South Hampshire College Group launches new Digital Training Vessel to grow new and innovative maritime skills 

South Hampshire College Group (SHCG), comprised of Further Education colleges from Southampton, Eastleigh and Fareham, has acquired a state-of-the-art Digital Training Vessel, to meet the needs of new and emerging skills in the Solent region. 

The new Digital Training Vessel (DTV) is an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) which will support an ambitious new Further Education curriculum for both SHCG’s Centre of Excellence in Engineering, Manufacturing and Advanced Skills Training (CEMAST) in Lee-on-the-Solent near Fareham, and SHCG’s specialist Marine Skills Centre located by the River Itchen, Southampton. 

USVs are popular with industry and research bodies for surveying, patrolling, and search and rescue duties, as they have many benefits including zero emissions, lower operating costs, anti-fatigue, consistent routing, and are safer. It is believed to be a first for Further Education in the UK. 

The new Digital Training Vessel USV is controlled remotely from either a shore-based mission control centre, or onboard a mothership, through digital remote operations, with optional AI (artificial intelligence) decision-aided support.  

The SHCG Digital Training Vessel will contribute to supporting learning across new and innovative maritime skills, which will help to address the sector’s skills shortage and regional social employment challenges.  

The skillsets required for USV Remote Operators combine digital, marine engineering, marine electrical, systems engineering, net zero understanding and navigational knowledge, which until recently were unavailable as a single career pathway. Through a new curriculum being rolled out this coming academic year, students from across traditionally distinct faculty areas will gain invaluable experience, knowledge, and skills to raise awareness of the maritime sector as a viable career option in which to progress.  

The acquisition of the Digital Training Vessel was secured through a funding award by the Local Skills Improvement Fund (LSIF), as part of the Group’s focus on pioneering the education of innovative skills and as a contributor in delivering the Solent’s Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP).  

This exciting development comes off the back of numerous innovative assets recently unveiled by SHCG and LSIP include TECH:TRUCK, a collaborative mobile educational and technological roadshow shared between seven local education providers, and SHCG’s new multi-million pound Department for Education funded Institute of Technology (IoT) at CEMAST – the only IoT nationwide that is offering a specific Higher National Certificate in Robotics and Mechatronics. 

Naomi Smith, LSIF Programme Director commented: “South Hampshire College Group is a pioneer in identifying new and emerging skill requirements. Maritime has been identified in the Solent Local Skills Improvement Plan as a key area of focus, particularly in digital skills and where traditional roles overlap with new, such as marine engineering and vessel operations.’ 

“South Hampshire College Group works with local industry leaders to ensure the skills, qualifications and progression routes provide further opportunities for our students to create better futures. In addition, providing public educational training resources such as the Digital Training Vessel is key to encouraging social mobility as it enables access to all.” 

The Digital Training Vessel project is entirely British, with the USV built by HydroSurv based in Plymouth, together with its vessel control systems, including maritime autonomy and remote-control operations, provided by Robosys Automation based in Southampton.  

The launch of the DTV was held at South Hampshire College Group’s Marine Skills Centre in Woolston, near Southampton, where maritime students and representatives from academia and industry were in attendance.  

The launch event was also an opportunity to showcase the broad range of technical skills and career pathways available within the maritime sector and was a pivotal catalyst in bringing together multidiscipline curriculum areas for students. The USV showcased its capabilities on the water, with guests experiencing remote operations firsthand. 

DTV “Trio” Collaboration Project Lead, Nigel Lee, CSO of Robosys Automation, which also provided the vessel control systems and autonomous operations for the USV said: “Today is a landmark moment for the maritime industry, as demand for trained operatives in this specialism is rapidly increasing, both across USVs and also larger vessels including uncrewed and lean-crewed ships. Having this advanced Digital Training Vessel as a Further Educational resource broadens the catchment opportunities, thus satisfying the very real skillset shortage in the maritime sector, whilst creating a consistent level of learning.” 

The event welcomed representation from the UK’s Marine Robotics Innovation Centre, Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, National Oceanography Centre, Robosys Automation, Landau Marine, South Hampshire College Group, Solent Local Skills Improvement Plan, South Coast Institute of Technology, amongst others from supporting associations and industry. 

The Digital Training Vessel will enter service in September ready for the 2024/25 academic year. 

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