US Army Corps of Engineers
Engineer Research and Development Center Website

ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator

Published Nov. 21, 2012
CHL Ship Tow Simulator

CHL Ship Tow Simulator

A research engineer at the helm of a Golden Gate Bridge navigation simulation at the ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator facility in Vicksburg, Miss.

A research engineer at the helm of a Golden Gate Bridge navigation simulation at the ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator facility in Vicksburg, Miss.

Performing Advanced Hydrodynamic Modeling

Engineers and ship pilots can now overcome the challenges of evaluating navigation channel designs, modifications and safety issues. Located at ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL), the ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator can simulate ports, harbors, inland waterways and any other maritime environment.

Simulations Help Improve Commercial Navigation

Modeling technology on the ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator accurately portrays currents, wind and wave conditions, shallow water effects, bank forces, ship handling, ship to ship interaction, fender forces, anchor forces and tug assistance.

The three ship-bridge mockups help users evaluate navigation channel designs, modifications and safety issues in a virtual environment. The computerized simulator of navigational conditions are in real-time, meaning that the events require the same amount of time on the simulator as they do in real life. Realistic sights, sounds and conditions for maneuvering ships and tows help make the pilots more at ease and comfortable as if they are in their actual surroundings.

The ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator features:

  • Three bridges set up for real-time ship maneuvering and five modeling stations
  • Large operations room to house three operator stations
  • Laptop-based simulator for research and database/ship model check out

The ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator uses the latest maritime simulation hardware and software technology. With the ability to function as a ship, tow or small craft, the ERDC Ship/Tow simulator can be used for deep-draft, shallow-draft and small boat harbor projects—this allows for the testing on virtually any waterway or vessel.

Results Identify Problems and Safety Issues

The ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator gives pilots the opportunity to test a channel before it is built. Engineers can also evaluate the safety of their waterway designs like never before. These results can provide substantial savings in design, maintenance and construction costs.

Since it is optimized for channel size, the ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator can help identify and adjust navigational issues to:

  • Reduce construction/maintenance expenses
  • Eliminate high relocation costs such as water supply lines
  • Avoid land development issues and related expenses
  • Resolve conflicts with environmentally-sensitive areas

With improved capabilities to perform advanced hydrodynamic modeling, the ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator helps engineers, licensed pilots and others virtually design and evaluate proposed modifications for improvements to commercial navigation. These simulator tests are evaluated for safety first, then economical design. This helps engineers see the causes of accidents and other problems and learn how to avoid and solve them.

Success Stories

Engineers and researchers have used the ERDC Ship/Tow Simulator to optimize navigation channels and conduct research for harbors and waterways throughout the United States.

  • Simulations of the 20-mile long Brownsville Ship Channel in the southernmost tip of Texas resulted in a 25-foot reduction of the original required channel width. This simulation helped save over $4 million in construction costs on a project initially costing over $20 million.
  • Simulations of three planned floodgates for the New Orleans surge barrier protection system resulted in modifications to the guide walls, operations, and aids-to-navigation. The simulations allowed towing industry to become part of the design process.


  • Eleven plasma displays provide users a 240-degree horizontal field-of-view and a 40-degree vertical field-of-view.  In addition, other displays 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.
  • User-controlled viewing angle with 360-degree horizontal and 180-degree vertical capabilities. Additional smaller screens show the views from the stern of the vessel, through a binocular channel display and control panels.
  • Virtual Ship model calculates ship response to the variety of forces that can be exerted upon a vessel, including changed topography, channel depth and width effects, and ship motion.
  • Radar and Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) displays.
  • 20 geographic area databases with visual, coastline, landmass, radar and depth files, including Morgan City, La., Kodiak Island Alaska, New York, N.Y. and San Francisco, Calif.
  • 40 ship and tow model databases including inland waterways barges and towboats, cruise ships and tankers.
  • Other features include improved ship-to-ship interaction; vessel response to currents, waves and winds; vessel-to-vessel towing simulation; and interactive ability to maneuver and control a tow boat.

Contact, 601 634 3019
Updated 25 August 2020