Seamen’s Church Institute celebrates 15 years training in Paducah

On June 9, 1997, instructors at the Seamen’s Church Institute welcomed the first class to train inside its newly built Center for Maritime Education in Paducah, Ky. Fifteen years later, the Institute is looking back on what it says represented a new venture for inland river industry training and the training center that continues to help experienced professional mariners hone their skills today.

Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, through two World Wars and the development of containerization in the 1950s, the Institute has provided diverse forms of education to maritime industry employees, the Institute says. Over the years, the Institute created specialized learning environments where mariners could rehearse real-life scenarios on the water.

In 1915, the Institute used a retired tender vessel for instruction. Later, it taught courses on the roof of its 25 South St. building, where it constructed a mock ship’s bridge at 212 feet above street level — the highest navigation bridge in the world at the time. And at the beginning of the digital age, the Institute says, SCI pioneered computer simulator technology.

The school first adapted computer training for coastal and blue-water applications but soon after began looking at uses of this technology for the rapidly growing inland river towing industry. In the late 1990s — in collaboration with several inland river industry companies — SCI built a new maritime education center situated at the crossroads of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers in Paducah.

The facility housed Kongsberg Maritime simulators constructed around replicas of towboat pilothouses. The simulators employed wide viewing angles of photorealistic visuals of the marine environment, the Institute says, including riverbank features, lock and dam configurations, variations on time of day, river stages, speed of current and weather conditions.

Fifteen years after its first training class, SCI continues to train experienced river mariners using cutting-edge technology, the Institute says. On April 18, the Paducah staff graduated the 10,000th student from the Advanced Pilothouse Management Course, Capt. Keith Bigbie of Ingram Barge Co.

SCI works closely with industry training partners to determine simulation scenarios that help sharpen and enhance professional mariners’ abilities, the Institute says. With simulations often based on real events from past incidents on the water, mariners analyze and develop practices to avoid errors.

Prior to the simulation, instructors brief participants on the conditions of the simulation and the various challenges related to the topics. In the debriefing that follows, participants discuss the simulation, practical measures for similar situations and related class topics.

 “We offer practical and relevant training, asking mariners to bring their work experience and know-how with them,” says Capt. Greg Menke, director of the Center for Maritime Education Paducah facility, in an Institute press release.

SCI pairs its students with experienced teachers possessing years of involvement in the industry and expertise in adult education. This combination, the Institute says, entails collaborative work in an environment built on evolving relationships.

“The teachers make the learning environment nothing but positive. I look forward to returning soon,” one captain wrote in a recent course evaluation.

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