Training
The two primary Conventions established by the international community to ensure that seafarers
are competent and prepared to evacuate a vessel in the event of an emergency are the Seafarers’
Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) and the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
Conventions. STCW sets the requirements for initial and refresher trainingii while SOLAS sets
the requirements for on-board drillsiii. Requirements for workers in the offshore oil and gas
industry are contained in guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in
Assembly Resolution A.891(21) Recommendations on Training of Personnel on Mobile Offshore
Units (MOUs)iv.

STCW and Training

Table A-VI/2-1 of the STCW Code outlines the minimum standard competence for seafarers in
the operation of survival craft and rescue boats. The table lists five (5) core competencies which
are further broken down into twenty (20) sub-elements. Given the nature of operating survival
craft, the standard demands a practical demonstration of the competencies using real equipment.

Guidance for training providers is published by the IMO in the form of model courses. Model
courses are developed by member countries and are the template courses for many countries
when they approve their local training providers. The Government of India developed Model
Course 1.23 Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boats other than Fast Rescue Boats and
was published by the IMO in 2000.

While the IMO sets training standards, it is the responsibility of each individual country to issue
regulations and enforce the standards within their jurisdiction. Within Canada, the primary
instruments related to survival craft training are the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (CSA 2001), the
Marine Personnel Regulations (MPR), and the technical publication Marine Emergency Duties
Training Courses (TP 4957). Other countries will have a similar set of regulations as Canada to
enact the IMO standards.

The CSA 2001 enables the Minister of Transport to make regulations regarding the training and
certification of seafarersv and requires Masters of Canadian ships to ensure that all crew
members carry valid certificatesvi. The MPR identifies the minimum standard of training for
officers and crews on board Canadian ships. MPR essentially enacts the STCW Code in Canada,
as well as incorporates A.891(21) into Canadian legislation for the domestic offshore oil and gas
industry. TP 4957 sets the detailed training requirements for course providers accredited to issue
Canadian training certificates. TP 4957 incorporates much of Model Course 1.23, but also
contains some elements unique to Canada and its operational environment.
SOLAS and Drills

While STCW ensures that crew members have demonstrated their competence in the operation
of survival craft, SOLAS ensures they develop and maintain proficiency in operating the craft on
their particular vessel. Until recently, Regulation 19 under SOLAS Chapter III required that at
least one (1) lifeboat be lowered each month with its operating crewvii, and that each lifeboat be
lowered, released and maneuvered by its crew at least once every three (3) monthsviii. Special
provisions are made for freefall lifeboats that only require a full launch every six (6) months or
twelve (12) months in the case where appropriate arrangements are made for a simulated launch
every six (6) monthsix.

In Canada, the provisions for on-board drills are contained in the Boat and Fire Drill and Means
of Exit Regulations. Section 18 of the regulations essentially repeats the SOLAS provisions by
requiring each davit launched lifeboat to be launched and maneuvered in the water with its
assigned crew at least once every three (3) monthsx and every freefall lifeboat to be launched and
maneuvered every six (6) monthsxi.

The need to periodically practice launching lifeboats with crew on board poses some significant
safety hazards. A study published by the United Kingdom’s Marine Accident Investigation
Branch (MAIB), in 2001, noted that sixteen percent (16%) of the total lives lost over a ten (10)
year period were due to practice launches and on-board inspectionsxii. The MAIB report has
triggered significant changes in the regulatory environment. The IMO has issued cautions about
the risks involved with drillsxiii, and has implemented revisions to SOLAS which no longer
require that practice launches be conducted with crew onboardxiv.

