Training at Port Revel
The Shiphandling Training Centre

Françoise Massard

Port Revel was a pioneer in its field, being the world’s first shiphandling training centre, created 40 years ago next year. The Centre continues to innovate in close collaboration with its clients, working in partnership to set up numerous tailor-made courses.

Thus, in addition to the basic course for pilots and captains, other courses proposed by Port Revel include a refresher course, a car carrier/container carrier course, a ULCC course, a LNG carrier course, an offshore course and a Great Lakes course. Recent courses offered include emergency manoeuvres and escort tugs (which are compulsory in certain countries - including the United States - in order to increase ship responsiveness in case of failure). A major innovation for 2006 is the pod propulsion course. Lastly, other new features added this year are two new current generators capable of creating a 2.5 kn current in the "Suez Canal" (8 km long, banks of 45%).

Races with ducks are even organised from time to time...

The course that I took was a “basic” course for captains and pilots, though adapted to suit the fact that two of the six students were “refreshers”, i.e. at Port Revel for the second time. The training Centre’s high level of flexibility is one of the major assets that contributes to its international reputation.

The course itself

The “basic” course lasts five days. Day one begins with a presentation of how the Centre functions and a detailed description of the lake facilities and the fleet’s characteristics. The students then put them into practice as they try handling the ships for the first time. The following days cover, in succession, a comparison between ship turning in deep and then shallow water, ship manoeuvrability depending on current direction and strength, the use of anchors (emergency stop in a channel, docking or undocking while dredging an anchor), emergency manoeuvres with escort tugs (during engine or rudder failures), overtaking and meeting in confined and shallow waters, drifting in waves, etc.
Each day of the course comprises about two hours of theory and briefing/debriefing on the exercises carried out on the lake and six hours of navigating, during which all the students (sailing in pairs) take turns to act as "captain" and "helmsman ".

Presentation of the Centre

Port Revel is located in 350 ha of land belonging to the Yves-André Rocher family, blending in perfectly with its environment...

Photos A. de Graauw
Photos FM (July 2006)

The Centre is open from the beginning of April to the end of October and receives some 120 to 150 students (in groups of four to eight) each year. In total over 5 400 captains and pilots have been trained at Port Revel since it was founded, mainly from the United States, Canada and France. Whereas most of the students who came in the 1970s were captains, since the 1980s most of them have been pilots. In the 1990s, students began returning for the second (or even third) time for customised "refresher" courses, reproducing the students’ local navigating conditions, for example.

IMO’s recommendation A960 on the training of maritime pilots (other than deep-sea pilots) encourages further training every five years in order to maintain their skill level and bring their knowledge up to date. This training is vital, as human error is still the main cause of accidents.
With this in mind, it recommends continuous training on electronic simulators AND on manned models, focusing on emergency manoeuvres (with loss of steering and propulsion systems and failure of radar, vital systems and automated instruments in a narrow channel, etc.).

The purpose of all these courses is to enable pilots and captains to acquire as many reflexes as possible to help them to manage crises, and the scale models enable them to push the reactions of the ships … beyond their safe limits (it goes without saying that ship owners and port authorities would never allow such risks to be taken using real ships!).

All the instructors are themselves highly-experienced former pilots and they teach in English (unless, of course, the students are all French, as is the case when CMA CGM sends its captains for training).

Facility maintenance and ship repairs are carried out during the winter months.

Photos A. de Graauw

The lake and the port

The lake, connected to two other smaller ones, is fed only by rainwater. Its surface area is approx. 4 ha, corresponding to a navigable area of 3 x 2 miles. Its depth (0.60 to 3.30 m) is equivalent to a real bed depth varying between 15 and 82 m. It is fitted with current generators (variable direction and strength) and a wave generator (variable period and amplitude, the latter up to 24 cm at 1:25 scale, i.e. 6 m in real life). It includes numerous modular facilities enabling widely varying shiphandling conditions to be created (easy or difficult access, with or without current, with large or small under-keel clearance, etc.): different types of quay, artificial island, single buoy mooring, bow mooring on offshore platform, lock, various channels with variable depths and widths, all sorts of beacons, and markers on land used for bearings.

Exploring the lake (on board the "service dinghies"), its facilities...
... ... and the Suez Canal
Suez Canal being dug (photo: Port Revel) and in July 2006 (photos: FM) ...
there is more greenery than in Egypt, but the temperature is still over 30°C!
A vast hangar, the "port", provides sheltered berths for all the model ships, making them easier to maintain.
This is the task of four experienced technicians employed by Sogreah all year round.

Centre de Port Revel 38870 Saint-Pierre de Bressieux (France) –
Tél. 33 (0)4 74 20 02 40 – Fax 33 (0)4 74 20 12 29 –

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