Commanding tug boats off the northern tip of Vancouver Island is Captain Pierre W. Like many seafarers, he is a son, a husband, a father and a friend however, for the few deckhands who have had the pleasure of working with him, he is admired as a mentor. Pierre has worked along the Vancouver Island coastline, where he grew up, for over 30 years. Starting as a young boy, Pierre worked alongside his family on a commercial fishing vessel. He is proudly Kyuquot (Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’) First Nation and has a great passion for passing his knowledge onto the next generation and to all those who wish to make a career in the marine industry. While Pierre has many friends and family who work along side him at sea, one of the most rewarding experiences has been working alongside his son, Mathew W. who will soon be looking to advance his skills and perhaps take a Captain position of his own.
What made you want to transition from being on deck to getting your Captains ticket?
Speaking from experience, I have seen the things that work and do not work as well in the marine industry. For me, it was important to be a part of the process- if there is a job that can be set up well and that increases the safety of the task, I want to be doing it. I want the input in creating and maintaining procedures, drills, the tasks that we do etc. Safety is paramount and knowing that I can make a difference in the safety of our operation is vital to me. Another important factor in transitioning to a Captains ticket was ensuring the longevity of my body. As a deckhand, the work can be quite labour intensive and as you get older, it is something you need to consider. Your lifestyle may also change and by increasing your ticket, your pay will go up also.
Can you give insight into how life as a Captain (or at sea) has affected life at home?
Once you get out onto the water, what the Captain says, goes. There are times when you come home and you’re used to being in charge and making the decisions and sometimes it is hard to break that leadership mentality. By the time you become a Captain, your lifestyle really remains the same and you’re used to being out on the water. Sleep and rest is a big priority, especially as you get your Captains position. You tend to take more care as a skipper to get proper rest because you want to keep your crew safe and when you’re home you tend to rest and reset before you head back out again.
What has been the highlight to your career so far?
The highlight of my time in the marine industry has been working alongside my family. Both my son and my grandnephew are involved in tug work and this was something that they chose to pursue. I wanted them to follow their passions and the marine industry was something that I never pushed them to get into but when they did, I was happy to help in any way that I could.
It is important to me that we reflect on a sad moment in my career- perhaps so that someone can learn from this accident or be reminded of the importance of safety on the water. I was out of Hallberg and on Channel 16 there was a mayday, it was a man overboard call. The deckhand I was working with suggested that we go help but the location of the mayday was over 24 hours away and for us to respond, we were going to have to go on the outside which meant needing to secure the tow we had. This would add to the additional time that it would take to respond, it just wasn’t feasible to go assist because of our location and the other contributing factors. The next day, I found out that the man overboard was the step son of my brother by marriage. It was surreal to have heard the call on the radio and to later learn that it was someone I know. This incident ended in a fatality which perhaps could have been prevented if he was wearing a lifejacket. This is something that I now preach to anyone who works on the water- your safety comes first!
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years, professionally?
In the next 5-10 years, I hope to retire but if I don’t, I otherwise intend to continue being a Captain. I love learning and I have considered possibly upgrading my tickets to a larger certification. With a larger ticket, more opportunities would open to me but I also believe the more you know, the better you can do your job. I firmly believe in getting more tickets for knowledge purposes. Even if you don’t use all of them, it still gets you more understanding and skill- you never know when you will need more knowledge on the water.
Any advice to upcoming Captains?
Pay a lot of attention to everything that is going around you- even outside of your duties. Watch what the captains you admire do and how they do things, as those will be skills that you will take with you as a Captain. Pay attention to how you like to be treated as a deckhand so when you have your own deckhands, you know how they will want to be treated. Take care of your deckhands. Don’t be afraid to ask advice and ask for input, you don’t know the knowledge of people around you. Your crew, colleagues or friends may have some really good ideas and they may also have the experience to back them.
The biggest thing I have enjoyed about the transition from deck, is figuring out ways to make the work easier for the deckhand, the boat, the company and for myself as Captain. Above all of that, I have enjoyed implementing safety procedures, learning about everything that I can and incorporating my knowledge and skills into everyday work. I encourage people to pursue their tickets when they feel they are ready and to never stop learning in this job!