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Posted 8/11/2016

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By Sara Corbett
Charleston District


Approximately 730 miles away from Charleston Harbor is another Charleston Harbor. Well, it’s a replica, but an exact replica, complete with Fort Sumter, Arthur Ravenel Bridge, container ships and harbor pilots. So what is a replica of Charleston Harbor doing in Vicksburg, MS?

“We are conducting a ship simulation at the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg with the Charleston Harbor Pilots, local tug captains and docking pilots for the Post 45 deepening project,” said Holly Carpenter, Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project Manager. “We are testing alternatives that will help determine which areas of the channel should be widened and which areas can be maintained. There is the potential for cost savings and decreasing construction time if we don’t need to widen as much as we planned to in the feasibility study.”

As daily users, the Charleston Harbor Pilots play an integral role in the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project, by providing invaluable input during the ship simulation on the navigation channel widenings proposed in the feasibility study.

“A harbor pilot takes ships in and out of the port,” said Crayton Walters, Charleston Harbor Pilot. “Every ship that comes in and out of the Port of Charleston is required by law to have a pilot on board to ensure the ship arrives and departs Charleston safely and as efficiently as possible.”

The harbor pilots will be affected by the harbor deepening as they are the only people that are allowed to navigate a ship from the entrance channel through the harbor. Since they are the only group with this capability, their input is crucial. The simulation gives the harbor pilots the opportunity to test a channel before it is built and gives engineers the chance to evaluate the safety of their waterway designs.

“I like the simulations because it gives us a chance to look at these new ships that we know are coming to Charleston,” said Walters. “It gives us the opportunity to see what the new channels will be after the deepening project and help the Corps of Engineers with the channels they are working on.”

The ship simulation platform consists of three bridges where the harbor pilot commands from, set up for real-time ship maneuvering and specifically designed for harbor pilots to evaluate navigation channel designs, modifications and safety issues. During the ship simulation, harbor pilots are given various scenarios that they have to safely pilot the ship through. Weather conditions, such as high winds and choppy seas, torrential downpours or sunny and calm, are all tested. Another scenario is ships arriving and leaving at the same time creating “traffic” situations, which they can encounter on any given day in the Charleston Harbor. The ship simulation was completed in five weeks and during this time the Charleston Harbor Pilots, local tug captains and docking pilots, took turns spending a week at ERDC to test the simulations.

The simulations take place in rooms with 11 plasma displays shown from the bridge perspective. There are other displays that show rudder position, engine speed, absolute ship speed, lateral ship velocity for bow and stern, wind magnitude and direction, and lapsed time of test exercise. The virtual ship model used can calculate ship response to the different conditions that a ship could encounter including changed topography, channel depth and width effects, and ship motion.

The ship simulation optimizes the channel size and validates the channel design for thorough testing before implementation. Reducing the channel and turning basin widenings will reduce the amount of material that needs to be dredged, which in turn will have cost and time savings during construction.

“The Corps of Engineers is always looking for ways to do things better,” said Walters. “They are helpful in the planning process and the follow up. Everything we do with the Corps reaps benefits for us, the Port, the state of South Carolina and the nation every time we come.”

With the Charleston Harbor Pilots’ participation, the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project should continue to be smooth sailing.

Charleston District charleston harbor Charleston Harbor Pilots South Atlantic Division USACE