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What They Do

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Harbor masters organize, direct and control the operations of the waterfront. They assign space for incoming ships and enforce the rules concerning the water. They also plan and develop future operations of the harbor according to economic conditions.

Ted Warburton is a harbor master. He says harbor masters are laborers, managers, boating safety consultants, emergency planners and sympathetic ears for disgruntled boaters and water-based businesspeople.

Because harbors tend to be established, and few are built, there isn't much growth in the industry. Most job openings come from people retiring or moving to other fields.

Kathy Messier is a harbor master. She says harbor masters are also politicians, whether they like it or not. "A big part of my job is [having] a good relationship with the people," she says. "For a lot of people, especially the [commercial] fishermen, the harbor represents their roots."

Most harbor masters work for small to mid-sized ports. Some are employed by municipalities or other government bodies. Some work for private businesses.

Rarely do harbor masters have any regulatory power, although Warburton says he often writes port regulations for the Santa Cruz Port District Commission to approve.

Warburton says some heavy lifting is part of his work and physical dexterity is a must.

"You pull on ropes a lot," he says. "You need to pull things out of the water, plus there's pushing and pulling things along the docks."

A harbor master must also have a sharp eye for potential problems and disasters, he says. "Whenever I walk around on the dock, I'm asking myself, 'What could go wrong and am I prepared for it?'"

He says if he isn't prepared for potential disasters such as boat fires, he immediately makes plans in case they happen.

Sheila Best manages a private pier. She agrees that harbor masters must be prepared.

"The work is completely unpredictable," says Best.

At a Glance

Control the operations of the harbor

  • Most job openings come from people retiring or moving to other fields
  • You need a sharp eye for potential problems and disasters
  • Courses in business management are good, plus you should have CPR, first aid and lifeguard training


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