On June 9, 1997, instructors at the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) welcomed the first class to train inside its newly built Center for Maritime Education in Paducah, KY. Fifteen years later, SCI looks back on what 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 twentieth century, through two World Wars and the development of containerization in the 1950s, SCI has provided diverse forms of education to maritime industry employees. Over the years, the Institute created specialized learning environments where mariners could rehearse real-life scenarios on the water. In 1915, SCI used a retired tender vessel for instruction. Later, SCI later taught courses on the roof of its 25 South Street 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, SCI pioneered computer simulator technology.
SCI 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, KY. 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, 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. Two months ago, on April 18, the Paducah staff graduated the 10,000th student from the Advanced Pilothouse Management Course, Captain Keith Bigbie of Ingram Barge Company.
SCI works closely with industry training partners to determine simulation scenarios that help sharpen and enhance professional mariners’ abilities. 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.
Captain Greg Menke, Director of the Center for Maritime Education Paducah facility, explains, “We offer practical and relevant training, asking mariners to bring their work experience and know-how with them.” SCI pairs its students with experienced teachers possessing years of involvement in the industry and expertise in adult education. This combination entails collaborative work in an environment built on evolving relationships.
In a recent course evaluation, one captain wrote, “The teachers make the learning environment nothing but positive. I look forward to returning soon.” Mariners say they leave SCI’s Center for Maritime Education with better insight and preparation for demanding situations in the real world.
SCI’s relationships have grown with thousands of encounters with mariners. Instructors now welcome the sons and daughters of their first students from 15 years ago to the center. When mariners come back, they catch up on the lives of their extended river family, which now includes the staff at SCI, and, like any close family, they stay in touch. Kelly Butts, Administrative and Marketing Assistant at the Paducah Center, says she gets phone calls from mariners about to pass by the center. “And we’ll go out and stand above the floodwall and wave.”