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Navigation simulator

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  • Project initiator : Consortium led by the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (for the project management and the construction of the training centre), including CEREMA (for the technical development and NAVMER software), the Comité des Armateurs Fluviaux (for safety and driving objectives, and the objectives of strengthening pilot skills, FLUVIA (for training), PROMOFLUVIA (to host the training courses and the promotion of the simulator), and VNF (for modelling the Saône sectors)
  • Duration of the project: Project commenced in 2012 – Project opening in 2016Financing of the project: CAF, CEREMA, CNR, Fluvia, Promofluvia and VNF
  • Cost of project:  Its implementation represented an overall investment of €2.7 million, co-financed by all the partners and by the European Funds.

Context in which the project emerged:

Between 2000 and 2006, at the request of the Comité des Armateurs Fluviaux (CAF), the CETMEF, formerly DTecEMF, produced a prototype river navigation simulator, a version of which is installed at the Centre de Formation d’Apprentis à la Navigation Intérieure (CFANI) (Inland Navigation Apprentice Training Centre) and used sparingly for the initial training of apprentice pilots.

Albeit, this prototype is offering a first experience of navigating, additional adjustments were needed, according to professional users, to adapt and improve the prototype so that the later could recreate the broad sensations and behaviours of standard boats in a wide range of driving situations (wind, current…).

An exploratory approach was therefore launched in 2009 by a group of experts made up of the ministry in charge of river transport, professionals (CAF, Chambre Nationale de la Batellerie Artisanale, Compagnie Fluviale de Transport), CETMEF, CFANI, Compagnie Nationale du Rhône and Voies Navigables de France, to define the specifications for the training simulator for navigation in the Rhône-Saône basin.

The technical outlines of this new simulator were validated by the group of experts, after carrying out audits on existing river navigation simulators in France, Germany and Belgium, in particular.

Moreover, the increase in traffic on the Rhône/Saône river axis, whether for goods or passengers, requires well-trained, responsible drivers who respect the river and other users. Furthermore, navigation on the Rhône is a difficult exercise, particularly because of the high flow rate, winds, currents and the presence of many tricky areas to pass through. The same is true on the Saône when crossing Lyon and on certain meandering sectors further upstream.

Strategy and objectives

The river navigation simulator installed at the Port of Lyon is a unique tool in Europe : skippers in training or confirmed, can experiment critical navigation conditions on 9 sites in the Rhône-Saône basin represented in 3D – Vienne, Tournon, La Voulte sur Rhône, Canal de Donzère, Montfaucon, Avignon, Tarascon, Arles, Terrin threshold – and 6 sites on the Saône – Lyon, Ile Barbe, Couzon au Mont d’Or, Chalon sur Saône, Verdun sur le Doubs, Charnay lès Chalon.

It also simulates the behaviour of 5 types of loaded and empty boats: self-propelled 128 m and 135 m, pusher with one or two barges, passenger liner.


  • To improve the training of navigators and safety on the river.
  • To train or improve driving skills on the Rhône and Saône rivers, particularly on the most delicate sections.

The project’s innovative characteristics



The strong point of the new simulator is the ship manoeuvrability model on which it is based, which includes advanced current and naval hydrodynamics models calibrated thanks to the observations of the sailors.



The simulator consists of a 10-metre cylindrical screen with a viewing angle of 240°, and has a modular cockpit, allowing up to five different types of boats to be configured. Its modularity also applies to the equipment present in the cockpit, signalling, currents, weather conditions, river traffic or time of day. In order to reproduce as many cases as possible, it also allows scenarios involving different types of breakdowns or alarms to be drawn up.

Results and perspectives

For beginner skipper:

  • A situation scenario of the passage on sections considered to be tricky.
  • Saving time in learning the right driving reflexes

For confirmed skipper:

  • An increase in skills in driving in difficult situations and rational driving.

For the company:

  • A saving of time compared to a “double” drive of several months.
  • An improvement in safety performance and a drop in accident rates
  • Saving energy by learning to drive rationally
  • Productivity gains through fewer incidents and less wear and tear on equipment

This project should be duplicated on other rivers that are difficult to navigate. This tool is ideal for the training of skippers.


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