Captain Orval Bouchard: The Evolution of a Career at Sea

by John MacFarlane 2018

Orval Bouchard

Captain Orval Bouchard (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

Not all Master Mariners on the British Columbia coast started their careers here. Captain Orval Bouchard is an example of how some of the best marine talent in the world has found the marine scene here much to their liking. He comes from the Saguenay region of Quebec, the river of which is a major tributary to the St. Lawrence estuary.

Orval Bouchard (young)

Even from a very young age, growing up on a farm in rural Quebec, Captain Bouchard aspired to a nautical future. (Photo c1968 from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

With an older brother who went to sea as an example, he entered the industry through service in the Royal Canadian Navy as a Weapons Tech. This experience was seminal, exposing him to foreign countries, crew members from across Canada, and allowed him to become fluently bilingual. He served in the navy 1981–1986, going to sea in HMCS Skeena based in Halifax NS. With broadened horizons he saw opportunities of which he was previously unaware and realized that he had accumulated experience and knowledge on which to build.

Armed Forces

Bouchard as a navy Weapons Tech Standing by the 3 inch 50 gun in HMCS Skeena c1985. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

He resigned from the navy to take a course leading to Watchkeeping Mate qualification and Command Endorsement and Master Minor Waters, at Camosun College, in Victoria, BC. He applied for a number of positions hoping to remain on the west coast. But fate intervened and he accepted a position back home as the summer season Master on a small passenger vessel on the Saguenay River for two years, of which he eventually became co-owner and manager. He continued for three more seasons with commands on various pocket cruise vessels on the St. Lawrence River and he took advantage to take courses in the winter.

MV Florida

The MV Florida a passenger tour boat. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

St. Andre

One of the more interesting commands in the St. Lawrence was the St. Andre, a ‘goelette (or schooner)’. Its owner engaged in coastal trading on the Saint Lawrence. At that time wooden schooners were replaced by metal ships, which were much larger, more profitable and better adapted to winter navigation. The Saint–André, one of the last witnesses to Quebec’s particular long maritime tradition, was classified as a cultural property. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

Garnd Fleuve

The Grand Fleuve, a pocket Cruise ship, carrying passengers on the Saint Lawrence River. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

In 1989 to broaden out his experience he did two months on berthing tugs in the harbour at Thunder Bay. The whole time he kept thinking of the west coast and decided to move here and take his chances on finding a berth. He was encouraged by his older brother who was a Master on the Bowen Queen.


The YFB–316 operating from Esquimalt Harbour. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

His first position on the west coast was with the Queen’s Harbour Master in Esquimalt where he operated the "blue boats", the naval fire boat Firebrand and worked as an officer in the big auxiliary tug Saint Anthony (as Mate).

He got a break when he joined British Columbia Ferries, first as a casual Officer working out of Salt Spring Island. While accepting various temporary assignments on the North Coast and the Sunshine Coast, he lived on Salt Spring Island for 12 years and started relieving as Captain after the first year on this island. He went on to command various large vessels in the BC Ferries Fleet.

In 1995 he was temporally appointed as Chief Officer in the Queen of the North. He recalls that this was his first exposure to the northern operations of British Columbia Ferries, which are influenced by quite different conditions from those in the south. He also did a stint in the Kwuna on the Aliford Bay to Skidegate run in the Queen Charlotte Islands briefly as Master during this period.

In 2000 he took a break from BC Ferries to serve as a Officer in Princess Cruise Line vessels, to gain some deep sea time. He was at that time, he recalls, the first Canadian Officer to be hired as an Officer by that Line. Now this is a regular occurrence and they have a number of Canadian Officers.

Queen of Prince Rupert

Queen of Prince Rupert (Photo from the Alec Provan collection.)

In the Summer of 2004 he served as Master in the Queen of Prince Rupert. In 2005 he was appointed as Senior Master of the Queen of Prince Rupert serving until 2009. In 2009 he was given a special assignment as Senior Master of BC Ferries’ newest upcoming vessel at the time. This opportunity included travelling to Flensburg Germany to be part of the acceptance crew, that received the delivery of Northern Expedition from the builders to the Canadian west coast. From that moment on he was totally attached to his ship that he describes as "the best ship he ever served in." On the vessel’s arrival to the west coast of Canada in 2009, the President and CEO described the Northern Expedition as quote "jewel of the fleet".

Northern Expedition

The Northern Expedition in the Inside Passage. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard Collection collection.)

Inaugural Crew 2009

The inaugural crew of the MV Northern Expedition 2009. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)


The Inaugural Sailing Northern Expedition May 18, 2009 (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)


Public relations is part of the job description for the Senior Master. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)


The big ship attracts a lot of public interest, in the Canadian and foreign press. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

Special VIP

Sometimes Captain Bouchard hosts special VIPs on the bridge. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

Special VIP

A thrilled bridge visitor (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

Queen Mary 2

On a ‘busman’s’ holiday Captain Bouchard enjoys a personal visit with the Captain of the R.M.S. Queen Mary 2 on the bridge. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

He served as a member of the BC Ferries Council of Masters and stepped up to act as Chair for three years. This gave the Masters a direct channel to the President, and the EVP of Operations to offer advice and recommendations. He says that this was valuable for both the senior management and the Masters.

