The Navigational School at SCI had informal beginnings in 1899. In December of that year, Navy Commander W. H. Reeder wrote to J. Augustus Johnson, serving as Chairman of SCI’s Committee on Navigation. The letter contained a list of materials needed for a teaching ship at SCI. The list included grummets, 100 pounds of hemp rope for knotting, 25 pounds of hambroline and stopping blocks.
In 1906, the still informal Navigational School met in one room, probably at the Institute’s headquarters at One State Street. In 1914, the School partnered with the ailing New York Nautical College and YMCA. By 1916, the partnership between the YMCA and SCI was dissolved. The Navigational School reorganized and opened as the Navigational and Marine Engineering School of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York.
After reorganization, Captain Robert Huntington, a retired sea captain, came to teach at SCI. As the United States was on the brink of entering World War I, Huntington advertised the school heavily, and SCI trained 15,000 men during that time.
SCI founded the school not only to educate those who wished to go to sea but also to give them opportunity for advancement. Instructors at the Navigation School taught practical subjects on a real vessel.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, applications from officers desiring to return to the Merchant Marine service flooded the Navigation School. A 74-foot ship’s pilot house and flying bridge was installed on the roof of 25 South Street. At 212 feet above street level, SCI billed it as the highest navigation bridge in the world.
After the wars, the shipping industry began to change swiftly. SCI and the Merchant Marine School changed with it.
Just as technology on ships developed, the technology on which the students were taught developed, too. In 1968, SCI moved into their new headquarters at 15 State Street. In the 1970s and 80s, changes in licensing, shipping and certification requirements hastened SCI to change their programs as well. In the fall of 1985, SCI held the first radar training conference. This conference led to international standards of simulator training. The Institute began turning classrooms into ship’s bridges again, but this time inside the building. The training academy became known as the Center for Maritime Education (CME), which it is still called to this day.
Today, state-of-the-art simulators found at SCI locations in Paducah, KY and Houston, TX train thousands of mariners annually, using many scenarios from real life on the seas and inland waterways. While the simulators can never replace actual experience, they give students the practical training to successfully navigate whatever circumstances may arise.