Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Marine Software and Technology


The Transas full mission bridge simulator at Seattle Maritime Academy can project locales such as downtown Seattle or the Panama Canal. Pacific Maritime Magazine photo.

Maritime software and technology has an increasingly important role to play in the safety of vessel operations and in helping organizations work more efficiently.

Simulation training is part of Seattle Maritime Academy's (SMA) offerings at its new 24,000 square foot LEED Silver certified facility. SMA offers two main professional and technical programs: Marine Deck Technology and Maritime Engineering Technology. Both programs run for approximately one year and include nine months of instruction, followed by an internship.

The deck internship runs for 90 sea days, and the engineering internship runs for 60 sea days. During the second and the third quarters of the training year, students go out on SMA's training vessel Maritime Instructor once a week for 12 hours, at which time, both groups are cross-trained in each discipline.

The new building has, by Coast Guard standards, two classrooms that hold 30 students and two classrooms that handle 22 students. A fifth classroom is set up for 20 students that accommodates larger tables for chart work.

"We have a full mission engine room simulator and a full mission bridge simulator, and a classroom that has 18 simulation stations on it," says Sarah Scherer, MA, Director/Associate Dean. "Each of those 18 stations have the engineering software on them so they can run any of the engineering simulations from those desktop systems. And eight of those 18 will have the navigation system on them, so they'll be able to run the bridge simulation software through those eight stations."

The state-of-the-art Transas simulators create a full bridge experience. Students stand on a mock bridge where any skyscape or seascape such as downtown Seattle or the Panama Canal can be projected. Then students learn to navigate ships through various scenarios with different challenging elements to teach them how to handle a myriad of tasks.

The full mission engine room simulator has three different rooms: a main control room, an electronics control room, and an auxiliary systems room. Engine problems such as overheating and loss of steering can be simulated. Training scenarios are developed ahead of time. Students are prepared in the pre-brief room as well as de-briefed afterwards on the results of the simulation exercise. "If there's time, we can go and run the scenario again with a similar or the same failure to see if they're able to resolve it quickly and properly," says Mark Pickett, Simulator Operator. Students can also access one of the 18 desktop stations to practice again before returning to the larger simulator.

The full mission engine room simulator can be run either independently or in connection with the bridge simulator. "One of the other pieces, in reference to being able to use the bridge and the engine room simulator together, is the ability to address communications and leadership while they are performing their duties in the simulators," says Scherer.

The new facility couldn't come at a better time. According to Scherer, in Washington State, 65 percent of the mariners are more than 40 years old. It's expected there will be a huge mass exodus in the next 10 to 20 years of people leaving the industry. "Our role is really important. We are trying to help rebuild the middle class of Puget Sound by preparing our students for living, family-wage jobs that are available and will be increasingly available over the next 10 to 20 years," she says. "It's also about replenishing the people in the maritime industry at an operational level so they can grow into the officer and management positions in the next 10 years so that when people do retire, we're in a good place."

Foss Maritime recently entered into a four-year agreement with SMA to help maintain its personnel's high level of training. Foss' experienced mariners will have access to the new simulators, along with the customized professional development training offered by SMA, to support upgrading or renew licensing, learn new skills and to simply practice operating vessels.

"We are very excited about the partnership with Seattle Maritime Academy and in what we see as the Academy becoming a key development tool for the entire industry," says Scott Merritt, Senior Vice President, Harbor Services. "This opportunity for additional training and practice time, in addition to the invaluable training programs at Pacific Maritime Institute, will result in more competent, confident and safer vessel operators and engineers."

In keeping with its prime directive to help vessels operate safely, Houston-headquartered ABS Nautical Systems regularly fine-tunes their easy-to-use, intuitive, data visualization software by continually talking with customers.

When asked about the company's fleet management software, NS Core, Stephen Schwarz, Vice President & Chief Operating Officer says: "Our software has been supporting safety management in blue water for years," he says. "Subchapter M really represents the same type of challenge in inland applications, just with slightly different rules."

The challenge in moving workboat companies onto software, according to Schwarz, is that many of them are coming off of spreadsheets or perhaps no systems at all, so to suddenly get acquainted with a computerized system can be a change management issue. "You put yourself in the role of different users and you think if I were this person and logged in, how would I know what to do next?"

The NS Core product, which is a streamlined version of the company's main fleet management suite, an integrated fleet management system that includes HSQE Manager, Maintenance, Purchasing, Payroll, Crew, etc. Each module can be licenced separately according to operational requirements. "You might license NS Core for the vessels so you get that simpler, easier to use interface on the boats where you need it, and it includes the Sub M dashboards." explains Schwarz. The focus of all reporting in NS Core is to make sure that the office and the vessel are looking at the same data and that the office can look across all vessels. Smaller workboat companies can take advantage of a cloud-based subscription service if they don't have an IT department.

This foundational product can be used by various industry segments. If installed on a towboat or push boat, extra functions that a blue water operator would need are hidden, giving users an easy interface on the vessel. "The office, if they desire, may still be using the full blown version of NS Enterprise with all the functions that any blue water company would have had all these years," says Schwarz. "But still, if they're running a big, complex organization and they want a tool to help them run that well, they may use more advanced features in the office."

ABS Nautical Systems recently revealed to its customers, a new on-demand reporting tool that offers a much easier way to get at all the reports that are already in the system and analyze the data, as well as to build reports of their own. Schwarz says a new Business Intelligence Framework is being built on top of the reporting system.

"We're developing a set of tools with a set of business intelligence solutions for each functional area that helps people quickly answer the questions that are top of mind. So it might be a series of Health, Safety, Quality and Environment (HSQE) or safety performance indicators. Or it might be a series of performance and efficiency metrics," he says. "You can create a customized way to get at data and answer questions so the data becomes more useful. The system becomes a true management information system versus a simple transaction system."

