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Coast Guard Full-mission Bridge Simulator Trains Crews

Petaluma training facility instills competence and confidence

As the ship enters an unfamiliar port, the watch team on the bridge is trying to stay on course amid shifting currents, strong winds, heavy seas and poor visibility. The contacts are numerous, the lights are confusing and the radio chatter is distracting. But this isn’t a ship, and the watch team is not at sea. Instead, they are on a base situated on rolling hills, surrounded by cow pastures on the edge of California’s famous wine country.

This is the full mission bridge simulator (FMBS) at the Coast Guard’s Training Center (TRACEN) Petaluma, the service’s largest training facility on the West Coast. It is home to A and C schools for seven of the Coast Guard’s enlisted ratings, as well as the Chief Petty Officer Academy.

According to Capt. Paul Flynn, TRACEN’s commanding officer, “We can put our bridge teams in an environment where they can replicate the scenarios they’re going to face at sea, and to be able to complete those scenarios – over and over again – until they have really good teamwork. You can’t always create those situations at sea so that you can practice them. In the simulator, you can practice going in and out of Dutch Harbor or Kodiak in heavy fog, or at night, over and over again, to build confidence.

“The simulator is a way to safely practice what our crews are going to be doing in real time,” said Flynn. “They can become competent and confident, and perhaps just as important the simulators can prevent people from becoming overconfident.”

“We can have the students practicing simple things, such as talking on the radio. If you have a lot of new people on the bridge, they may not all be familiar with talking on the radio, especially when there are different conversations on three different speakers. We can make scenarios be increasingly more complicated,” Flynn said. “Even for the most experienced watchstanders, the simulator can remind you of how complicated it can be.

“Most ships don’t pull in and out of port at night – except when there’s a situation and they have to. So, we give them the opportunity to practice that. We want to identify the area where we need to make the team stronger, and address those gaps in a controlled environment.

“You can run more scenarios in the morning than you could in weeks at sea,” Flynn said.

TRACEN also has a combat information center simulator to train the operations specialist and officer watchstanders. The bridge and CIC trainers are integrated, so that the bridge watch can coordinate the navigation detail with the CIC team.

“They’re working together. Just like on the ship, they can’t even see each other, but they’re working with each other, building that teamwork and that confidence in one another,” said Flynn.

According to John Wright, simulation center specialist at the TRACEN, the FMBS, made by Kongsberg, offers high-fidelity representations of 24 different ports, including all of the larger Coast Guard homeports and others where cutters call frequently.

The simulations can vary the amount of shipping, or environmental factors like wind and currents. Radio traffic can be intensified to make the transit more challenging for the watch teams.

The simulator has a helicopter mode, which provides a birds-eye view of the scenario. “We can conduct a ‘fam flight’ through port for the crew before they have to try it,” said Wright. “We can point out the landmarks and features. They can see where they’re going to go before they drive through it.”

Most ships can be replicated, from patrol boats and buoy tenders to national security cutters and icebreakers. There are a few exceptions. The 283-foot CGC Alex Haley, formerly a Navy salvage ship, is the only ship in its class in the Coast Guard fleet, so her crew will train using a 270-foot medium endurance cutter simulation.

Coast Guard cutters routinely operate independently, but they have a national defense mission, and can operate with Navy ships and allies. “We can conduct underway replenishment and formation steaming, so our students can learn how to operate in close proximity with other ships,” said Wright.

He said he has programmed scenarios of real-world incidents, not for practice, but to allow students to experience how collisions, allisions, and groundings have occurred.

The simulator has a helicopter mode, which provides a birds-eye view of the scenario. “We can conduct a ‘fam flight’ through port for the crew before they have to try it,” said Wright. “We can point out the landmarks and features. They can see where they’re going to go before they drive through it.”

The simulators are busy. Precommissioning crews come from Pascagoula, where their ships are being built, and the Alameda-based cutters send their crews to the simulators on a regular basis.

“The simulator is a way to safely practice what our crews are going to be doing in real time,” said Flynn. “They can become competent and confident, and perhaps just as important the simulators can prevent people from becoming overconfident.”

 

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...