Living Alaska — Learning to Drive a 500-Ton Ship

The Simulator Experience

Published in
3 min readDec 16, 2022


Photograph by Author — The Ship Simulator at the University of Alaska Southeast

Getting a Driver's License

Learning to steer a 500-ton ocean-going ship is not that simple. If you work on an ocean-going vessel, chances are you will get a chance to steer when there is nothing to hit. You have miles of open ocean around you and nothing on Radar. That is an excellent opportunity to learn.

Hands-On Experience

Working on a ship encourages you to try your hand. Getting wheel time is a good experience. In case of an emergency, it might help to know the controls, commands, and instrumentation. Getting a license to steer a large container vessel near shore, ports, or harbors is a completely different story.

Rules of the Road

Charting your turn a mile early, spotting traffic five miles out, and communicating with crew, shore, and other ships is critical to safe seas navigation. Like piloting an aircraft, there are rules and regulations galore. The only difference between ships and aircraft is that we operate on 2D and Planes in 3D.

The Process

Learning to navigate, communicate, and steer a ship is a long process. You need a few years of documented Sea Time, training, licensing, and credentials in the United States and International Waters. Much to my dismay, time spent on a surfboard doesn't count. If I had documented my time sailing, it would count, but it has been 30 years, and much of that was on a windsurfer.

Photograph by Author — Learning to Steer an Ocean-Going Vessel on a Simulator

Licensing and Credentials

There is a long process for licensing Mariners internationally. The world has shrunk with the advent of the internet. Ordering goods overseas is commonplace, and 90 percent of international trade goes by sea. Learning to steer a large vessel comes in handy.

Time in a Simulator

I spent last week on a simulator. I am spending the next two weeks at sea practicing what I learned in class. It is good to get practical hands-on experience right after class. I am already using the skills I learned on a simulator at…




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