Captain Don Rose – Master Mariner and Marine Surveyor

by John M. MacFarlane 2012

Captain Don Rose

Captain Don Rose in 2012

Captain Don Rose is a well–known Master Mariner on the British Columbia coast. He is noteworthy for his accomplishments and his desire to serve his profession through public service. He has been the subject of a number of articles in publications and he has been the author of a number more. He originates from Minstrel Island and small settlement on the British Columbia coast where his father operated the general store.

Captain Don Rose

A ten year old Don Rose at Minstrel Island BC in 1955 with his Elto outboard–powered log raft.

He does not recall just when he made the decision to go to sea. But in 1966 he joined Rivtow as a deckhand, the entry point for people who wanted to go into the coast-wise merchant service. Usually after one to three years a good deckhand could move up to Mate. After enough sea time they can move up to qualification as a Master. The courses were offered at the Vancouver Vocational Institute.

Captain Don Rose

Don Rose in 1987 while Mate in the Capt. Bob.

Under schedules set by the company the tug crews worked seven days on and seven days off – on 12 hour shifts on the Fraser River. In coastal towing they worked a similar lay-day system, as the twelve-hour shift tugs except that he crew lived aboard during their tour of duty. They went on ‘lay days’ when not working. This, he says, was a perfect arrangement for him.

He was a tug Master for 36 years for Rivtow and loved it. He says that the employees of all companies tend to be friendly to their colleagues. Rivalries and competition tends to occur mainly at the management level. The art of towing evolved over those years. At the beginning of his career a large tow of logs was 50 flat log sections. Now the ‘large’ tows are 100 sections of bundled log booms.

Rose says that skippering a tug is an art as much as a technical skill. The skipper of ship–docking tugs has to have the skills to manoeuvre without causing damage to the ship being berthed by overuse of power. "'Every landing is a 'close call'", he says, "you are only one manoeuvre away from disaster at all times.

All localities on the coast are difficult to navigate for tug boaters, but Seymour Narrows is particularly tough because of the large tides and high volume of traffic. The Fraser River (particularly during the freshet) is difficult because of the currents, traffic and narrow sea room." To get the local knowledge he had to put in the time at sea- the way it has always been done. He uses his local knowledge every day he's at sea. "The best skippers," he says, "are the ones who could be tactical and see a few moves into the future. They have to remain cool and calm under stress, and sometimes let the boat do what it seems to want to do." He means that the skipper has to know when to let momentum, currents and wind take over with engine aid to prevent a hard landing.

In the early days very few tugs were twin screw, and thus difficult to control. There is a delay in the reaction time between when the signal is sent from the controls before the engine reacts. Modern tugs can spin within their own length. In this modern age there is actually a shortage of skippers with single screw skills because there are very few vessels left with single screw.

Tow boats have huge power from their engines for their size. They can cause turbulence in the water (their own rapids) if they aren't careful. They were so powerful in the tug Captain Bob that he literally had to think out a game plan in advance so that he could do it one manoeuvre.

The Rivtow Capt Bob

Rose‘s biggest command was the 144 foot tug Rivtow Capt Bob. Designed by Talbot, Jackson and Associates she was built by the John Manly Shipyard (Division of Rivtow Industries Ltd.) and was the flagship of the RivTow fleet. Carrying 141,000 gallons of fuel her range was exceptional - allowing her to take on almost any towing job. Her 4 blade 120" x 142" fixed nozzles made her very manoeuvrable.

RivTow Capt Bob

Captain Don Rose on watch while Master of the Rivtow Capt. Bob 1997


Rose is justifiably proud of one of his more significant tows - a deep sea salvage operation in the Pacific of the 894 foot Panamax freighter Chestnut Hill (Captain Charles Ebersole). She had been built for and operated by Keystone Shipping under a US Government subsidy program that, when it ran out, made it uneconomical to operate. Bound for the scrap yard her tail shaft bearing had seized and she was drifting - requiring a tow.

Captain Don Rose

The Capt. Bob while in SMIT Canada livery.

He recalls that "on the morning of January 17, 1998 the crew of the RivTow Capt. Bob received a call from the personnel office advising that a deep sea ship named the Chestnut Hill was disabled and drifting in the Pacific Ocean. We were asked to come to the dock as soon as possible and prepare the RivTow Capt Bob for sea. By mid-afternoon we were ready for sea and departed."

