LIFESAVERS headed to South Tyneside College to perfect their skills.
Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) volunteers wanted to learn how to save lives in misty conditions, so they decided to steer a different course.
Instead of setting off to sea, they headed indoors – to a new £1.5m advanced simulator suite at the St George’s Avenue college, in South Shields.
Experts there were able to recreate the extreme low visibility conditions that could be expected two miles off the North Sea coast.
An RNLI team of 12, including six recent recruits, jumped aboard the full mission bridge simulator – inside the college’s world-famous South Shields Marine School – to test their skills.
Amid replicated real-life seas, they were set the tough task of locating a life-raft sending out an SOS from its Search and Rescue Transponder (SART) and picked up on the RNLI’s station radar.
During the exercise, the volunteers successfully put to sea from their base at Sunderland Marina, at North Dock – and carried out the rescue with no loss of life.
RNLI helmsman Paul Nicholson said about 100 real rescues were carried out each year, but that it was down to chance if training could ever be done in fog.
He added: “It’s extremely hard to simulate that kind of training. You can never know if it will be foggy at exactly the time you are due to take to the water.
“Operating in fog is a very dangerous environment for any seafarer and it is essential that our crews are up to speed in how to command and navigate safely at sea in any condition.
“In real life, we would never be able practice using a SART.
“The college’s facilities are superb and extremely lifelike. The simulator made it as if we really were sailing in and out of Sunderland.
“It was a tremendous experience for all who took part and we are very grateful to the college for giving us this fantastic – and potentially life-saving – opportunity.”
The simulator opened last January as part of a £4.5m upgrade.
Shajan Lukose, Head of School – Simulation and Senior Marine at the college, said: “Our simulator suite is the perfect vehicle for many types of training and our lecturers were delighted to take up the challenge of helping the RNLI.
“Everyone knows about the tremendous work the RNLI’s volunteers do and it is only right that they should have the best possible facilities on which to learn.
“South Shields Marine School has trained seafarers for more than 150 years and we are proud to still be helping people today.”