Imagine having your employer inform you that your only two-week vacation all year will be spent sitting in training courses to revamp or add to your skill base as an officer. Most would more than likely offer a collective groan of discontent by this suggestion since they often spend more than four months at sea in one given shot. Time spent away from relaxation with their families is precious to these individuals as it is hard to come by. Therefore RTM Star (Simulation, Training, Assessment & Research) Center, located in Dania Beach, Fla. And Toledo, Ohio, strives to give students who come to the training center an atmosphere that exudes a "home away from home" environment.
Driving along the industrious thoroughfare of U.S. 1 (or Federal Highway, as the locals call it), stands a building on the corner of West Dixie Highway that could easily be mistaken for a country club. Entering RTM STAR Center's Dania Beach, Fla. facility, guests and students are greeted by tall palm trees, maintenance people on golf carts and neatly lined and labeled guest rooms (125 to be exact), as well as an outdoor swimming pool, exercise facility and movie theatre. The facility also boasts what it is the largest and one of the most comprehensive training facilities for merchant mariners and officers. The Center is always researching its course offerings to offer students the most up-to-date classes, and is home to the world's only 360-degree Full Mission Bridge Simulator, which is complemented by the center's Slow Speed and Medium Speed Diesel Simulators.
The Bridge Simulator, which provides an immense 360-degree view of real-time, at-sea situations, is an invaluable training tool that features a Litton Sperry 2100 Integrated Bridge System (IBS) — similar to the one found on RCCL's Voyager of the Seas. This one-of-a-kind device boasts podded propulsion capability, as well as Dynamic Positioning (DP) capability, and is set off by the Center's 250-degree bridge simulator.
Walking into the simulation room, is much like stepping into a virtual reality-type ride at Epcot Center in Disney World. Star Center made MR/EN right at home by displaying a real time at sea "scene" of New York Harbor — complete with the Verrazano Bridge, Liberty Island and Governor's Island in the distance. While officers command the controls of the simulator, simulator operators located in an adjacent room throw many situations in their directions — many that could be life threatening or pose imminent danger. When MR/EN visited Star Center, the operators provided a scenario on a tanker traveling through New York Harbor in both the day and evening. In the vessel's field of vision lay the New York skyline, as well as several types of ships cruising through the harbor on a busy day. The simulator operators threw anything and everything in the tanker’s path, from small sailboats to U.S. Navy destroyers to containerships, and could include, for example, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter cruising overhead looking for landing spot, or a bevy of media helicopters covering a high-publicity event, such as Fleet Week. The officers at STAR Center even
go as far as to communicate to the students via "staged" traffic on the simulator's radio. According to Graeme Holman, STAR Center's head of Customer Service & Operations, the simulator is capable of running a variety of situations. "The simulator can be changed from port to starboard side, can mimic an oil spill and even change the wind and current speed. Mariners who are trained on this system will always say that this is how a ship is handled in real time situations."
Evolution of a Major Training Facility
Since opening its doors to the maritime community in the winter of 1993, STAR Center's three-story building at its Florida facility has expanded rapidly, an expansion which includes additional floors on the original building and the commencement of operations in Toledo, Ohio for training on inland waterways and Great Lakes. STAR Center is preparing for the grand opening of its new waterfront training facility located in Fort Lauderdale — just minutes from its Dania Beach facility. While fast craft training is not new to STAR Center, according to Jerry Pannell, head of STAR Center's Deck department, the center, (which in the past had to rent out fast rescue craft from a shore-based facility), will now have this "self contained facility" approximately 2.5 miles from its main training grounds. The new center, which at press time was scheduled for a mid-August opening, will house one 18-ft. (5.5-m) and two 26-ft. (8-m) fast rescue boats, a single-point davit for launching and recovering boats, enclosed SOLAS certified lifeboat, davit launchable liferaft, as well as classrooms and workshops. Designed to meet STCW '95 compliant training, and are U.S.C.G. approved, the curriculum followed at this new center will focus on Proficiency in Fast Rescue Boat and Proficiency in Survival Craft.
A spitting image of a diesel electric engine onboard a traditional cruise ship, the Center' Full Mission Diesel Electric Engineroom Simulator puts the "real" in real time as it is based on a large cruise ship running on 40 MW of power at 6,600 volts. When MR/EN was hosted by Dwight Hutchinson, STAR Center's director, Quality and Engineering, he explained how students operate the simulator's controls, which run on Kongsberg Maritime Ship Systems (KMSS) software. The simulator, which is actually the former engine plant from the cruise ship Sun Princess, boasts four diesel generator sets connected to two 14 MW synchronous propulsion motors. Four thrusters and two emergency generators are also part of the simulated vessel's power package — based on a 77,000 grt with a cruising speed of 18.5 knots. Hutchinson also mentioned that this past May, STAR Center has furthered its commitment to providing the highest grade of advanced training via its recent transition to ISO 9000:2000 certification. This award, which was granted by the Center via a third party conversion audit by Det Norske Veritas, recognizes the Center as the only training facility in the U.S. to hold this type of certification. While the staff at STAR Center realizes
that the certification puts the facility in a high regard, it also translates to more time researching and upgrading its curriculum and programs. This, however is not foreign to the facility, as its instructors and full time staff already have a handle on this — specifically Capt. Al Stiles, who is the Center's Curriculum & Program Development Dept. Head.
According to Stiles, approximately 60 percent of the Center's course offerings are cruise-oriented, and, as always, have been tailored to meet the requirements of each individual cruise line.