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Role of the Harbour Master

The Role of the Harbour Master

Ports can be busy places and, by the very nature of their business activities, may be hazardous places to work. The Harbour Master has a key role to play ensuring that people living and working in or close to the port, the port’s staff, customers or visitors to the port environment can go about their business safely. Harbour Masters must be familiar with all relevant safety, environmental and health laws at the international, national and local level.

Port Marine Operations

The safety of navigation for any vessel utilising the port and its approaches is the Harbour Master's primary concern. Harbour Masters regulate the manner in which vessels conduct their navigation in port. Most regulatory requirements are clearly set out in the form of port by-laws, general directions, Pilotage Directions etc and these clearly define what the “rules of the road” are in terms of safe navigation.

Ship Arrival

From initial information provided by the ship on draft, length overall and displacement, the Harbour Master will allocate a suitable berth and apply any restrictions he may feel necessary for the safe passage of that particular vessel in his port. Vessels arriving at a port will normally contact the port control or VTS station to receive instructions on the plan for their arrival and stay in the port. This exchange usually involves confirmation of the time the pilot will board and the berth to which the vessel is proceeding.

Harbour Masters normally designate a safe pilot-boarding area where the vessel boards her pilot who then subsequently communicates with the port authority shipping control office or VTS whilst proceeding towards the intended berth. If the vessel is exempt from pilotage, in compliance with port regulations, then clear instructions on the manner of entry and navigation will be given and the vessel will be asked to register and confirm its passage plan. The passage plan is the detailed and recorded confirmation of what the ship intends to do at every stage of its passage from the pilot station to finally arriving alongside. Any subsequent movement of the vessel, a berth shift, for example, will also be subject to passage planning.

The Harbour Master has a duty to inform vessels about any hazards or problems that may affect safe navigation, for example:

  • Any obstructions in channels or alongside berths
  • Limitations of tugs
  • Weather restrictions in the harbour or at berths
  • Any failure of any aids to navigation such as lights or buoys

Vessel Types

Ports handle a huge variety of ship types ranging from supertankers, through cruise and cargo ships, large container vessels, bulk carriers, warships, Ro-Ro vessels and ferries right down to smaller but no less important vessels such as fishing vessels and pleasure craft. Different types of vessel require different port facilities to enable then to be handled efficiently and safely. Part of the Harbour Master's role is to be fully conversant with the types of vessel that represent the port's main business and to have a thorough knowledge of their requirements whilst they are in port.

Ship's Stay in Port

The role of the Harbour Master in terminal and cargo operations will vary according to the governance of the port. The Harbour Master's advice is regularly sought during a ship’s stay by companies, organisations or government officials associated with such activities as fuel bunkering, tank cleaning and the delivery of stores, water and crew.

The Harbour Master has a role to play in determining the berthing of ships and the control of the front quay or ship-shore interface. This includes the removal or segregation of dangerous goods for a determined period on the terminal, the measures to be taken by stevedores and dockworkers to prevent safety or environmental irregularities and the accessibility to the ship-shore interface by unauthorised persons.

The success or otherwise of a ship's stay in a port will be measured by how the Master, crew and ultimately the operator/owner consider the port has met their operational requirements. Port operations must be carefully planned well in advance of the vessel's arrival alongside. There are many planning considerations for the Harbour Master but amongst the main ones are: a suitable and safe berth; provision of pilotage and tugs; confirmation of mooring resources such as linemen, line boats, mooring teams etc; liaison with stevedores on the ETA/ETD of the vessel to enable them to plan their resources for loading/discharge effectively; key loading/discharge plant and equipment availability and reliability; security requirements and liaison with statutory authorities where necessary. Another key element is a good relationship with the ship's agent who will have first-hand knowledge of the ship's requirements.

The Harbour Master’s expertise is also essential for the management of any incidents and in the timely implementation of response and emergency plans.


