Skip to content

Virtual Anchoring Training & Certification

Q: Amy, our new build is slated to have a virtual anchoring system. I am not sure how our crew will get trained in how to use this system and also is there any requirement for a certification for this? I know in the commercial world they call it Dynamic Positioning and that there are several levels of certification for those operators. Is it the same for Yachts? 

Virtual Anchoring is a nick name for Dynamic Positioning, although it can refer to simpler, non classed systems that utilize DGPS to replace a physical anchor for short durations. Dynamic positioning (DP) is a computer controlled system to automatically maintain a vessel’s position and heading by using its own propellers and thrusters. Position reference sensors, combined with wind sensors, motion sensors and gyro compasses provide information to the computer pertaining to the vessel's position and the magnitude and direction of environmental forces affecting its position. The computer program contains a mathematical model of the vessel that includes information pertaining to the wind and current drag of the vessel and the location of the thrusters. This knowledge, combined with the sensor information, allows the computer to calculate the required steering angle and thruster output for each thruster. This allows operations at sea where mooring or anchoring is not feasible due to deep water, congestion on the sea bottom (pipelines, templates) or other problems.

Dynamic positioning may either be absolute in that the position is locked to a fixed point over the bottom, or relative to a moving object like another ship or an underwater vehicle. One may also position the ship at a favorable angle towards wind, waves and current.

Its popularity in the yachting industry is on the rise, especially with the larger vessels but it is practical for any size yacht. Commercial Fishing Vessels, Passenger Ships and Offshore Drilling Vessels have been using it for many years. Dive boats can also utilize this type of system to maintain position over areas too sensitive to use a physical anchor, such as over coral reefs where due to potential damage, conventional anchors are prohibited. Dynamic Positioning systems are available for all size vessels and some vessels have the “non classed” system which can be the simple one described above or a fully capable system that has simply not been classed by the Nautical Institute meaning that training and manning with certificated DP Operators is not required. This is referred to as DP 0 (zero). Vessels that operate in class will have a DP1, DP2 or DP3 designation depending on the amount of sensors and the redundancy of the system and its ability to maintain station even if there are system failures.

A vessel operating in class with DP1, 2 or 3 is required by law to have certificated DP operators onboard. It is wise for any vessel with a DP system to have officers onboard that are formally trained in its use.

Class Requirements: The IMO has published guidance for classification societies to use when classing the vessel as DP 1 DP 2 or DP 3 as follows:

DP 1: Class 1 has no redundancy. Loss of position may occur in the event of a single fault.

DP 2: Class 2 has redundancy so that no single fault in an active system will cause the system to fail.Loss of position should not occur from a single fault of an active component or system such as generators, thruster, switchboards, remote controlled valves etc., but may occur after failure of a static component.

DP 3: Class 3 which also has to withstand fire or flood in any one compartment without the system failing.
Loss of position should not occur from any single failure including a completely burnt fire sub division or flooded watertight compartment.

Dynamic Positioning Training is approved globally by the Nautical Institute. Schools are required to meet specific DP simulation equipment, curriculum and instructor certification as well as being audited by the N.I. to ensure that their standards are maintained. Therefore if you wish to take a formal DP course you should contact a school that is certified by the Nautical Institute. There are two schools in South Florida, one is primarily for union members and the other is open to all nationalities.

Deck and Engineering Officers qualify to be trained and certificated in Dynamic Positioning. The laboratory equipment and other requirements, including school accreditation, to teach this system are very costly to install and maintain and therefore the course is more expensive than a classroom based program but comparable to many simulation based courses. Most schools are charging approximately $2795-$3300 USD* per candidate per level. *Based on research done online in 2012 of schools in USA, Europe and the UK.

It is my suggestion that even if you are not on a classed DP vessel you should undertake the DP Induction (Basic) four day training course so that you can understand the parameters that are used for the system to hold station thus preventing a potential accident caused by operator error as this is a complicated system.

Remember that the system is only as accurate as the information being input by the operator or by the sensor input feeds.

This is especially important on the limited systems that do not have the redundancy in the sensors including depth and draft, wind and current velocity and proximity to installations or shore structures.

(The information provided in this column contains excerpts from internet sources.)