The ability to conduct drills using real equipment is certainly constrained with the new SOLAS
provisions. The decision to conduct a practice launch with crew onboard is left up to the Master
who must also take into account the occupational health and safety implications of a crewed
launch. Health and safety considerations, whether required through onboard International Safety
Management (ISM) procedures or through national legislation (e.g.: Canada Labour Code),
counter-balance the perceived operational or training benefits associated with having the crew
onboard for a practice launch. In fact, mariners view the new requirements effectively ban
crewed launches during drills. While it may be feasible to conduct a practice in ideal conditions
(after a thorough risk assessment is done and after a test lowering of the boat with no crew), it is
unthinkable that a practice launch would occur in difficult conditions (high seas, night, etc.).

The Training Gap

The requirement under the STCW Code for a practical demonstration of the competence to
operate survival craft immediately poses problems for those tasks that are too hazardous to
perform in a training environment. In particular, students cannot demonstrate the “methods of
launching survival craft into a rough sea”. The prescribed training for rough weather launching
is a lecturexv.

The inability to practice for difficult launch conditions during onboard drills only reinforces the
gap in training where difficult training launches are also avoided because they are too risky. As
a result, the only time that a seafarer will be able to practically demonstrate their competence in
rough weather launching is during an actual emergency. By then, it is probably too late.

The solution to the problem of safe but realistic training appers to be a simulator. Simulators are
already used in the marine industry to train ship’s officers to work under unusual and fault
conditions that would be too dangerous to practice using real equipment. Can simulation be used
to train seafarers how to launch lifeboats?

Simulation and Behaviour

Dr. Lochlan Magee, the head of simulation and modeling for the Canadian military, described a
simulator as a “human factors interface to a mathematical model”. Dr. Magee’s description
captures the two fundamental requirements for a marine simulator defined by STCW, namely: 1)
it must possess sufficient physical realism to 2) provoke an appropriate behavioral responsexvi.

Realism is normally sub-divided into two separate elements: mathematical realism and cueing
realism. Mathematical realism relates to how the real world is represented mathematically in the
simulator. Mathematical realism typically includes hydrodynamic properties of the vessel,
environmental properties (waves for example), and navigation sensor properties. A key
requirement for the mathematical models is that they must operate in real-time. Mathematical
realism can be objectively measured. Cueing realism, on the other hand, relates to how the
person using the simulator is stimulated (or cued) to perceive the virtual world. Cueing realism
relates to sights, sounds, motions, smells, feel, etc. Cueing realism cannot be measured
objectively and is evaluated subjectively.

An appropriate behavior response relates to how the student reacts to the simulator. When a
student is cued by the simulator, they should react in the same way as they would if a similar cue
happened in real-life. As a simple example, suppose a student is trying to maintain a steady
course. If the student sees the boat’s head drift to port, then it is expected that they would apply
starboard helm to counteract the yaw. In a more complicated operation like launching a lifeboat
into rough seas, there are a large number of tasks that must be performed in a certain manner
given a certain situation. The simulator must provide sufficient cues for the student to recognize
the situation and to take appropriate actions. Simulators that trigger appropriate behavioral
response can be used by students to learn and to demonstrate their competence to perform tasks
as an alternative to using real equipment.

Training simulators do not have to be an exact replica of the real-world; they only have to be
realistic enough so that what you learn in a simulator - you can use in the real-world. It follows
that the more complicated the training requirement, the more sophisticated the simulator. A key
task to implement simulation into a training program is to match realism to training objectives,
and to strike a balance between mathematical and cueing realism. For marine training simulators
a commonly used fidelity scale is: full mission (a high fidelity replica of the real-world intended
for advanced training); multi-task (a medium fidelity replica of the real-world intended for
operational training); limited-task (a partial replica of the real-world intended to develop basic
skills); and, special-task or single-task (specialized simulator to teach particular skills)xvii.
In 2004, Memorial University’s Marine Institute and Faculty of Engineering and Applied
Science, together with the National Research Council of Canada, began a project to build a
prototype lifeboat launch simulator. Financing for the project was provided by Petroleum
Research Atlantic Canada (PRAC) and the Government of Canada’s Program of Energy
Research and Development (PERD) program. The project was an extension of previous work
conducted by Memorial University and the National Research Council to measure the
performance of lifeboats and their launching systems at model scale. During the model scale
trials, the research team noted that the technician who launched the simulator became more adept
with practicexviii. The team hypothesized that the same improvement in learning could occur
through the use of a numerical simulator.

