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Ports have always offered opportunities for employment. This is one of the reasons they act as a magnet to people. Many of the jobs involve manual labour, although less so today than in the past. There are also opportunities for workers with special skills such as shipbuilders. Much office work is available, as almost every piece of cargo and each passenger moving through the port needs documents. The dynamic economy of a thriving port attracts ambitious people as, with hard work and luck on their side, there are opportunities to become rich. This section describes some of the key people who make a port work, and for whom a port makes work.

There are many people who ensure a port works. Some organise and assist the coming and going of ships. Others ensure those who use and work in the port do so legally.

Harbourmaster and staff

Southampton Harbour Board officials

Magnifying glassSouthampton Harbour Board officials

The harbourmaster and his assistants regulate the shipping traffic of a port. They tell ships` masters (captains) when they can enter or leave. They decide which berth a ship uses when a ship is tied up at port. To do this they need to have practical knowledge of ships. Indeed, many harbourmasters will have been to sea themselves. They need information on how big are the ships approaching, especially how long they are and how deep is their draft, in other words, how much water they need to float in.

The harbourmasters` staff also have to know their own port intimately. The must be aware of what ships are already in which berths. They need to know how long each is likely to stay. They must understand the currents and tides that affect a ship entering or leaving. They must be aware of the depth of water available at any state of the tide. They must know how big is each berth in their docks, and what facilities it has, for example, cranes. They have to balance the need for ensuring a ship`s safe arrival and departure with the commercial pressures of not keeping a ship waiting longer than is absolutely necessary. 

In a big port, where there are many movements of ships each day, the harbourmaster has staff to do this work at each individual dock, called dockmasters. They in turn will have staff to work the lock gates, and to tie ships up. Ports usually work 24 hours a day. So those who run them need to work shifts, or be on call 24 hours.


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