Sometimes described as the captain of all ship’s captains, the Harbourmaster and his/her assistants effectively regulate the shipping traffic of a port. A harbourmaster will oversee the ports daily operations, ensuring ships safely navigate the area, as well as maintaining the delicate environmental balance between the port’s commercial enterprises and the local marine life.
Harbourmasters must know their port intimately and have practical knowledge of ships so that they can plan their comings and goings. They decide which berth a ship will be tied to and they tell the ships’ masters when they can enter and when they can leave, based on knowledge of water depth, vessel draughts, length of port stay, movements of currents and tides, the length of berths and available facilities for cargo handling, among other factors. Key to the success of a harbourmaster is being able to balance a ship’s safe arrival and departure with the commercial pressures of not keeping a ship waiting longer than is absolutely necessary.
Most harbourmasters start their maritime career at sea, and move to the onshore role of harbourmaster after many years of service and reaching the level of captain. And while being a master mariner is not a prerequisite for the role of harbourmaster, it is a qualification that virtually all harbourmasters hold.