Port Management

In addition to the technical and statutory responsibilities of the role, today’s harbour master is increasingly involved in the day-to-day management of port operations. Increased involvement and greater responsibility for the commercial business of a port is a growing area of activity for many harbour masters.

Strategic Planning Process

If they are to remain competitive, ports must move with the times in response to global shifts in maritime trade. Strategic-level business plans must be developed. Harbour Masters may contribute to the development of a long-term master plan for the port.

Other Authorities in the Port

The Harbour Master may co-operate with a number of authorities including representatives of port state control, customs, veterinary agencies, health agencies, environmental agencies, local government and utilities.

Local Community

Ports, as with all businesses, are expected to engage with their stakeholders in an open, honest and transparent manner. Working in the port environment inevitably brings the Harbour Master into contact with the wider community. Although Harbour Masters may exercise jurisdiction over the water frontage or waterway of their port – a decision that may be determined by statute or regulation – they are also expected to consider the requirements or concerns of the community on the use of the port’s navigable area and its impact on the community.

It is not only commercial vessels that make use of a port. Recreational fisherman, diving clubs, rowing clubs, tour boat operators, visiting yachtsmen and power boat drivers, marina operators and many more must all be consulted. Conflict may arise between those pursuing different activities. The harbour master has an important role in engaging with interest groups, resolving such issues and ensuring the safety of all harbour users.

Leisure Use of Ports

Leisure activities may take many forms, including recreational boating (both power and sail), swimming, diving and organised aquatic events. The Harbour Master can mitigate the risks associated with large aquatic events through the application of safety management principles and risk assessment. However, private and irregular use of the port for recreation is difficult to monitor and control. Many ports and harbours now use their websites and social media to promulgate safety information to port users. The zoning of activities to separate, for example, swimmers from personal watercraft may be introduced. Prohibiting access to some areas may be required and will require local regulation. The focus should be on community engagement and finding a harmonious method for the co-existence of recreational activities. 

Latest News & Events

September 16, 2021

HOUSTON, Sept. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- ION Geophysical Corporation’s Edinburgh-based Software group today announced the Companyreceived a grant to advance port decarbonization through its climate-smart platform, MarlinSmartPort™. The grant supports the UK’s Ten Point Plan to address climate change and help achieve the country’s net-zero emissions target by 2050. The Data-Led Emissions Management (D-LEMA) project is part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition, funded by the UK Department for Transport and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.
The 6-month pilot study will validate whether vessel fuel usage and carbon dioxide emissions can be reliably estimated in and around ports using the International Maritime Organization (IMO) global standard.

Announced in March 2020, and part of the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan to position the UK at the forefront of green shipbuilding and maritime technology, the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition is a £20 million investment from government alongside a further ~£10 million from industry to reduce emissions from the maritime sector. The program is supporting 55 projects across the UK, including projects in Scotland, Northern Ireland and from the South West to the North East of England. As set out in the Clean Maritime Plan (2019), Government funding has been used to support early stage research relating to clean maritime. The program will be used to support the research, design and development of zero emission technology and infrastructure solutions for maritime and to accelerate decarbonization in the sector.

“Today approximately 90% of goods are transported by sea and global shipping accounts for nearly 3% of global CO 2 emissions,” said Stuart Darling, Senior Vice President of ION’s Software group. “Our technology is focused on creating high value information that drives smarter, safer management of the 5,000+ ports globally and the 50,000+ cargo vessels that transit between them. This grant enables us to continue advancing our maritime digitalization platform, Marlin SmartPort, which integrates systems and data to provide better real-time visibility and actionable intelligence to operate with just-in-time efficiency, minimizing fuel consumption and emissions. Our goal is to develop and validate fuel monitoring capabilities to start tracking
and, ultimately, to reduce port-related shipping emissions. On behalf of ION, I would like to thank our project partners, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who will supply the data, and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, who will assist with the analysis.”

The former vice president of Costa Rica is the first woman and Central American to serve as UNCTAD’s secretary-general.

