The Port of London Authority (PLA) has upgraded its ship bridge simulation platform with a full tug simulator that can bolster port trade and help terminals verify their expansion plans.

The Thames is the UK’s busiest waterway and handles over 45 million tonnes of cargo a year.

For more than ten years, the bridge simulator has served as an essential tool for training the PLA pilots who guide ships to and from their berths on the Thames.

“This upgrade integrates the latest hydrographic modelling, allowing trainees to learn the characteristics of the Thames.”

Recently, the PLA recently announced plans to recruit twelve new pilots this year to help facilitate increased traffic on the Thames and the simulator is expected to play an integral role in their training.

PLA marine operations director Peter Steen said: "This upgrade integrates the latest hydrographic modelling, allowing trainees to learn the characteristics of the Thames from the North Sea right through to central London.

"It gives pilots the chance to experience all kinds of ships from tankers to container ships, cruise ships to car carriers, before they go on-board and ‘drive’ them for real.

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"It’s rare that you would manoeuvre large ships without tugs helping, so the addition of the totally interactive tug simulator really takes the experience to another level."

The port invested £250,000 on the full tug bridge simulator.

A PLA research that was completed in 2015 indicated that Thames terminals have plans to invest over £1bn in their operations over the next five years, and several terminals are looking at handling larger ships.

Steen added: "Many organisations come to the simulator for research and development purposes, to check their proposed new berth plans and to see how their new ships will handle on the river, sometimes before they’ve even left the shipyard for their maiden voyage.

"This enables them to adjust their plans, if need be, and reduce the risk of any unforeseen issues when the vessels actually arrive on the Thames."

A full mission bridge simulator includes full engine controls, bow and stern thrusters, radar, an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS), speed logs, a portable pilotage unit and, Azimuth Control Device propulsion and steering.

It has variable parameters based on Thames hydrographic modelling, flood and ebb tide, wind speed and direction, and meteorological conditions, including fog, rain and snow.

More than 70 ship types can be simulated. It can also record, pause and rewind, thereby allowing review and retry of scenarios.

The Port of London includes over 70 independently owned and operated terminals and port facilities along the tidal Thames.

Image: PLA upgrades its ship bridge simulator. Photo: courtesy of Port of London Authority.