A digital training vessel that is the first of its kind in the country is set to benefit students in Southampton.

The state-of-the-art boat set sail for the first time in the River Itchen on Tuesday.

Onlookers included maritime students from the South Hampshire College Group (SHCG) and industry representatives.

The collaborative project aims to offer a glimpse into the ever-evolving industry and provide a pathway into training as skills and job requirements adapt.

The vessel itself is an unmanned surface vessel (USV), which are popular with industry and research bodies for surveying, patrolling, and search and rescue duties.

These vessels also boast benefits including zero emissions, lower operating costs, anti-fatigue, consistent routing, and are generally safer.

Daily Echo: L-r: Dr Peter Collinson, Nigel Lee, Naomi Smith, and Andrew KayeL-r: Dr Peter Collinson, Nigel Lee, Naomi Smith, and Andrew Kaye (Image: South Hampshire College Group)

Andrew Kaye, CEO of the SHCG, said: “This vessel is used in a range of environments, from surveying to research and defence.

“The college group is particularly interested in developing these skills for the future and providing this industry-standard of development.

“By introducing this vessel, we are future-proofing skills as there is a multi-disciplinary approach.

“The skillset for this combines digital, marine engineering, marine electrical, systems engineering and more.”

The SHCG Digital Training Vessel will contribute to supporting learning across new and innovative maritime skills.

In turn, this will help to address the sector’s skills shortage and regional social employment challenges.

The acquisition of the Digital Training Vessel was secured through a funding award by the Local Skills Improvement Fund.

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Naomi Smith, LSIF Programme Director, said: “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.

“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.”

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Nigel Lee, CSO of Robosys Automation, who provided the remote-control operations, described the launch as a ‘landmark moment’.

He said: “Demand for trained operatives in this specialism is rapidly increasing, both across USVs and 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 launch of the vessel was held at South Hampshire College Group’s Marine Skills Centre in Woolston.