Ports are extremely busy places, and the constant comings and goings and diverse port activities need to be managed and monitored in a safe, efficient and responsible way.
The responsibility for the safe and efficient running of a port falls squarely on the shoulders of the Harbor Master. In the UK, Harbor Masters are managed by the local authority and their work covers a wide range of different areas.
Many ports are home to passenger ferry companies, cargo operators, boat builders and leisure marinas, and the Master's role largely depends on the size of the port and the activities that take place within it.
Waterways within ports can become very busy, and the Master's job is not dissimilar to that of an air traffic controller. The Master has to ensure that vessel movements are carefully planned and closely monitored, to prevent harbors from becoming dangerously congested.
To ensure that vessels move safely in and out of the port, the Harbor Master uses radio equipment, radars and charts, and usually has access to a detailed ships register. The Master needs to make sure that vessels can safely navigate waterways at all times, and is responsible for spotting and solving problems as and when they arise.
With many ports regularly welcoming large cargo ships and commercial ferries, pollution can be an issue and it is the Master's responsibility to keep the environmental impact to a minimum. Ports are often expanded or redeveloped, and the Harbor Master plays an important role in making sure that any new buildings or development respect the local environment and are in keeping with the rest of the port.
To become a Master, you normally need to possess a certain amount of maritime experience, through working as a ship's master or in a similar role. The role of Master carries a lot of responsibility in itself, but it can often act as a stepping stone to more senior positions and management roles, such as the job of port director.