According to Schwarz, this is where Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software has been going for years now, and ABS wants to be on the cutting edge of this new trend. A new mobile app has also recently been piloted by ABS Nautical Systems. It will first be aimed at purchasing managers who need the ability to give approvals when they're on the move.

Vancouver, BC-based Marine Learning System Inc.'s (MLS) Founder and CEO, Murray Goldberg, has been studying eLearning and blended learning since the early 90s. His first company, Web CT, was one of the first learning management systems and was aimed at colleges and universities (more than 4,000 in more than 80 countries used it).

In 2006, BC Ferries (BCF) approached Goldberg to help improve their training programs, but there was no Learning Management System (LMS) available for the maritime industry, so Goldberg created one that addressed the operational and training context of vessel operators. The first BCF pilot was so successful that the company rolled it out across its 4,000 operational employees. In fact, the LMS built for BCF was deployed as part of their Sail Safe Initiative, and according to Goldberg, BCF's accident rates dropped significantly and the company began saving money on insurance claims. Marine Learning Systems has specialized in the maritime sector ever since.

"Using software as a means to help train seafarers in a different way, research has shown that blended learning produces far better training outcomes, better retention, and deeper understanding than either face–to-face or eLearning alone, and that eLearning produced outcomes that were just as good as face-to-face training," he says.

It's all about safety, he continues, "If an organization wants to improve their safety outcomes, then this is a tool that they should consider very seriously because training is clearly related directly to safety." But he's also quick to point out that eLearning is not a sufficient substitute for hands-on skills training, which is why blended learning has become the new paradigm.

An LMS is a specialized piece of software that delivers both training and assessments. In short, it ensures there is a method of training that is standardized in order to track compliance in a proven way that produces results. Goldberg says without standardization, training outcomes can be compromised when relying solely on job shadowing or classroom instruction, for instance.

When an eLearning curriculum is employed, each trainee receives exactly the same information. The information has been created by the training organization and is therefore guaranteed to be exactly the information the company wants to be imparted through the training process. Conversely, when live, instructor-led training is carried out in an on-site classroom scenario or through job shadowing, the information and delivery can vary depending on the instructor's style and teaching methods. In addition, since all learners will have access to the same information that is constantly updated by specified staff in the system, it means the need for revising printed training materials is eliminated.

An LMS provides critical insights into the training of each individual, using real-time analytics and metrics that help companies understand where training isn't succeeding. This means the system can help spot issues with trainees before they become accidents.

"If you're not measuring it, you can't manage it," explains Goldberg. "The LMS gives you the information you need to institute a program of continuous training improvements in the organization. Basically, it's your enterprise, 24/7, centralized training resource and assessment system in your organization, one that allows you to actually manage your safety outcomes deliberately."

For an end-user or trainee using the site, there's no training required. They log on, and everything is customized to them. The system knows what training they need because it knows what job role they're in. Simple prompts show users where they last left off and it also keeps the trainers informed of a student's status and knowledge retention. Self-assessments and summative assessments (final exams) are also used for measuring competencies.

While an LMS system provides the software infrastructure around delivering content, it does not create or manage the training curriculum." We are particularly content agnostic," says Goldberg. "We feel that organizations should choose the best delivery platform, the one that meets their needs most directly, so we think it's pretty important to decouple content and the platform."

Helm Operations, based in Victoria, BC, has recently rolled out its new Helm CONNECT Jobs software module which is an upgrade to its dispatching and billing products that is targeted at the Harbor docking sector. The software helps streamline a straightforward system for what can be many varying agreements with numerous customers, allowing for easy rates set up and recouping missed revenue that may occur from events that happened on a job – for instance, ice conditions that increased the job time – that may have not been tracked correctly on a manual Excel spreadsheet. "What we found out in the process of developing Helm CONNECT Jobs is that we've created event logs which are not just appealing for harbour docking customers, but the commercial maritime sector as a whole," says Rodger Banister, VP of Marketing.

Helm CONNECT Maintenance and Compliance is a planned maintenance and compliance software system (two separate modules) that, together, bring everything vessel crews and onshore staff need for real-time fleet management visibility and compliance. The modules work, as other Helm software does, with easy-to-use drag and drop functionality. Helm has worked to make the end user's experience as simple and straightforward as possible, presenting only the data each user needs to focus on.

In addition, Helm has recently introduced its Helm CONNECT Personnel application which enables companies to track individual crew member's qualifications and monitor what items are coming due by person, qualification type, and due date. These qualifications may include endorsements for working in particular locations and certifications for certain types of work or types of vessel. This enables vessel operators to prove compliance whenever requested.

The Helm CONNECT Personnel application enables companies to track individual crew member's qualifications, and enables vessel operators to prove compliance whenever requested. Photo courtesy of Helm Software.

A simple dashboard, for instance, allows vessel captains or shore side staff to view all personnel records with the latest updates in one place, the screen showing checked items such as the number of certifications and when the next one is due by an intuitive color scale. With a quick mouse click, each person's record can be accessed to view more detail and updated information accordingly. Templates can be created for crew certification based on position or location, again with easy drag and drop functionality and system prompts.

"We also have a reminder notification engine built into it that you can either set reminders based on 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, or a custom amount of time that you want to be reminded for personnel to go and renew their certifications," says Banister. "You can upload a digital version of the certification within that person's file so you always have it on hand, and then you can just pre-set the expiry dates once you've got something new. The software also allows you to communicate directly with that individual as well, straight through the application."

Helm also has a vessel component called Helm CONNECT Assets, which tracks all asset certifications. Personnel and Assets can be used as stand-alone products or as part of Helm CONNECT Maintenance.


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