A Mini Suez Canal Teaches Mariners to Navigate Through the Real Thing

The French training facility helps mariners practice their navigation skills on mini ships over a lake.
Fabienne Lang

The Suez Canal became even more famous in recent weeks after the Ever Given container ship blocked it for nearly a week, causing major disruptions and losses. The news shocked the maritime world. Luckily for shipping companies, pre-emptive solutions exist to stop or at least minimize the risk of massive ships getting stuck in tricky canals. 

One such solution can be found on a lake in eastern France at the Port Revel training facility. There, ship captains and maritime pilots can train or sharpen their navigation skills by sitting on replicated small ships and navigating crucial shipping channels.

Speaking with Reuters, the owners of the facility said they've seen a rise in interest after the Ever Given incident, and it's easy to see why. 

The Port Revel offers a number of tricky mini trading routes for mariners to navigate, including the Suez Canal — built at 1/25th of its normal scale. Other miniature waterways include the San Francisco Bay, and Port Arthur in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mariners have to steer scale model container ships through these tricky waterways, and if that wasn't enough of a test, the training facility also adds a number of other real-life scenarios to the mix, such as strong underwater currents, machine-generated waves, as well as technical issues like engine failures and steering issues. 

The whole point is to prepare pilots and captains to face real-world scenarios with confidence and knowledge — to minimize the risks of potential canal blockages like the Ever Given in the Suez Canal, which blocked an estimated $9.6 billion of cargo from passing each day. The ship's owners are still not out of the woods, as they have to pay $1 billion in compensation before the ship is freed.