Have you decided that working in the maritime industry is for you, but for whatever reason you’re not prepared, or able, to spend months away at sea? Or maybe you’re a seafarer who has come to the conclusion that you’d like to pursue a change of direction in your career and work ashore? Whichever category you fall into, the good news is that there is a huge range of maritime jobs to choose from that are land based.

For the purpose of this article we are going to be taking a look at working in a seaport. We’ll be covering what kind of job opportunities exist in ports, some of the skills needed for jobs in seaports, and training and qualifications for jobs in seaports. But first let’s take a closer look at what day to day life working in a port might involve.

Working Life in Ports

The kind of day to day work in a seaport very much depends on the purpose of that particular port. For example, it may deal in imports and exports, it might be a terminal for ferries and cruise ships, it could provide facilities for the fishing industry, or it could even be leisure-based with recreational facilities - for example a marina for yachts and pleasure craft. Likewise, your employer could be anyone from a ferry company or a cruise line operator to a port authority to a transport company, and from a stevedoring firm to a freight forwarder or warehouse operator. Last but not least, you will also find companies whose purpose is to repair and maintain vessels in ports.

Needless to say many of the jobs in ports are physically challenging and employers will require a certain degree of physical fitness to qualify for them - and not to mention a medical check too in many cases. Having said that, if you are active and enjoy using your strength and agility in the workplace, a job in a seaport could be the perfect career choice for you. Of course, there are also a good deal of jobs in ports that don’t require you to be on your feet and heavy lifting all day long. Many port-based jobs and maritime jobs ashore are desk roles so if that sounds more like your ideal working scenario you could also look for jobs in administration, personnel or finance.

Opportunities in Seaports

As we’ve already said, careers in ports are varied and ports, marinas and harbors are almost always looking to recruit trained or qualified people to make sure that operations are carried out correctly and efficiently. Ports are automated and mechanized and need to run with strict adherence to schedules. With so many different customers, suppliers, deliveries, ETA's and deadlines to factor in, a port really does need to run like that old cliche of a well oiled machine. Consider that cargo must be loaded and unloaded quickly and carefully. Vessels need to navigate in and out of port, and berth and unberth safely - and all at the mercy of the tides and geographic features unique to that area. And if shipping is to retain its crown as the world’s transportation method of choice, a port also needs to be run economically and within its budgetary constraints.

Therefore, port operatives, whatever their role, experience or level must be organised, dedicated and competent if they are to play a valuable supporting role in the efficient, safe and economical running of their place of work.

Different Types of Jobs in Ports

Here we’ll run through just some of the maritime jobs in a port that you might want to consider training, or even re-training for if you’re looking for land based jobs in the shipping industry.

  • Port Managers – pretty much anything port related falls under the responsibility of the port manager from operations to health and safety. The job also involves communicating with organisations who use the port, such as shipping companies and freight forwarders to the development of the port itself.
  • Stevedores – these are the people responsible for the loading and unloading of cargo. Part of the job may entail making decisions about how that cargo should be stacked, or deciding on the most efficient procedure for its timely handling. Knowing how to operate vehicles such as forklift trucks and driving goods lorries, or machinery like suction pipes, cranes and conveyor belts is normally part of a stevedore’s job description.
  • Port Operators - once the stevedore has unloaded the cargo the port operator will take over and make sure that shipments are transported with a minimum of fuss from the moored vessel to either a warehouse or holding zone, or directly on to a road vehicle or train for onward transportation. Part of this role may also consist of operating vehicles such as mobile cranes and forklifts.
  • Engineers  - somebody needs to ensure vehicles, vessels, plant machinery and other equipment are kept in full working order and that’s where engineers come in. Responsible for the repair and maintenance of all of the above, an engineer may specialize in civil engineering, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering.
  • Vessel Traffic Services Operatives – this is a job that is based in the port’s control center. VTSO's control the movement of vessels in and around the port, using marine radar and liaising with ships by radio telephone or VHF radio to ensure their safety while in the area.
  • Marine Pilots – pilotage is a very specific and highly responsible job. Marine pilots have in-depth knowledge of a port’s approach and exit and are tasked with boarding vessels that are entering or leaving the port and safely navigating them in and out to ensure their safe passage.

Skills Required for Jobs in Seaport

Just like jobs based at sea, the skills and personal qualities needed by a shore based operative are usually very specific. It probably goes without saying that anyone working in the maritime industry must have an eye for detail and be adverse to cutting corners. Safety is paramount in shipping and a responsibility towards cargo, vessels, the environment, and of course colleagues and crew members, is crucial at all times. Therefore a safety-conscious attitude is a must, as is the ability to work in a team. It follows that good communication skills are a definite plus - in shipping there is little to no room for errors or miscommunications, however small or unintentional. Being bi- or multi-lingual is also a bonus in some roles.

As we touched upon earlier, being fit and healthy will also be necessary for some careers in a seaport as many involve manual labor and heavy lifting. And depending on the job you may well need to be prepared to work irregular hours: many jobs in the shipping industry are not your typical 9 to 5!

Of course, if you’re hoping to become a port operative the entry requirements may change depending on the location of the port and local laws and regulations. But generally speaking there are no definitive conditions to employment. Be prepared to take a medical examination when interviewing for a position, however and know that passing this could very well be the key to you being offered the job. Many careers in ports will also require you to have color-normal vision and often a valid driving licence will be required.

Training and Qualification for Jobs in Seaports

So how do you go about finding a job in a seaport? No prizes for guessing that in this environment undergoing the appropriate training and having the right qualifications are essential. The good news is that there are opportunities in ports for people with varying degrees of experience and levels of qualifications. In fact for a lot of the more hands on roles such as port operative or stevedore most ports will not require you to have formal educational qualifications. You could find that at least having a diploma or equivalent in high school subjects like Math, Science and English help you stand out from your fellow candidates in what is already a very crowded job marketplace.

Thanks to the demanding physical nature of many port based jobs and the stamina needed to work outdoors in any weather, be it hot or cold, showing that you are cut out for this type of work can come in handy when applying for a vacancy. This could be having previous work experience in a port, or it might be being able to show a history of having worked in transportation or warehousing.

When it comes to training for these types of positions, this is usually undertaken on the job. Your employer may also allow you to work towards earning the relevant qualifications. These could be anything from certifications in port operations, the supervision of port operations and/or health and safety qualifications. However, the chances of walking straight into a job in pilotage, for example, are very low as marine pilots usually have previous experience as a ship’s officer.

Entry requirements for a role such as this will depend on the port authority but a marine pilot applicant will normally need to hold a ship master’s certificate.

If you prefer the idea of working at a desk job in the maritime industry your physical fitness and ability (or non-ability!) to withstand harsh weather conditions won’t be such a game changer. Instead it is much more likely that you will need to possess educational qualifications from at least a high school level - just as you would if you were applying for a commercial or administrative role in any other company. If the employer is sizable enough there is a chance that they offer a graduate management training scheme, so that is always worth checking if you’ve found a shipping company you think you’d like to work for.

Finding the Right Career at Sea for You

There’s a lot to think about when deciding to embark upon a career in the shipping industry, no matter whether you’re shore based or at sea. If you think you would like to work your way towards becoming a marine pilot or another role that requires some previous knowledge of working on a vessel or crewing, take a look at Martide’s shipping job vacancies and see if we have an open job position that catches your eye.