HMCS Malahat takes on virtual simulation training

Steady as she goes through the Gulf Islands - members of HMCS Malahat take part in NABS simulation training at CFB Esquimalt on Feb. 6-7.

Steady as she goes through the Gulf Islands – members of HMCS Malahat take part in NABS simulation training at CFB Esquimalt on Feb. 6-7.

SLt Donald Den
HMCS Malahat Public Affairs Officer
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While current COVID-19 protocols make the holding of regular training challenging, many units are getting creative in maintaining a state of readiness.

During the weekend of Feb. 6 to 7, members of Victoria’s Naval Reserve Division (NRD) HMCS Malahat were able to take part in virtual ship training at CFB Esquimalt.

The Naval Officer Training Centre’s Navigation and Bridge Simulator, or ‘NABS’ for short, is a series of virtual training platforms on-location at the base meant to simulate the bridge of various Royal Canadian Navy ships. 

Along with all the proper equipment that would be found on the bridge and appropriate scaled space and seating, the NABS offer a 360-degree realistic field of view, using multiple monitors to simulate an ‘at-sea’ environment. By using customized computer programming, everything from pitching and rolling seas during a thunderstorm to simulating numerous classes of vessels and locations can be generated to support sailors’ training.

Due to its proximity to Esquimalt, Malahat is the only NRD in Canada right now that can access the NABS training facility as COVID-19 restrictions currently prevent other units from travelling.

In addition to being able to make use of the NABS facilities, Malahat was also able to fully run the program with its own personnel, thanks to a split of Officers and Non-Commissioned-Members, sea-based trades, and an extensive amount of on-ship experience. 

NABS provides an excellent practice environment to prepare those members that are still waiting for their sea training.

“Being in NABS is intimidating at first, but it’s great fun,” says A/SLt Alistair Hirst, a junior Naval Warfare Officer. “It very much feels like the real thing – you are put in situations that are very realistic, so you start to get a sense of what it’s going to be like at sea.”

During the training weekend, Malahat’s senior staff and mentors were able to walk junior members through some of the core rules of the road when it comes to being at sea in a warship. Members were able to practice bringing the ship alongside – meaning to safely park it at a jetty (or dock), as well as learn about basics such as steering and turning a ship while factoring in considerations such as wind direction, land, and other non-military vessels in the water.

Also, NABS can simulate a night-time environment, providing an additional challenge of navigating the sea in the dark.

“Learning to sail at night is always a challenge, and, amazingly, it felt like it was the middle of the night when it was 3 p.m.,” adds A/SLt Hirst.

Malahat’s Deputy Operations Officer, Sub-Lieutenant Bryn Stephenson, fresh off training aboard HMCS Brandon, took on one of the command roles in the simulation.

“The NABS experience is ideal for training as it allows you to practice bridge skills in a relatively consequence free environment. I especially appreciated the opportunity to be part of some command development exercises, as it revealed some of the processes that go into making command decisions.”

NABs also presents the opportunity to stage unique simulations that would not traditionally occur outside of the virtual environment to keep even the most experienced Bridge Officers ready to expect the unexpected.

“Sailing through the Gulf Islands and then suddenly being part of a convoy alongside 10 Halifax-class frigates was definitely something,” says A/SLt Hirst.

Malahat’s Commanding Officer, Commander Cameron Miller, was present during the NABS training, often acting as the captain of the RCN vessel that personnel were training in.

“COVID-19 certainly presents challenges to how we train and stay ready, but by being able to take advantage of opportunities like this for some of our junior members to gain experience, we can continue to train as a unit,” he says.

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