Captain David Waters – Marine Pilot

by John M. MacFarlane 2011

Captain David Waters

Captain David Waters

Captain David Waters descends from a line of mariners. His father had been a Marine Pilot in the English Channel for Trinity House. His grandfather operated sailing barges between the UK and the European coastal ports. He seems to have always known that he would go to sea as a career. Waters was indentured as an Apprentice in 1938 to Andrew Weir & Company. They operated the motorships of the Bank Line and he served in the Levernbank in the deck department. He served three years and nine months until his apprenticeship was completed. Then he attended a course in London for three months of courses and sat five examinations and an oral interview to become qualified as a Mate. As it was then wartime he was moved into the London Pool of seamen for disposition to merchant ships.


The indenture document made when Waters entered service, guaranteed by his father.

Before the start of the Second World War he worked on ship maintenance duties when not on watch. His on watch training consisted of asking questions and observing the actions of the officers. When off watch he chipped rust, painted the superstructure and worked under the supervision of the ship’s carpenter. When the war started he stood watches and carried out convoy work such as signalling with Aldous lamps (in Morse code) flags and security work. He shared a cabin with the three other apprentices and slept on staw filled mattresses. The ship had a resident population of red ants and cockroaches and was fumigated every two years.

Continuous Record of Discharge

The blue book (Continuous Record of Discharge) that all seamen carried to record their service.

He was serving as 4th Mate in the steamship Port Nicholson in convoy XB–25 when she was torpedoed at 0417 GMT on 16 June 1942 off Boston by the German submarine U-87. Port Nicholson was first hit in the engine room where two crew members on watch below were killed, a second torpedo hit aft and caused her to settle by the stern Waters was off watch and sleeping at the time of the explosions of the two torpedoes. On awakening he put on his overcoat and lifejacket and was picked up by HMCS Nanaimo (under Lieutenant T.J. Bellas, RCNR) along with the Master, 79 other crew members and four DEMS gunners. At dawn, the ship was still afloat and it was decided to reboard her to assess the damage and chances of salvage. The boarding party consisted of the Master, the Chief Engineer and one officer and three ratings from the corvette. After they had boarded the vessel, wind came up and the rough seas broke the weakened bulkheads causing her to sink quickly by the stern. The men climbed down the ladders and got into the lifeboat but the suction of the sinking ship overturned the lifeboat, drowning the Master, the Chief Engineer, the naval officer and one rating. The crew were taken to Boston.

In September 1942 he served as Third Mate in the Fort Chilcotin on a large convoy to the French port of Algiers in North Africa. Accompanied by Royal Navy ships they were bombed and Waters recalls that two ships were hit and a tanker exploded. He saw plenty of bomb damage in the port when they arrived, a result of the air raids. They were carrying war cargo, and proceeded on to Alexandria Egypt to deliver searchlights, anti-aircraft guns and large electrical cables. The coiled cables shifted in the hold and caused the ship to list dangerously to thirty degrees. After arrival in Alexandria it was discovered that the coils had become tangled and could not be removed without cutting them up (which rendered them useless). They picked up a large party of Australian troops in Haifa bound for Crete but had to return when it was learned that the German paratroops had landed in Crete the same day.


Waters received Second World War service medals

After the war he came to Canada from where his wife Margaret originated. There were no berths available in merchant ships so he worked ashore for four years with Canada Packers in Vancouver BC. Finally he was able to join the CNR Coast Service in 1953 as 4th Officer in the Prince Rupert. He had to learn to navigate the coast with its tricky tides and currents. He served in the Canadian National vessel Prince George for two years – all of which put him on track to qualify as a Marine Pilot. He recalls his time as Mate in the Prince George as some of the best times of his career.

Canadian service

While in Canadian service.

He joined the Fisheries Protection Service as Second Officer in the F.P.V. Kitimat also serving as a Fisheries Officer. They checked nets, apprehended poachers, and checked licences and administered catch limits. He served eight years as Master of the F.P.V. Laurier patrolling over the whole coast of British Columbia. In the winter time he worked with the herring fleet (locating the herring with echo sounders). They reported the catch each day by collecting radio reports from all the fishing vessels involved. Close to the end of his Fisheries service he began to set his sights on qualifying as a Marine Pilot.

This involved acquiring an intimate knowledge of the coast, and accumulating the necessary sea time. Being a Marine Pilot meant a ‘step up’, but involved an examination and an oral interview. On qualifying in 1969 (O-151-BC) he spent one month as a trainee in Vancouver Harbour and one month under the supervision of a qualified pilot on ships on the BC coast. Then he was on his own.

Under Canadian law every foreign ship over 350 gross registered tons is required to utilize the services of a marine pilot when they enter the waters of British Columbia. The Pilot is responsible to ensure the vessel is safely navigated through the various passageways along the coast so there is no damage to the ship, its crew, or the marine environment. In British Columbia there are two groups of marine pilots which supply this service; the BC Coast Pilots and the Fraser River Pilots. The Fraser River Pilots are responsible for the area beginning at the mouth of the Fraser River and inland, while the BC Coast Pilots are responsible for the entire coastline stretching from the southern Canadian border to Alaska. (Source:

Captain David Waters

Captain David Waters

He spent fifteen years as a Pilot based in Victoria BC and recalls that there were large cruise ships in summer and freighters throughout the year. He also recalls that he had to learn to climb the boarding ladders, sometimes under tough physical conditions, when moving from the Pilot Cutter to the vessel being piloted. In those days Russian crews spoke no English and often expressed hostility as part of Cold War tensions – but also to impress the political Commissar on board who acted as the intermediary with the Pilot to ensure that the crew had no contact with western officials. He piloted more than 2,000 vessels before retiring in 1984.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2011) Captain David Waters - Marine Pilot. 2012.

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