Maritime Academy seals simulator deal

Charter school is 1st demonstration site in U.S. for program

Mayor Mike Bell and Renee Marazon of the Maritime Academy of Toledo,  talk about the VSTEP program. The program simulates maritime situations.
Mayor Mike Bell and Renee Marazon of the Maritime Academy of Toledo, talk about the VSTEP program. The program simulates maritime situations.

Pick a waterway, a vessel, and weather conditions. The VSTEP maritime simulator will do the rest to put you there, pitching waves and all.

“I like to say it’s as real as it gets without getting wet,” sales manager Victor Tufts said. “We can make you seasick without moving the floor. Like very good virtual reality and 3D and 4D, we can fool your inner ear visually. It’s pretty cool.”

It’s also badly needed for The Maritime Academy of Toledo, a 246-student charter school in downtown Toledo.

The Maritime Academy’s old simulators — already somewhat outdated — met their end in October when an electrical surge fried important internal components.

Replacement parts for the academy’s old, DOS-based simulators from the early 1990s are no longer available, and the high cost of new, high-tech simulators was prohibitive.

“That’s been a real tragedy for our program,” Renee Marazon, academy president and superintendent, said Thursday. “Without the ability to practice driving various types of ships through various types of water and ports, [students] have had a tremendous loss in their education; but that is over.”

A chance meeting of Ms. Marazon and Mr. Tufts at a conference in Baltimore put the deal in motion.

Mr. Tufts works for Annapolis Simulation in Maryland, a firm that’s the U.S. distributor for VSTEP. In a deal that officials said was conceived over coffee, The Netherlands-based VSTEP agreed to give the academy a significant discount on the equipment and software in return for using the academy as the company’s first U.S. demonstration site.

The two companies celebrated the deal Thursday. The first simulator is expected to be installed in January and be completely up and running by the time students return from their winter break.

Ms. Marazon said the school’s initial investment is about $100,000. The simulators normally would retail for about $1 million.

“We’ve discounted our software with Maritime Academy significantly to allow them to be able to [continue] the simulation center that’s historically been at Toledo,” Mr. Tufts said. “Toledo has led the maritime simulation training industry literally for 35 years until they had an electrical fire.”

The Maritime Academy, which teaches students in the 5th through 12th grade, first will get a radar simulation classroom and a full mission bridge, at which students will have a 240-degree frontal view and 60-degree rear view.

Later the academy will add a tugboat simulator and an engine-room simulator, and it has a 10-year agreement for support and updates.

“We’re giving our students the full flavor of what it means to be at sea, and we’re showing them all the different positions — the deck, the engine, and the culinary,” Ms. Marazon said. “Being on a bridge makes it come alive for them. It advances their passion.”

Joe Cappel, director of cargo development at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, also stressed the importance of the new equipment.

“We need to get more young people interested in the maritime trades”" he said at the event. “Around the room you see all the ships on the wall. This is the technology that moves these vessels. It’s important the kids have an understanding and appreciation for what it takes to navigate a vessel, and this technology is going to allow them to do that.”

Ms. Marazon said the new tools also will be useful for the academy’s training center, which offers various Coast Guard approved courses and helps fund the school.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at or 419-724-6134.