In addition to the usual amenities—high-speed internet, spacious guest and meeting rooms, an auditorium, a pool and fitness center—the Maritime Conference Center in Linthicum Heights has something other conference centers don’t: an immersive, virtual-reality simulator that allows mariners to practice piloting vessels through ultra-realistic recreations of ports from all over the world.
That’s because the conference center is part of the East Coast campus of the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS), a non-profit training center for those seeking to begin maritime careers and for experienced mariners looking to learn new skills to move their careers forward.
There are actually several simulators at the MITAGS facility, allowing users to practice piloting tankers, cargo ships, cruise ships, ferries, naval vessels and tugboats. On a recent visit, several team members from the Maryland Department of Commerce took a virtual “ride” on a 100-foot vessel, modeled after a Coast Guard Cutter, as it moved through a digital re-creation of the Baltimore harbor.
The two “full-mission” simulators include a physical replica of a vessel’s bridge, housed in a larger room, encircled by an enormous movie screen… (think IMAX, or Cerebro, that funky round computer room from the “X-Men” movies). Several projectors then display a seamless, 360-degree image of the virtual world outside: water, sky, buildings, other vessels, and even weather events.
The screen is so large and the movement of the images are so vivid, that when you are standing on the bridge, the floor seems to be rocking with the waves and you instinctively reach for the handrails to steady yourself.
So complete is the illusion that when your guide points out that the swaying will stop if you close your eyes, you almost don’t believe him—but it does.
The intense realism of the simulation is precisely what makes it so valuable to MITAGS clients; not only can it train those who will be piloting these vessels in the physical world, it can be used to model how new classes of ship will respond in various places and conditions.
It can also simulate how vessels will maneuver in ports or canals that do not exist yet. By uploading the proposed design of a maritime facility to the simulator, stakeholders can test and troubleshoot their design before construction begins. Without the simulator, they might not discover a design flaw until it is too late.
“Ship simulators are critical tools for transferring the knowledge, understanding, and skill to handle large vessels,” said Glen Paine, executive director of MITAGS. “Keep in mind that some ships are longer than the U.S. Capitol building. Mistakes are very costly. That is why simulators are used extensively in the maritime industry.”
MITAGS also has smaller tugboat simulators, which can be linked to the larger, full-mission bridge simulator to recreate how these vessels interact. In addition, it’s home to a United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) crane simulator, which is used to train the people who will be moving cargo containers on and off ships at facilities like the Port of Baltimore.
However, the simulators are just one aspect of the training the facility provides. Founded in 1972, MITAGS also offers numerous courses to help people in the maritime industry advance their careers and acquire new skills and certifications.
The institute’s Maritime Apprenticeship Program pairs those looking to enter the maritime industry with participating companies, then offers 26 weeks of classroom instruction and 360 days of training at sea to give students all the training and skills needed for a Mate’s license.
The conference center’s indoor pool is an amenity for guests, but is also used for safety and survival training.
“Unlike shore-side employment, mariners must be prepared to deal with fires, medical, and water survival emergencies in addition to their day-to-day job of running the vessels,” Paine said. “To help mariners meet these challenges, MITAGS provides over 150 specialized courses and programs in addition to serving as a catalyst for positive change within the state. A good example of this is MITAGS role in helping Maryland launch the offshore wind industry. All offshore wind crews working in the offshore wind farms will need maritime safety training. MITAGS’ maritime expertise make it an ideal venue for this training.”
For more information, visit www.mitags.org.