Harbour Master

Job Description and Activities

There can be many different types of organisation operating within the port boundaries. These can include cargo terminal operators, passenger terminal operators, leisure marinas, boat builders and commercial fishing. Under UK legislation the waterways of many ports are the responsibility of the local Harbour Authority which is managed by a Harbour Master. What a Harbour Master does will depend on the size of the port and the activities within it, but would normally include the following:

  • Managing vessel movements – the waterways within ports are very busy places and it is important that vessel movements are planned and carefully monitored. This requires the use of radio communications equipment, radar and charts within a port control centre, which could also be managed by the harbour master. The harbour master is normally responsible for ensuring safe navigation of port waterways which can require regular dredging, the marking of channels and the provision of a pilotage service.
  • Managing the environment – ports and harbours can suffer water pollution from terminal operators, other shore based facilities and from vessels using the port. It is the responsibility of the harbour master to monitor and prevent this happening. They may also be required to ensure that any proposed port/harbour developments are suitable and in keeping with the environment.
  • Managing leisure activity – many ports offer recreational facilities to the public including marinas and commercial passenger craft. The harbour master might regulate these services and licence any commercial craft.

The Working Environment

The harbour master would normally work Monday to Friday during the daytime, but will often be on call to attend to any problems or emergencies. They work from an office but would spend time at the port facilities either ashore or afloat and attending meetings with various local agencies. Due to the nature of the work, many harbour masters have previously worked as a ship’s officer or master.


The role of a Harbour Master can vary greatly dependant upon the activities being managed and the size of the harbour. As a guideline, a harbour master can earn anywhere in the region of £25,000 to £80,000.

Entry Requirements

Becoming a Harbour Master usually requires experience as a ship’s master, a marine pilot or a VTS supervisor. There are also other qualifications/schemes which are relevant for the role, such as a Diploma in Port Management or the Harbour Master Certificate Scheme (Nautical Institute). The UK Harbour Masters Association also operates a continuous professional development scheme.

Career Development

The usual progression from the role of harbour master is to a more senior and broader management role such as port director. Suitable qualifications for this progression include the Diploma in Port Management. A Foundation Degree is currently being developed for this role.