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Feature Pilot: Captain David Willows

BC Coast Pilots have been dedicated to keeping 15,000 miles of the province’s waters safe since the mid-1800s. Our pilots have a deep background in the marine transportation industry and work hard to ensure our coast remains safe for everyone to enjoy. We want to highlight the work done by these devoted Pilots and shine a light on the people behind the safe movement of ships on our coast.

Meet Captain David Willows! He was born in Toronto but later his family moved to Victoria BC when he was a year and a half old. His family were avid recreational boaters on the Great Lakes and continued even after moving to the coast. Since then he has lived primarily in Victoria, but also Nanaimo and Vancouver while working for the Small Craft Harbours Branch of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and while attending BCIT’s first Deck Officer Cadet Class. Captain Willows currently resides on a 2-acre farm in Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula.

Captain Willows left, with Master of Darya Kirghiz.                                                           

His first marine job was as a deckhand on his uncle’s fishing charter vessel, he did that off and on through university.  He also worked on the Queen of Burnaby when she was renamed the Princess Marguerite III sailing between Victoria and Seattle in the mid 1990’s. While at university, he took a position working for the Harbour Master in Victoria (1995) as a summer co-op job that led him to the Small Craft Harbours Branch of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver the year after.  He was working full time for Fisheries and Oceans while completing his last year of Commerce at the University of Victoria.  He stayed there from 1996 to 1999 and later started as part of the first ever Deck Officer Cadet Class at BCIT.

Before joining BCCP in 2015, Captain Willows shared his favorite memory of working in the marine industry. He spent 10 years working for BC Ferries on smaller ships servicing the Gulf Islands.  In doing so, he recognized the vital role mariners played in communities we serve, such as bringing food and families for events. Additionally, there was a commitment to the community and purposely moving ships safely and efficiently to protect and support our coastal community- something he finds very useful now as a BC Coast Pilot.

Speaking about his favorite part of being a BC Coast Pilot, Captain Willows mentioned the dynamic aspect each assignment presented such as new ship, crew, port or terminal to work with everyday makes it all great! He also enjoys mentoring young people entering the marine industry.

A Pilot’s job is not your typical 9-5. Since the shipping industry operates at all times of the day, 365 days a year, pilots must too. Captain Willows noted that there are no tough days, and if anything, it is all about perspective. Adding with a quote he has heeded:

“A superior pilot [mariner] uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill” – Frank Borman, Commander of Apollo 8

Captain Willows heading out to work on Christmas Eve 2019.

Something Captain Willows hopes people would know more about when it comes to pilots is the important role, we play in marine safety on the B.C coast by guiding any foreign ship coming in or out of BC’s ports for safety, efficiency and environmental protection.

When not on assignments, Captain Willows enjoys photography. He loves sharing the beauty of our coast he sees every day when he is working. Otherwise he keeps very busy with his wife and two children (ages 9 and 6). His 6-year-old has cerebral palsy, which has inspired him to become a very active advocate for accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. Captain Willows primary focus is in accessibility standards development and implementation at the local, provincial and federal level.

We are lucky to have dedicated mariners like Captain Willows working hard to protect our coast!