Former commanding officers take the bridge to train new generation of sailors

bridge simulator

Cdr (Ret’d) Dan Fitzgerald takes the captain’s seat as Commanding Officer during training in the Navigation Bridge Simulator.

In a small room in Work Point’s Collier building, Cdr (Ret’d)  Dan Fitzgerald directs his bridge crew from his captain’s chair to bring a Halifax-class frigate into port.

Before them is a 330-degree realistic computer-generated field of view. So real, virtual ships can even roll and pitch to feel like it’s moving.
A total of eight bridges, six visual and two radar used for navigation exercises, reside in the Naval Officer Training Centre’s Navigation and Bridge Simulator (NABS).

The simulator was required after the disbanding of the destroyer training squadron. It was integrated into NOTC in 1997 as a way to train bridge officers without the expense of using a real ship.

The simulator offers training programs for all levels of bridge officers, from those who have never set foot on a bridge to the most experienced naval officers.  
To keep it real beyond the virtual ship, NOTC has hired retired Commanding Officers to aid in the training.

“Every real ship has a CO, and when we train we treat NABS as a real ship,” says Capt(N) (Ret’d) Ken Watson, manager of NOTC’s simulation department.

The NABS Mentor program was developed as a way to fill crucial leadership roles during training that were previously filled by less experienced training staff.

“We had training officers who lacked experience as a CO making decisions a CO wouldn’t make,” says Watson. “We thought there must be a way to have the leadership in place to make the training more realistic, and the NABS Mentor Program was born.”

The program places experienced retired Royal Canadian Navy Commanding Officers in the simulator with trainees.

Mentors are casual employees of NOTC Venture. Watson himself was Commanding Officer of HMCS Yukon from 1987-1989.

“All of us have signed on because, in our retirement, we still want to be able to help the navy any way we can,” says Watson. “This gives us a way to use the experience we gained throughout our long careers to help the new generation of sailors.”

The 23 staff mentors include retired Naval Commodores, Captains, Commanders, and even a Rear-Admiral.

“RAdm (Ret’d) Nigel Greenwood signed on pretty recently and has been a tremendous addition,” says Watson. “Between all of us we’ve got something like 800 years experience in the navy, so we’ve got a lot to pass on.”

NABS gives sailors an opportunity to train in situations they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise, such as navigating in situations where there is a real risk of running aground, says Watson.

“These are situations they should be prepared for and NABS is the best way to train for them.”

-Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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