Born: October 30, 1914; Died: May 8, 2012.

George Ritchie, who has died aged 97, was both a world-renowned hydrographer and a flamboyant party animal, never happier than with a glass of rum in his hand, dancing to a steel band.

His passion for the West Indies stemmed from his command of the survey ship Vidal in the 1960s and his love of its music and dance never dulled.

But it was just one thread of a richly woven life that took him all over the world, saw him win the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his heroics during the Second World War and serve Royalty at home and abroad.

Though his family had a long history of fishing out of Collieston, on the north-east coast, he was born in Burnley where his father, Sir Douglas Ritchie, was town clerk.

At the age of 13, the youngster, who was always known as Steve, joined the Navy at Dartmouth Naval College, going to sea with the Navy's surveying service in 1936, when he was 17.

He served on the surveying ship HMS Herald in the South China Sea before attachment to the Eighth Army in the middle years of the Second World War when his exploits in 1942, during the raid on Tobruk, earned him the DSC.

It was awarded for bravery behind enemy lines while surveying beaches as a potential tank landing site near the Gulf of Bomba. During the daring mission, completed under cover of darkness, he had dodged Italian soldiers and escaped to safety on a collapsible canoe, an operation seen as a forerunner of similar amphibious raids carried out by the Special Boat Service.

He also married his wife, Disa, in 1942, after meeting on board the SS Ceramic – he was en route to a new posting and she was returning home to South Africa after the death of her husband, a Canadian Spitfire pilot.

After a whirlwind romance they wed during a two-day break in Capetown. They were separated by war for the next two years and the ship they had just left was later sunk with all hands but one.

He went on to serve as first lieutenant on survey ship HM Scott on D-Day and, post-war, commanded four of the Navy's fleet of survey ships, circling the globe on a scientific voyage with HMS Challenger in 1951-52. During the trip he recorded the deepest part of the ocean trench, now known as Challenger Deep, using echo sounding. He later wrote the book Challenger – The Life of a Survey Ship.

Following three years on loan to the New Zealand Navy's surveying service, he took command of the survey ship Dalrymple in the Persian Gulf and Vidal in the West Indies and Western Europe.

He loved the Trinidad Carnival where he would enthusiastically embrace the culture, parading through the streets in exotic costumes – a moth and a spaceman, among others – and joining the dancing.

In 1965 he became Aide de Camp to the Queen, the following year he was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed Hydrographer of the Navy and in 1967 he was made a Companion of the Bath.

He held the Navy Hydrographer's post until 1971, during which time he was responsible for the operations of the RN Surveying Squadron and the publication of the Admiralty Chart worldwide series.

After an 18-month stint as a senior research fellow at Southampton University, in 1972 he became president of the International Hydrographic Bureau, based in Monaco, where he spent the next decade, serving as president for a second time in 1977.

The Bureau had been set up by Prince Rainier and the Royal Family provided Mr Ritchie with a superb flat near the principality's famous casino. During his time in Monaco he learned to play boules, an interest he introduced to Collieston where, after returning to the UK, he lived in the family home built by his grandfather.

During his career he received numerous awards including the Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Royal Society of Art's Silver Medal.

A prolific writer, he was the author of numerous papers on navigation and oceanography for various publications and wrote a regular As It Was column for Hydro International magazine for many years.

Once he retired he wrote his autobiography, No Day Too Long, the foreward of which was provided by Prince Rainier.

In 2009 he gave his cache of books, pamphlets, atlases and charts relating to the history of hydrography to Newcastle University where it is known as The Ritchie Collection.

In Collieston he was a larger-than-life character with a colourful dress sense who cared deeply about the village. He described one of his interests as "conserving Collieston" and was heavily involved in the amenities committee, chairing the Harbour Trust and raising cash for the upkeep of the pier.

He set up the village Boules Club in 1985 and was delighted when his team won the 2004 league championship in the same year he turned 90. Known for his legendary joie de vivre, he never lost his love of dancing and was still taking to the dance floor up to three months ago.

Widowed in 2000 and predeceased by his son John, he is survived by his daughter Tertia and sons Paul and Mark.