January 13 Interview
George Silva, Captain of R/V Atlantis
Conducted by Scientists Susan Humphris and Dan Fornari
from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The captain, or master, of a ship is the person responsible for the safety of all the people and for the smooth
running of the ship while we are out at sea. George Silva is 44 years old and is the captain of R/V Atlantis
for this expedition. He lives on Cape Cod with his family -his wife Lisa, and his four children: Dennis,
18 years old, Michael , 15, Corinne,13, and Mariah, the youngest, who is 6.
What are your main responsibilities as captain of Atlantis?
My primary responsibility is to make sure that the ship and all the operations on board run safely and efficiently. This
involves worrying about the stability of the ship, the safe navigation of the ship, as well as how different departments
on the ship carry out their jobs. The key to doing this successfully is good communications with the heads of each
department on R/V Atlantis. The department heads are Chief Engineer Kevin Fisk, Chief Mate Mitzi Crane, Bosun
Gerry Graham, and Steward Carl Wood. With their help, I try to make sure that each science voyage is successful
and memorable. I am also the person who represents the ship and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution while we are
in different ports both in the United States and in foreign countries. I also try to help the crew to advance in
their careers and work their way up the ladder to positions of greater responsibility onboard. Also, I try
to make sure that the crew and scientists onboard are happy and have a good and rewarding experience
during each cruise.
So what did you want to be when you were growing up, and how did you end up being a ship's captain?
I did not plan on going to sea; I wanted to be a policeman when I was growing up. I was always interested
in mechanical things, much more than classwork in school, and I wanted to see the world. I was given the opportunity
to enroll in the Massachusetts Maritime Academy to learn all about ships and to choose between learning about
the Engineering or Deck Departments. Initially I chose the Engineering Department because of my interest
in mechanical things. However, I decided to switch to the Deck Department and graduated with a 3rd Mates License. While
gaining a lot of experience and time at sea on other vessels, I also studied and received my Captain's license
when I was 30 years old.
What different kinds of ships have you worked on??
I have worked on many different types of ships, including ferry boats that ran between Block Island and Pt. Judith,
Rhode Island, dredging ships that worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers all over the U.S., and large container
ships and bulk carriers that went all over the world. The last job I had before joining Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution was for a company called ARCO Marine on large oil tankers off Valdez, Alaska. The job that
gave me the skills in ship handling that have really helped me in running a research vessel was the work I did
on the dredging vessels.
When did you start working for Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution (WHOI) and how did you find the job?
In 1995, I decided I wanted to move away from commercial shipping, so I went back to the Massachusetts Maritime
Academy to find out whether they knew of any positions. At that time, WHOI was looking for a relief Chief
Mate on the R/V Knorr for two months, so I went out to join the ship in Singapore. This turned into
a few more months, as the Chief Mate I was relieving delayed his return. In 1998, I relieved Captain A. D. Coburn
as captain on the R/V Knorr, and now am relieving Captain Gary Chiljean who is on vacation.
What differences do you see between working for a commercial company and working on a research vessel, and do
you enjoy your job?
I feel a real sense of pride that I am contributing to oceanography and knowledge of the oceans when I am
part of scientific expeditions. I enjoy seeing new students being trained to study the oceans, and on every
cruise, I meet a wide variety of people from many colleges and universities. I also like being at sea, observing
the marine life, and traveling around the world. The only part that never comes easy is leaving my family
What do you like to do in your spare time?
While I am on the ship, I read, play ping pong, and like to fish when it is possible. When I am at home, I
also go fishing, but I like working in my vegetable garden and doing home projects. I also have just bought a
Harley Davidson motorcycle and expect to have fun with that!