March 2023 Beacon

Remembering Jim McFarlane

Edited by Robert Wernli, BEACON Co-Editor-in-Chief

Jim speaking as General Chair of OCEANS 2007 Vancouver

James Ross McFarlane, age 88, passed away peacefully on November 1, 2022, in Port Moody, BC., Canada. Jim was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, June 20, 1934. Jim’s adventures and achievements were plentiful and took him all over the world, but the one he was most proud of was his company, International Submarine Engineering Ltd (ISE), that he started in 1974. ISE continues to operate and grow, it is truly the legacy Jim wanted to leave behind. Jim’s son, James Arthur Ross, continues to work in the offshore technology arena.

Jim received the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society’s Distinguished Technical Achievement Award in 1987 in recognition of his outstanding contributions as a pioneer and internationally known leader in research and development related to underwater vehicles and their associated support subsystems. The award recognized him as follows: “He developed systems for supporting offshore drilling, advanced intervention technology and hydrographic surveys and led the industry in free swimming vehicle research and development. As the founder and president of ISE, he was involved in the design, construction, and operation of tethered and untethered remotely operated vehicles such as TROV, TREC, DYSUB, HYDRA, DART, RASCL, TARS, SUPEREDART and WRANGLER, as well as the development of autonomous vehicles such as ARCS and DOLPHIN.” And he has accomplished much much more since then.

Jim was highly recognized internationally and especially by his home country, Canada. He was awarded as an Officer of the Order of Canada on 17 November, 1988. Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. The award included the following:

“Co-founder and President of International Submarine Engineering Limited of Port Moody, B.C., he has been largely responsible for placing Canada at the forefront of industrial underwater technology and applications. Tethered and untethered Remote Operated Vehicles, each built by this company in response to individual customer requirements, are in daily use around the world for purposes as diverse as fighting oil well blowouts, hydrographic surveying beneath the polar ice and undersea pipeline installation and repair.”

Jim also was the General Chair of the OCEANS 2007 Vancouver conference.

Personal Comments regarding Jim:

Jim (L) and Tamaki (R)

Tamaki Ura – Jim recognized the achievements of many international colleagues. He is shown in the next photo where he spoke as a special guest at the Celebration Party for my IEEE OES Distinguished Technical Achievement Award in October 2010.

Robert Wernli – I met Jim early in my career in underwater robotics and he was always ready to offer assistance and/or build what you needed. We interacted closely on the ROV conferences for the Marine Technology Society, with ROV ’89 going to Vancouver, and he was a key player on my ROV Committee as we established a series of workshops to produce the MTS published book, Operational Guidelines for ROVs, in 1984. Jim was a great friend and deserves all the honors that he received.

Drew Michel – I first met Jim in the mid nineteen seventies when he was using repurposed hand drill motors as thruster motors on his first ROVs.  Had many great visits with him at ISE and at his home and mine.  When other manufacturers were erasing model and serial numbers off of their ROV components to force end users to go to them for replacements, Jim would send a list of parts that could be purchased at the same places he procured them.  My teenage son and I spent most of the summer of 1988 in Vancouver building a one off ROV for a tunnel penetration.  The plan was for Jim to teach the 15-year-old how to scrub decks and chip paint on the Researcher, instead Jim and his wife spoiled him.  Jim needs to be remembered, not only as a friend to the industry, but also as a true engineer and innovator who much preferred building things and being on the deck of the Researcher to being at a desk and making maximum profit.

Ian Monteith recalled Jim being very competitive. He would love to race people across the parking lot even as he was getting on in years!

Rob Rhodes recalls the release of the Hydra AT in the early 1980s. After a night of heavy testing of the ROV on sea trials the team pulled it back on deck to find the cover plate holding the telemetry can was missing with stuff hanging out everywhere. The team can still see Jim in his boxer shorts getting employees to get it back into shape, including a cardboard template for the cover. It was back to beautiful that afternoon!

Jim speaking at Tamaki’s Award Ceremony.

James Collins – Jim McFarlane’s company, International Submarine Engineering, was truly a pioneer in the field of underwater robotics. When he established his company in Port Moody in 1974, I believe it was the only private organization in that business.

I met Jim in 1979 when I was preparing for a new position at a Military College in Victoria, Canada. I was interested in developing a research project in autonomous robotics.  Jim was the subject of a news article at that time on his company, which manufactured U/W ROVs and manipulators. It was an obvious place to start my investigations.  This resulted in a small contract to investigate technologies which would be relevant to the creation of AUV’s.  I was hooked on the topic.

Our association continued for many years until I retired in 2021.  When I Chaired the 1993 OCEANS in Victoria Jim agreed to be one of my keynote speakers and I later helped him when he agreed to Chair the 2007 OCEANS in Vancouver.  During the years he would give continuing education lectures and courses on marine robotics. His company created more than 400 manipulators and more than 200 U/W Vehicles over a 40+ year period.  Perhaps what will be as important is the number of students and private company leaders that he mentored at ISE.  This includes companies such as Bluefin Robotics Corporation and Cellula Robotics Ltd.

Bob Christ – I met Jim in 2000 while sourcing subsea equipment in the Vancouver area.  Jim graciously and unselfishly helped me navigate the subsea equipment vendor market as a small ROV manufacturer (later ROV service provider).  He mentored me though the growth process and was always available to lend support to [at that time] a new entrant into market.  Jim was a good man and will be missed by a grateful and admiring industry.

For a comprehensive pictorial based obituary see:

James McFarlane Obituary – Port Coquitlam, BC (