Future seafarers at B.C. Institute of Technology are knee-deep in training as they undergo interactive and challenging on-ship learning—even before hitting the water.
BCIT’s Marine Campus (BMC) operates state-of-the-art marine simulation and training systems for ship and tug bridges, as well as power plant systems and continuous upgrades to its facilities to uphold its commitment to be the most significant maritime training and service provider.
With state-of-practice technology, the BMC is the leader in marine training in the Canadian Pacific Gateway. In fact, as associate dean Dr. Richard Wiefelspuett concurs, the North Vancouver campus now offers a very comprehensive simulation portfolio aligning BMC with leading marine training and research institutes around the world.
“The tugboat industry is by nature an extremely dynamic and versatile sector which has proven time and again to be quite capable of technical innovation,” he says. “It is a sector that adjusts swiftly to the ever-changing requirements of its clients.”
BCIT’s multi-million dollar simulators, launched in conjunction with the Government of Canada and Transport Canada, and supported by BC Ferries, Seaspan, the BC Coast Pilots and other significant stakeholders in the maritime industry, are used to assist marine students with a range of simple-to-complex tasks played out in life-like marine settings under real-world scenarios. The simulators also permit the detailed assessment of vessel traffic safety in constricted waterways and harbours. In addition, the innovative marine simulators are increasingly used by tugboat professionals to train mission critical maneuvers, according to Wiefelspuett.
At the marine campus, students have access to an advanced 360-degree tug bridge simulator; seven new ship bridges; a ship’s main bridge simulation environment; an engine room simulator (complete with ground-shaking audio special effects and emergency lights); various laboratories; an indoor training tank; a 35-metre pier extending into the harbour; as well as typical college amenities, such as a library and student lounge.
A wide range of courses—covering the topics of Navigation, Marine Engineering, Seamanship and Maritime Security, as well as comprehensive cadet programs leading to the diplomas of technical studies in Nautical Science and Marine Engineering—are also offered at the school, and many of the trained skills are transferable to a wide range of marine operations.
To begin, many students may target the popular 12-week entry ticket provided by the Bridge Watchman Certificate, while others may enroll for the full-term four-year cadet program with aspirations to become chief engineers or master mariners on ocean-going vessels. Generally, entry-level students will receive training in safety, seamanship, and emergency protocol before going to sea and may opt for joining crews on board tugboats engaged in harbour and escort duties, or in the diversified field of tug-and-barge operations.
As Wiefelspuett confirms, the nature of the maritime industry is invariably changing and developing—much like that of the technological world. There is constant innovation, he says, specifically as the overall shipping community increases in size; for example, during the last decade, economies of scale have dictated an upward trend in sizes of container ships to improve transport efficiencies. Subsequently, the average size of container vessels has increased from several thousand 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) to now targeted capacities of 20,000 TEU—and tugs have and will have to adapt to the handling challenges imposed by these giants measuring 350 metres in length and more. Similarly, increasing environmental awareness and corresponding regulations, as well as fuel economy, are persistent drivers of innovation in the tugboat industry.
“In B.C., the tugboat operations are quite diversified; as in other industrial sectors, the outlook for career opportunities in the tugboat industry to some extent, rise and fall with the economy,” Wiefelspuett says. “We know that overall trade is increasing; this means shipping is increasing, and this will drive the demand in the tugboat industry and for tugboat operators. My principle advice to everybody: if you do what you like, you’ll be successful; the passion has to be there.”