If we try to base ship handling training into technical knowledge only, we are likely to limit the ability to unearth the true potential of every ship handler.

The outcome of the ship handling is revealed in its execution, therefore the correct and efficient execution of a maneuver derives from an intrinsic combination of both science and art.

Indeed, a good ship handler needs to possess a solid technical knowledge (i.e.
hydrodynamics, external forces, internal forces applied, interactions, planning, etc.), yet it is essential for him / her to acquire also another set of skills to be able to translate this science into art.

The art of ship handling is based on the ability of an individual to “feel” the vessel and to execute a maneuver in harmony with the internal and external forces.

There is a myth about the “feeling” for the vessel being ingrained into our DNA, so the good news is that everyone can develop a set of skills that goes beyond the technical notions on ship handling. Similarly, to other operational context, these “feelings” can be built around the so called non – technical skills, and they become pivotal for example to dock or undock the vessel in a harmonious yet very safe manner. 

With regards to non-technical skills, remarkably the human brain can assimilate past experiences, creating a wide range of mental models. This helps developing motor skills and cognitive functions capable of translating a maneuver into an artistic execution. When this is fuelled by passion and determination, we can witness something beautiful and mesmerizing. 

Furthermore, we all, at some point, reach a level that allows us to operate in a well-defined comfort zone.
This doesn’t not always mean maneuvering well; it simply means having understood one’s own limit and having found a balance and synergy between the vessel and ourselves. It is obvious that we do not all have the same comfort zone, as this can vary in different forms. What is important is that we do not stop there, we always need to try to push ourselves into the so-called learning zone so we can enhance our competencies and be able to transfer them to the next generations of ship handlers.

But how can we get into the learning zone in a safe manner? Some people find difficult to expose themselves in a real operational context. This can be due to many reasons, certainly one of them is the fact that no one wants to put the vessel into danger. 

In Simulator based training, thanks to the facilitation offered by experienced instructors, the Officers can acquire the necessary technical and non-technical skills necessary to embrace the science and the art of ship handling.
Simulations offer the opportunity to expand own comfort zone, to set the foundations and further develop in one of the most exciting tasks of the seafaring community. This allows both experienced and inexperienced Officers to explore different approaches to ship handling in different scenarios and environmental conditions in a very safe environment.
Moreover, in the very same context, it is paramount to emphasize the importance of planning and defining safety margins to achieve a safe outcome.

To Conclude, at the end of the training period the Officers will be able to confirm that the art of ship handling is not an antiquated idea, it is essential for the next step of advanced ship handling. It is of utmost importance to acquire these skills and achieve proficiency in these types of operations. 
This is a skill seen by many Officers as the most important but also the most difficult to learn.

Today the chance to practice ship handling and work on developing these essential skills, is easily accessible when compared to years back, thanks to the extended use of the simulators. 

Quoting Aristotle “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”.  The “learning by doing” is the best methodology to get Officers involved in this beautiful yet sensitive learning process.

Giuseppe Russo
Senior Nautical Instructor / Focal point of Ship Handing