One of the first jobs performed by the project team was to conduct a thorough analysis of the
tasks required to launch a davit launched lifeboat from an oil rig. Once the task list was
determined, then the functional requirements for the simulator were determined. The team
concluded that a full mission simulator would be required in order to achieve the training
objective of learning how to launch into a high sea state.

Once the functional requirements were established, the main tasks performed included the
development of a mathematical model based on the model experiments; development of a full
scale cueing system for the coxswain’s position in a generic lifeboat; and development of an
instructor station that could trigger fault conditions during the simulation and record student

The prototype simulator was built to conform to the open architecture standard published by the
US Department of Defense, High level Architecture (HLA), which required the components to
be built with a high degree of modularityxix. The modularity of the system was demonstrated
when the system was adapted to replicate an entirely different class of vessel (a 7m RHIB) for
the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. The lifeboat simulator was completed in 2005, and is
currently located at the Offshore Safety and Survival Centre (OSSC) in St. John’s. The original
lifeboat simulator continues to be used to evaluate the effectiveness of simulation in lifeboat
launching courses. Commercialization of the technology is being conducted by Virtual Marine
Technology Inc. under license from Memorial University and the National Research Council of

Implementing the Simulation Alternative
The author believes that simulation is a valid, safe and cost effective method to teach students
how to launch and maneuver a lifeboat, especially under harsh or fault conditions. Simulators
can be used both in the initial training phase and as a safe alternative to crewed launches during
drills. In order for simulation to become widely adapted by the marine industry, there are a few
elements which should be addressed.

STCW envisions the use of simulators in a wide range of training applications as long as the
simulation based training program is approved by the local Administration (Transport Canada in
the case of Canada). Individual Administrations determine if simulation is appropriate for a
given training program, usually after considering if the simulator meets the functional
requirements specified in Section A-I/12 of the STCW Code.

STCW indicates when simulation is a suitable method of demonstrating competence by adding
the phrase “approved simulator training, where appropriate” in column III (Methods of
Demonstrating Competence) in the detailed competency tables. Unfortunately, Table A-VI/2-1 -
which includes lifeboat launching – does not include the simulation phrase. STCW needs to be
amended to make it clear that simulators can be used to train seafarers to launch lifeboats as long
as they are approved and appropriate. The Government of Canada has submitted such an
amendment for consideration at the 39th Session of IMO’s Sub-Committee on Standards of
Training and Watchkeeping (STW) in March 2008xx.

Amending the STCW code to permit lifeboat simulation should trigger a review of the existing
IMO Model Course 1.23 to make the necessary amendments to accommodate simulation based
training. In particular, practical demonstration of heavy weather launching using a simulator
should be recommended rather than a lecture on launch techniques. National training standards,
such as TP 4957, should also be reviewed to shift rough weather launch training from lectures to
demonstration in a simulator. Such revisions to the template training standards will bring the
training regimes into alignment with Table A-VI/2-1 of the STCW Code that envisions practical
demonstration for all aspects of lifeboat launching.

Once simulation is accepted as a training method for lifeboat crews, Administrations will need to
approve individual simulation based training programs. Before approval can be given, the
Administration will need to be satisfied that the simulator meets the functional requirements
defined in STCW, especially the two core requirements of physical and behavioral realism.
Administrations can conduct their own assessment, or in some cases, accept a certification from
Det Norske Veritias (DNV) that the simulator meets the requirements of guidance document 2.14
Certification of Maritime Simulator Systems. In either event, the accreditation criteria for
lifeboat launch simulators do not currently exist and need to be developed. Memorial University
of Newfoundland is presently conducting research to identify appropriate accreditation criteria.