Captain Bouchard has been a driver for ever higher standards of performance on the bridge and throughout every department of the Northern Expedition. He worked with a motivated team of other Masters and Mates and the management of BC Ferries and together they have introduced a Bridge Resource Management System. The bridge is highly fitted with electronic aids and monitoring systems.

For explanation to readers who are not familiar with these advancements Captain Bouchard explains that "a Bridge Resource Management (BRM) is a working protocol, equivalent to the ‘Cockpit Resource Management (CRM)’ in the aviation industry. The protocol consists of specific Bridge procedures that optimize all Bridge resources, (i.e. the Bridge Team (Officers, Quarter Master, Look Out, Captain), navigation equipment, check lists, communication protocol, etc.). Closed Loop Communication is a communication protocol which is part of the BRM system. The Nav / Co–Nav System is also part of the BRM system. It is a protocol that utilizes the ‘double checking AND confirmation‘ process to the maximum, similar to what pilots and co–pilots do in the aviation industry. They employ a Bridge Electronic Log Book (BELOG) which is an electronic means of event recording. It replaces the traditionally–used paper log. The first ones were installed last year on the Northern Expedition and the Coastal Celebration. A plan is being worked out to install it on all BC Ferries by 2021."

Captain Bouchard has been, and continues to be, the operational lead for the Belog project fleet wide. In addition, he has on occasions been representing BC Ferries at various national and international Navigation Equipment Conferences both in North America and abroad.

Captain Bouchard has commanded 30 vessels. Following is a full list of the vessels in which he served or commanded:

  • HMCS Skeena (RCN Destroyer)
  • MV La Florida (passenger vessel)
  • MV C. S. Méridien (passenger vessel)
  • MV Pierre Chauvin (passenger vessel)
  • MV Grand Fleuve (pocket cruise ship)
  • Peninsula (tug)
  • Donald Mac (tug)
  • MV Stella Desgagnés (cargo vessel)
  • MV Goélette (schooner) St.-Andre (converted to passenger vessel)
  • MV A. Martin (pilot boat)
  • MV Tadoussac 2 (passenger vessel)
  • MV Cap Bon–Désir (passenger vessel)
  • CFAV YFB 316 (Naval Auxiliary)
  • CFAV YFB 318 (Naval Auxiliary)
  • CFAV Saint Anthony (tug, Naval Auxiliary)
  • CFAV Firebrand (tug/fire boat, Naval Auxiliary)
  • CFAV Glendale (tug, Naval Auxiliary)
  • Bowen Queen (passenger ferry)
  • Mayne Queen (passenger ferry)
  • Howe Sound Queen (passenger ferry)
  • Vesuvius Queen (passenger ferry)
  • Skeena Queen (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Nanaimo (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Tsawwassen (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Burnaby (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Sidney (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Prince Rupert (passenger cabin ferry liner)
  • Queen of the North (passenger cabin ferry liner)
  • Kwuna (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Chilliwack (passenger ferry)
  • Crown Princess (cruise ship)
  • Queen of Surrey (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Coquitlam (passenger ferry)
  • Queen of Oak Bay (passenger ferry)
  • Northern Adventure (passenger cabin ferry liner)
  • Northern Expedition (passenger cabin ferry liner)

Many people wonder what the duties of a Senior Master. Here is brief list of those that are in addition to being in command of a vessel:

  • - Responsible for the vessel and route operation annual budget of several million dollars.
  • - Lead of the Senior Ship Management Team, which includes the Senior Chief Engineer and Senior Chief Steward.
  • - Responsible for operational procedures for the ship and route, works closely with Senior Chief Engineer and Senior Chief Steward for inter-departmental procedures.
  • - Works closely with Senior Chief Engineer for the annual re-certification of the vessel with Transport Canada and Classification Society. This includes dry-docking.
  • - Works closely with Senior Chief Engineer for the annual maintenance of the vessel.
  • - Member of the Regional Operation Management Team, BC’s North Coast Region in Captain Bouchard’s case.
  • - Represents the vessel and route on various fleet wide committees.
  • - Represents the Marine Superintendents on various committees and projects as required.

Captain Bouchard reflects that he made good career decisions along the way. Each one building upon the others to give him the knowledge, experience and confidence to increasingly take on more responsibility. He has been very satisfied with his career in British Columbia Ferries. He says, "the industry has evolved over the years and BC Ferries is "ahead of the game". The company encourages advancement and is a good place to work." Captain Bouchard clearly loves his work and runs a happy smooth running vessel.

On the bridge

Captain Bouchard enjoys a coffee break on the bridge during unloading at one of the regular ports of call. (Photo from the Orval Bouchard collection.)

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2018) Captain Orval Bouchard: The Evolution of a Career at Sea. 2018.

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