"After three days steaming we rendezvoused with the Chestnut Hill 685 miles west of Cape Flattery. The wind was NNW at 25 to 30 knots in a very rough sea. All hands turned to and proceeded with the task of getting the ship hooked to our towline. A rocket line was fired across the ship’s bow and a series of messenger lines were used with the ship's capstan to pull the towline up onto her deck. At that point the towline was joined to the ship’s anchor chain. "

"Four shots were then fed out through the ship’ Bull Nose. Due to the weather water was washing across the aft deck of the tug making the situation very unpleasant. At times the crew were up to their shoulders in water. In spite of this the job was completed in Two hours and five minutes. At this time we were advised that our destination would be Honolulu – 1,911 nautical miles. During this leg of the voyage we encountered a great variety of wind and sea conditions, varying from calm winds and low swells to winds of 55 miles per hour and swells of 45 to 50 feet. The temperatures varied from near freezing, snow, rain and then hot tropical sun as we neared Hawaii. "

"We arrived at Honolulu on the morning of February 5th, 1997 where we anchored ourselves and the ship. Because the ship was disabled we had to stand by it throughout in case she dragged her anchor. After five days a Chinese tug arrived and took her in tow to her destination which was intended to be Bangladesh. Five days anchored off Honolulu in February sure beats the Gulf of Alaska. After the Chinese tug departed we refueled and provisioned in Honolulu and then took eight days to return to Vancouver - the total trip was 34 days. "

Service to the Industry

Rose is the Divisional Master of the Vancouver Division of the Company of Master Mariners of Canada. This is an association of Masters who wish to have a positive influence on their profession. He says its good for networking and gives its members a voice to the Federal Government which has jurisdiction and many matters affecting them. Membership is thus non-obligatory but they sponsor monthly meetings and organize technical sessions.

The Company of Master Mariners of Canada nautical professional association with members serving in command at sea as well as members serving in management positions ashore in private and public sectors or as pilots, surveyors, practising law and teaching in nautical schools. This professional association has neither union affiliations, commercial intentions, nor political connections.

Incorporated under the Corporations Act in May 1967, the Company’s principal objectives, as stated in its Letters Patent, may be summarized as follows: to provide a representative, professional body for Canadians qualified to command merchant ships, to encourage a high standard of practical proficiency and professional conduct in officers of the Canadian Merchant Service, to offer the experience and nautical expertise to Courts of Inquiry, Royal Commissions, government committees, and to be available for consultation on all matters affecting commercial shipping and the nautical profession. to encourage and develop the education training of Canadian seafarers. The business of the Corporation shall be carried on without pecuniary gain to its members and any revenues shall be used in promoting its objectives.

The Company of Master Mariners of Canada was incorporated by Federal Charter on May 11th, 1967, with its National Office in the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Company was established to encourage and maintain the high and honourable standards of the Nautical Profession, further the efficiency of the sea service and uphold the dignity and prestige of Master Mariners.

Membership includes men and women actively engaged in deep sea shipping, both ashore and afloat, coast-wise shipping, tug and barge operations, stevedoring, pilotage, marine surveying, salvage and marine law. In all, a group of independent Master Mariners, whose expertise covers most fields of the shipping industry.

Under the terms of its Charter, the Company is pledged to be available to constitute a body of experienced seamen to act as members of, or to hold seats on, or to give evidence before Royal Commissions, or boards of any description. These members of the Company would also be available for advice or consultation on all questions affecting judicial, commercial, scientific, educational or technical matters related to the Merchant Service.

The Company provides the opportunity for discussion and systematic study of Safety of Life at Sea, Navigation and its associated systems and methods, and in general provides the opportunity to encourage and develop education, training and qualification of Officers and Men for the Merchant Service. The business of the Company is non-political and is carried out without any pecuniary gain to its members. All income accruing to the Company is applied towards the promotion of the objects of the Company as set out in the Letters Patent.

Holders of the following certificates may join the Company as Members:

  • – Master Foreign Going;
  • – Master Home Trade;
  • – Master Inland; or,
  • – M.M., ON1, or CN1.

Holders of the following certificates may join the Company as Members or Associates depending on additional service or experience:

  • – Command Certificate, Coast Guard Command Certificate, or Fishing Master 1;
  • – Holders of certificate issued in other countries may be accepted on an equivalent basis;
  • – Holders of other certificates may join as Associates; and,
  • – Companies or persons who wish to be associated with the aims of the Company may join as Corporate or Companion members.

Captain Rose is a prolific writer on maritime affairs and he has posted several of his essays on the Nauticapedia to share with our readers. (Click the links to see teh articles)


To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2012) Captain Don Rose – Master Mariner and Marine Surveyor. Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Rose_Don.php