The use of simulators in drills can proceed in a similar manner as with training. SOLAS
currently permits ‘simulated’ launches of freefall lifeboats in lieu of actual launches with crews.
In the case of freefall lifeboats, the simulation envisioned is not a numerical simulation but rather
a means to trap the boat and prevent it from launching from the ship. Regulation 19 of SOLAS
should be amended such that practice using a suitable numerical simulator would be accepted in
lieu of crewed launches. The simulator could be carried on board or brought to the ship’s side
during port visits. The use of numerical simulators for practice drills would certainly exceed
what is currently possible; eliminate a critical safety issue of crewed launches; and, significantly
raise the preparedness of the crew to react to an emergency. VMT is currently developing a
mobile system designed for practice drills.

Finally, continued refinement of lifeboat simulation needs to be conducted. MUN, NRC, and
VMT are currently engaged in a three (3) year collaborative program to investigate enhanced
cueing systems (including motion cueing); improved mathematical models; improved briefing
and debriefing tools; and human behavior in simulated environments. Funding for the program
comes from the Atlantic Innovation Fund, PRAC, and VMT. It is expected that the development
of a full mission Freefall Launch Simulator will be added to the program in the near future.

Simulation provides a safe alternative to crewed launches for lifeboat training and practice.
Through the use of simulators, seafarers can become better prepared to deal with the unlikely
event of abandoning their vessel. With practice will come proficiency and confidence in the
ability to evacuate.


   The National Research Council of Canada and Memorial University of Newfoundland have
been conducting extensive research in Escape, Evacuation and Rescue for the offshore oil and
gas industry. For more information on their program visit the NRC website at http://iot-ito.nrc-
    Regulation VI/2 Proficiency in Survival Craft Rescue Boats and Fast Rescue Boats sets the
broad requirements while Table A-VI/2-1 in the Code specifies the minimum standard of
competence in survival craft and rescue boats other than fast rescue boats.
    Chapter III, Lifesaving Appliances and Arrangements, Regulation19 sets the requirements for
onboard drills.
    Section 5.3.3 indicates that a regular program of drills and exercises should be conducted.
Section indicates that non-marine personnel who are taking charge of a lifeboat be trained
in accordance with the STCW requirements. Guidance on how to conduct drills and exercises is
contained in an Appendix.
    CSA 2001 Part 3, Section 100.
    CSA 2001 Part 3, Section 82.(1).
     SOLAS Chapter III, Regulation 19, Section
     SOLAS Chapter III, Regulation 19, Section 3.3.3.
    SOLAS Chapter III, Regulation 19, Section 3.3.4.
    Boat and Fire Drill and Means of Exit Regulations Section 18.(2).e.
    Boat and Fire Drill and Means of Exit Regulations section 18.(2).f.
     Safety Study 1/2001, Review of Lifeboat launch Systems’ Accidents.
     See MSC.1/Circ.1206: Measures to Prevent Accidents with Lifeboats.
     Section 3.3.3 of SOLAS Chapter III, Regulation 19 was amended by Resolution MSC.152(78)
on May 20, 2004 and came into effect on July 1, 2006.
     See Model Course 1.23, Element 6.5 and TP 4957, Paragraph 11.6, Section 13.1
     See STCW Code Section A-I/12, Standards governing the use of simulators, for a full list of
requirements. Most notable is the requirement for a fully functioning instructor station.
      Stephen J. Cross & Martin Olofsson. Classification of Maritime Simulators, the Final
Attempt: Introducing DNV’s New Standard. (MARSIM , 2002). Also see Det Norske Veritas
Certification of Maritime Simulator Systems No. 2.14 for an example of a classification system.
      Brian Veitch, Randy Billard and Anthony Patterson. Evacuation training using immersive
simulators. Submitted for publication at 2008 Offshore Technology Conference, Houston.
    IEEE Standard 1516 has superseded the original US DoD HLA Standard.
    See paper STW 39/7/43, December 27, 2007.

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