This was announced from UNCTAD HQ in Geneva on 13 September and we at IHMA send our congratulations.

Costa Rican economist Rebeca Grynspan took up her new role as secretary-general of UNCTAD on 13 September for a four-year term.

Ms Grynspan, the first woman to serve as UNCTAD’s secretary-general, was nominated for the post by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and approved by the General Assembly in June.

I am honoured to begin work at UNCTAD at a critical time for our world,’ Ms Grynspan said, ‘Covid-19 has exposed the widespread inequalities and vulnerabilities of the world and the development model. As we recover from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to rebalance the global economy, boost resilience and ensure shared prosperity.’

We must take action today to transform trade and reshape our global economy to overcome barriers to greater prosperity for all and embark on a sustainable development path that will benefit everyone.’

Role of Harbour Master/ Port Operations Professional
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Delivered virtually
Online Workshop Sponsored by:  PIANC and Navigating a Changing Climate 14 and 15 September 2021

Working with Nature for Climate-Resilient
Ports and Waterways

Online Workshop Sponsored by:
PIANC and Navigating a Changing Climate

14 and 15 September 2021

PIANC’s Environment Commission (EnviCom) and the Navigating a Changing Climate partners are collaborating to run a workshop entitled Working with Nature for Climate-Resilient Ports and Waterways.  This workshop builds on a 2021 workshop run by Navigating a Changing Climate with SedNet (https://sednet.org/) focused on sediment management and climate change.  

Two sessions are planned on consecutive days, each 2 hours long, allowing for keynote presentations, case studies, and facilitated round-table discussions. 

The workshop Working with Nature for Climate-Resilient Ports and Waterways is designed to facilitate knowledge exchange, disseminate good practice, highlight opportunities, and identify gaps in understanding or research needs in relation to the following sessions: 

  1. Session 1: 14th September.  Scaling Up and Changing Entrenched Current Practices
    • Transitioning nature-based solutions to full-scale
    • Persuading those who prefer business as usual to explore nature-based alternatives
  2. Session 2: 15th September.  Making a Business Case and Securing Finance
    • Preparing the case for investment in nature-based solutions
    • Facilitating public and private sector funding for nature-based solutions

For more information and to register, please reach out to Victor Magar (vmagar@ramboll.com) and copy to Kate Panayotou (Kate.Panayotou@ghd.com) and navclimate@pianc.org

The email title line should be marked with “PIANC‑NavClimate Working with Nature Workshop.” 

PIANC, the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure, provides the global waterborne transport community with expert guidance, recommendations, and technical advice (https://www.pianc.org/).  Navigating a Changing Climate is a PIANC-led Global Climate Action initiative under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Find out more at https://navclimate.pianc.org/

Delivered virtually
Women in Shipping Virtual Summit 2021

IHMA is pleased to once again be partnering with the Women in Shipping Virtual Summit in 2021. The following information is provided by the event organisers.

Two-days of unmissable insights on the professional development of Women in Maritime

Women in Shipping Summit will go live this September offering you the chance to hear and learn from 30+ inspiring leaders on the topics that matter to you the most.

The full agenda is ready, and we're delighted to provide you with 15+ hours of content accessible from anywhere in the world and live streamed direct from the virtual platform. Speaking companies include Danish Shipowners’ Association, The Rising Tides, Fichte & Co., Svitzer, Siemens, Wista and lots more.

This is your only chance this year to join the community and develop your career as a maritime professional. Join us on the road map to recovery, as we approach a post-pandemic world.
Key sessions you can't afford to miss include:

Public health policies:
Considering seafarers as an extreme case study, this emphasises the need to find real solutions to protect mental and physical wellbeing to ensure the work-life balance is stable and maintained.

The future of work:
2020 created the perfect test environment, leading all of us to ask what the future holds. What about childcare and paternal leave, and what are companies likely to adopt as working routines beyond 2021?

The key to a balanced lifestyle:
Gain mental health tools and understand the correct way to apply them. This is vital for cultivating mental strength in the face of adversity.

