“We don’t need to practise a summer Pacific cruise”
This subject was in my opinion always discussed very emotionally in the past two years in which our NSBacademy and its component that has attracted attention, the simulator, has existed. I have also heard positive comments, but what I remember are rather the sceptical comments of my colleagues. I find that regrettable, as I con-sider this instrument to be very efficient and future-oriented. Below are some of my thoughts on this topic to contrast the “gut feeling” with an “objective intellectual ap-proach”.
How real is reality?
In particular the lack of faithfulness to reality is criticised with some regularity. I ac-knowledge that the projection system has its limits in various respects. Otherwise the modelling and simulation is close to reality to an extent that is far more than ade-quate. Anyone who really gets involved in the facility will notice that he occasionally forgets being in the simulator. But the critics certainly mean another kind of remote-ness from reality. They claim that the exercises are not practically oriented. Anyone who has not yet experienced the events reproduced in the exercises themselves in reality should in my opinion simply count himself fortunate. However, it is not the case that reality encompasses only what we have directly come into contact with ourselves – commonly also called experience. Statistical frequency is no characteris-tic of reality. Even if there will probably not be a storm as devastating as “Kyrill” for a long time, it is with its uniqueness not thereby unreal.
Everyone (it is to be hoped) copes with daily life –
No simulator in the world serves to model the usual daily routine. That is not its pur-pose, and such an expensive facility would not be an economical proposition in any way. The aim is to simulate complex systems and in relation to simulators for means of transport to model critical situations to pass through and experience safely and inexpensively. There is thus an exercise that simulates the conditions of the afore-mentioned winter storm. The aim is to navigate a ship into the Hamburg Park Har-bour. The real parameters were retained, not in order to create additional unpleas-antness with the in any case demanding environment but to make the manoeuvring characteristics more appreciable in visual terms. On the open sea, there are just fewer optical reference points that can show the movements so effectively.
A similar exercise requires the participant to pick up the pilot on the Elbe. Here the basic idea was to simulate that situation in which the ship is still being piloted. It only took a call to the pilot brotherhood to obtain the relevant weather data and the pilot boarding ground withdrawn to an inward position. A relevant course could be quickly formulated with these parameters. The reproach of unreality also does not apply here. And I think after my considerations on reality this criticism can also be invali-dated with all other exercises. Perhaps it just requires better communication, a more comprehensive introduction in order to reduce such blockages among the course participants or ensure they do not occur in the first place.
The big opportunity provided by the simulator
The way I see it, the simulator is intended first and foremost for basic and advanced training. If one accepts this, it becomes understandable why extreme situations and not Pacific crossings in summer are simulated. A learning effect within the exercises is also achieved only when the participant comes up against his or her limits. What then am I to reflect about, what lesson am I to take home with me if I master all as-signments flawlessly?
At this juncture, I don’t want to consider the many theories on human learning behav-iour, but only refer to the significance of errors in the cognitive process. I know the process of learning from errors from personal experience. I’ve learned most in my previous life from situations that only just went well. This is confirmed by science. The human brain simply trips up over errors. An effect that, to remain with trivial ex-amples, is gladly taken advantage of by attention-grabbing advertising. Errors often also initiate refinements one would have never thought about without something hav-ing gone wrong. What can be observed in evolution, namely that gene defects thanks to natural selection lead to an adaptation to circumstances, also applies for every other development. Not every error made is a good one – that remains undisputed. Yet it cannot be denied that mistakes provide potential for progress. That ranges from banalities such as the V position with ski jumping, the terry cloth resulting from a weaving flaw all the way to groundings because of the priorities between the different steering modes. A “jolt” is required to make us reconsider existing systems, behav-ioural patterns and processes.
Reflecting on one’s own activity to make progress
Having outsiders travelling along on board as participating observers only to analyse procedures would no doubt far exceed the limits of cost and feasibility. But this is very much possible in a simulator. Trials in simulated situations show how closely reality is suddenly reached. Here we need only think of “The Wave” or the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” from literature. The work in and on the simulator involves the practising persons being exposed to constant observation and control. They feel put back again to the time of their exams. Only a few people like voluntarily submitting to inspection situations. I have a similar feeling. Nevertheless, I welcome the simulator in that it makes observation of an external third party possible. That is hardly feasible in ongo-ing shipboard operation. The individual members of the bridge crew find it difficult to observe one another, as every one is involved in the system. A diagnosis of one’s own activity is possible only via observation followed up by constructive discussion.
In my opinion, we are on the right track, even if there is a certain potential particularly as regards the briefing and debriefing on the part of both the participants and the in-structors. I found for myself personally a clear improvement in the quality of the exer-cises between my first course in 2007 and my second in 2008 and hope that this de-velopment has meanwhile continued and progress will be ongoing in the future.