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dmc educational model for nautical college (top)

Students at the Nautical College getting hands-on with the DMC educational model

28 April 2021

A real steering system, not on board but at school

Until recently, students at the Nautical College in Den Helder only knew a steering system for marine navigation from books. Now, they’ve got their own steering gear to work with, tailor-made by Damen Marine Components. “This way, they can experience practice whilst still at school.”

The steering system issues an alert: a defective cylinder! Still only a nautical student but thrown into the deep end already. What to do? On the brighter side: you’re not at sea. The steering gear is not on board a ship, but located in the Nautical College in Den Helder, part of ROC Kop van Noord-Holland educational institution.

The faulty cylinder is one of the alerts deliberately built into the control system. “Normally, we design these systems to actually prevent these kinds of problems,” Cor de Wit, Service Sales Manager of Damen Marine Components, explains with a smile. “But in this case, it serves a purpose; it’s purely educational, so the students can learn from it.”

And they’re very happy with it in Den Helder. The Nautical College offers five nautical courses, ranging from secondary vocational education (MBO) level 2 to level 4. “We had been in need of our own steering gear for a long time,” Erwin de Haan, maritime coordinator, says. “Previously, we could only demonstrate a steering system based on pictures and drawings. But it’s one of the main systems on board a ship, so we really wanted to be able to apply that theory from books into practice.”


They found what they were looking for in Hardinxveld-Giessendam. Damen Marine Components not only supplies advanced systems for different types of vessels, they also attach value to training and teaching the new generation. A type-1DWK steering system was specially built for the maritime students in Den Helder, suited for a single propeller with one rudder and a maximum steering angle of two times 45 degrees.

With the push of a button, the teacher can initiate a malfunction that needs to be resolved, such as a defective cylinder, loss of power or a broken pressure sensor. “It’s exactly what we wanted: being able to mimic faults in the steering gear, so the students need to figure out what’s wrong,” Erwin de Haan explains. “Of course, you don’t want that in a normal steering system, but to make a steering system suitable for educational purposes, you DO need it.”

“The fact that we can do this proves very effective. Everything becomes clear to the students much faster, because they have images and sounds they can relate to. That’s a major advantage over a basic drawing or photo. They’re set to work with a hydraulic diagram in hand and have to search for symbols and descriptions of functions. They also practise emergency steering and emergency procedures. On board, you steer with a steering wheel on the bridge, but a backup function is available should the main system break down. This means you can also operate such a steering system locally, at the very back of the ship. We can also train this, which is a really useful extra feature.”

As far as the students are concerned, the custom-made steering gear provides an additional dimension to their training. “They really enjoy getting hands-on with things. They get to grips with it much faster and better because they’ve handled it, they’ve actually worked on it. That’s important, certainly in secondary vocational education. If you bring this as a mere theory, it doesn’t always stick.”

“Don’t forget: for many of them it’s the first time to operate a steering system. At level 2 and level 3, the internship is at the very end of the training, only when the theory part has been completed will these students be introduced to actual practice. So this is completely new to them.”


The educational steering system comes highly recommended for other schools as well, Erwin de Haan explains. “This is because it covers a variety of subjects: hydraulics, electrical engineering and measurement and control technology.”

He summarises the knowledge and skills that students must ultimately possess: “Reading the hydraulic diagram, naming the hydraulic components, explaining the functions of the hydraulic components, operating the steering gear, testing the steering gear, carrying out emergency procedures, taking the correct actions when receiving an alert, being able to identify the possible causes of an alert, reading electrical diagrams, being able to measure various voltages using the electrical diagram, as well as checking fuses, resetting components and de-activating the system. These are all skills we train on this steering system.”

“Another great feature,” Cor de Wit explains, “is that we have two systems merged into one. One part of the system is based on “Load-Sensing technology”, which means the hydraulic pump supplies oil when required. Because the system is controlled by a proportional valve, it offers the possibility to control steering speeds electronically. This in turn means you can raise and reduce the oil flow highly precisely, resulting in a very smooth and gradual steering experience. We’ve made the other part “black and white”. This means a fixed flow pump in combination with a pressure-compensated flow control valve ensures the steering system can move the rudder at one pre-set steering speed. This allows you to clearly show the difference between two types of steering systems.”


Designing and building such a comprehensive educational model was a new challenge to Damen Marine Components. “Demand is on the rise now and we’re happy to do it. After all, the schools are our future too. And it’s good for our support base to start at the very root, because this shows students, whilst still in their training, that Damen is very much engaged in all this and willing to go the extra mile. The fact that they can gain hands-on experience with a system as it is in practice is an enormous motivation to the students and this is also reflected in their enthusiasm. Which is also what drives us, because we’re faced with a huge shortage of people in technology in the Netherlands and soon, we’re going to need them, desperately.”

Which is in fact the very vision we share with the Nautical College. Erwin de Haan: “Throughout secondary vocational education, you can see fewer young people opting for technology. We want to do something about that, as we need more students. Fortunately, technical education is now being promoted. Having enough technical engineers in the Netherlands is important for the future of us all.”