Port Operative Careers

How to become a Port Operative

What does a Port Operative do?

Port operatives are employed by port authorities or private cargo-handling companies, and work in three main areas: stevedoring, passenger operations and marine operations. In large ports these will be separate positions, in small or leisure ports the position of general port operative will be a combination of the duites outlined below.

Stevedoring involves loading and unloading cargo and transporting it within the port. Specific tasks vary according to the type of vessel the stevedore is working on. On roll-on/roll-off ferries they drive vehicles that carry cargo or tow trailers on and off the ship, and use lorries and trailers to move goods to storage areas. If vehicles are being transported, they may also drive these on and off the ships.

On lift-on/lift-off container ships, stevedores load and unload containers using dockside cranes or the ships' lifting gear. They also secure containers on the ship.

Other types of vessel carry dry bulk cargoes such as wheat or coal, which are usually loaded by elevator, and liquids such as oil, which are loaded by pipeline.

Stevedores may also have other duties such as basic maintenance of the lifting gear.

Passenger operatives normally work with passengers in ports that have ferry services or a cruise terminal. The type of work and working conditions can vary and is dependant upon the type of passenger service the port is offering. Passenger ferries can be used for short river crossings or longer sailings to France, Germany, Scandinavia, Spain and Ireland, whilst cruise ships sail all over the world.

Facilities at the large ferry and cruise terminals are very similar to those found in airports, offering a high level of customer facilities and service to passengers travelling on foot or by car.

If working within a passenger terminal, operatives may provide travel information, check documentation, answer individual enquiries and ensure passengers travel through the terminal safely and efficiently.

When dealing with passengers travelling in their vehicles, the operative will normally be situated out of doors, working in vehicle holding areas or by the ships loading ramps. They may be required to check travel documentation, answer general queries and also direct traffic to and from the vessel ensuring they follow designated routes and do not stray into restricted areas.

At many UK ports passenger operatives may be required to maintain security in their area and may also be required to liaise closely with statutory bodies such as Immigration, Customs & Excise and the police.

Marine operatives deal with what is known as the 'wet side' of port work which, in most ports, will mean working from, or crewing, small harbour craft. The use of these will depend on the types of traffic the port handles.

Small harbour craft can be used to transport people including passengers and crew to ships moored off shore and ships pilots to vessels entering port. They can also be used for operational tasks such as tying up larger vessels, cleaning up after a pollution incident, the placing and maintenance of marker buoys in the harbour entrance and sometimes in rescuing people from the water. The size and speed of these craft can vary greatly, from small unpowered rowing boats to fast, well equipped pilot launches.

Working under supervision, a marine operative may be required to navigate the craft, ensure it is kept clean and well maintained and operate VHF radio and radar equipment.

What's the working environment like working as a Port Operative?

Port operatives normally work an average 40 hours a week. Because ports are open 24 hours, they usually work shifts of eight hours, covering a seven day period. Overtime is common.

The work is outside in all weathers, but stevedoring also includes work in ships' holds and cargo storage areas, which may be hot and cramped. This type of work can be strenuous with a lot of lifting, bending and sometimes working at heights.

What does it take to become a Port Operative?

To be a port operative you should:

  • be physically fit
  • be safety conscious
  • be good at following instructions and explaining them to others
  • have normal colour vision, as some cargoes are colour-coded
  • be able to work as part of a team.

Port Operative Career Opportunities

Port operatives are employed by port authorities or private cargo handling companies. As ports have become more mechanised and containerised, with companies loading cargo into containers at their own premises, there is more demand for crane operators and fork-lift truck drivers than for manual operatives.

Promotion is likely to be to foreman or woman, then supervisor, superintendent, operations manager and general manager.

You should contact a port authority, cargo handling company or stevedoring company for information about vacancies. You will find details of these in the telephone directory. There are also lists of major port employers on the websites of the British Ports Association and Associated British Ports. Vacancies tend to be advertised in port towns and cities.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Port Operative that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Port Skills And Safety Ltd
Africa House
64-78 Kingsway
Tel: 020 7242 3538

British Ports Association

Associated British Ports

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