Power talk:
Redundancies, organisations going out of business, role restructures and questions on the sustainability of our professions. As such, many of us have found ourselves asking is it time to make a change, and if so, where to start?

Nutrition & mental health:
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Want to book?
Secure your pass today for two days of live and on-demand sessions, plus the chance to see the full attendee list with unlimited networking opportunities.
Use the exclusive 20% discount code FKT3826IHMA for IHMA members to benefit from the maximum saving in addition to the early bird rate - find out more and book now.

The super early bird rate closes Wednesday 30 June 2021.

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Latest News & Events

ION receives grant to support UK net zero target through port decarbonization ION receives grant to support UK net zero target through port decarbonization

September 16, 2021

HOUSTON, Sept. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- ION Geophysical Corporation’s Edinburgh-based Software group today announced the Companyreceived a grant to advance port… FIND OUT MORE

Rebeca Grynspan takes over as head of UNCTAD New S-G at UNCTAD

The former vice president of Costa Rica is the first woman and Central American to serve as UNCTAD’s secretary-general. FIND OUT MORE

Latest News & Events

September 16, 2021

HOUSTON, Sept. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- ION Geophysical Corporation’s Edinburgh-based Software group today announced the Companyreceived a grant to advance port decarbonization through its climate-smart platform, MarlinSmartPort™. The grant supports the UK’s Ten Point Plan to address climate change and help achieve the country’s net-zero emissions target by 2050. The Data-Led Emissions Management (D-LEMA) project is part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition, funded by the UK Department for Transport and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.
The 6-month pilot study will validate whether vessel fuel usage and carbon dioxide emissions can be reliably estimated in and around ports using the International Maritime Organization (IMO) global standard.

Announced in March 2020, and part of the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan to position the UK at the forefront of green shipbuilding and maritime technology, the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition is a £20 million investment from government alongside a further ~£10 million from industry to reduce emissions from the maritime sector. The program is supporting 55 projects across the UK, including projects in Scotland, Northern Ireland and from the South West to the North East of England. As set out in the Clean Maritime Plan (2019), Government funding has been used to support early stage research relating to clean maritime. The program will be used to support the research, design and development of zero emission technology and infrastructure solutions for maritime and to accelerate decarbonization in the sector.

“Today approximately 90% of goods are transported by sea and global shipping accounts for nearly 3% of global CO 2 emissions,” said Stuart Darling, Senior Vice President of ION’s Software group. “Our technology is focused on creating high value information that drives smarter, safer management of the 5,000+ ports globally and the 50,000+ cargo vessels that transit between them. This grant enables us to continue advancing our maritime digitalization platform, Marlin SmartPort, which integrates systems and data to provide better real-time visibility and actionable intelligence to operate with just-in-time efficiency, minimizing fuel consumption and emissions. Our goal is to develop and validate fuel monitoring capabilities to start tracking
and, ultimately, to reduce port-related shipping emissions. On behalf of ION, I would like to thank our project partners, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who will supply the data, and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, who will assist with the analysis.”

The former vice president of Costa Rica is the first woman and Central American to serve as UNCTAD’s secretary-general.

This was announced from UNCTAD HQ in Geneva on 13 September and we at IHMA send our congratulations.

Costa Rican economist Rebeca Grynspan took up her new role as secretary-general of UNCTAD on 13 September for a four-year term.

Ms Grynspan, the first woman to serve as UNCTAD’s secretary-general, was nominated for the post by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and approved by the General Assembly in June.

I am honoured to begin work at UNCTAD at a critical time for our world,’ Ms Grynspan said, ‘Covid-19 has exposed the widespread inequalities and vulnerabilities of the world and the development model. As we recover from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to rebalance the global economy, boost resilience and ensure shared prosperity.’

We must take action today to transform trade and reshape our global economy to overcome barriers to greater prosperity for all and embark on a sustainable development path that will benefit everyone.’