A harbourmaster is an official responsible for enforcing the regulations of a particular harbour or port
A port is a location on a coast or shore containing one or more harbors where ships can dock and transfer people or cargo to or from land....

, in order to ensure the safety of navigation, the security of the harbour and the correct operation of the port facilities.


Harbourmasters are normally responsible for issuing local safety information sometimes known as Notice to Mariners
Notice to Mariners
A notice to mariners advises mariners of important matters affecting navigational safety, including new hydrographic information, changes in channels and aids to navigation, and other important data.Over 60 countries which produce nautical charts also...


They may also oversee the maintenance and provision of navigational aids within the port, co-ordinate responses to emergencies, inspect vessels and oversee pilotage services.

The harbourmaster may have legal power to detain, caution or even arrest persons committing an offence within the port or tidal range of the port's responsibilities. An example of this is the team of Harbourmasters employed by the Port of London Authority
Port of London Authority
The Port of London Authority is a self-funding public trust established in 1908 by the Port of London Act to govern the Port of London. Its responsibility extends over the Tideway of the River Thames and the authority is responsible for the public right of navigation and for conservancy of the...

 who are empowered to undertake an enforcement role.

Actions that a harbourmaster may investigate include criminal acts, immigration, customs and excise, maritime and river safety and environmental and pollution issues. The police, customs, coastguard or immigration authorities will take over the handling of any offenders or incident once informed by the Harbourmaster.

Civilian vs Naval Officers

A harbourmaster may either be a civilian or a commissioned naval officer of any rank.
Historically all harbourmasters were naval officers; even today they must possess prior seafaring knowledge and experience through serving with either a Merchant Navy
Merchant Navy
The Merchant Navy is the maritime register of the United Kingdom, and describes the seagoing commercial interests of UK-registered ships and their crews. Merchant Navy vessels fly the Red Ensign and are regulated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency...

 or Armed Navy.

The term "Naval" and "civilian" are used here to distinguish who is employed by a military force and who is employed by a public or private port.

In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, when a person has been appointed to superintend a Dockyard Port the officer serves in this capacity as the Queen's (or King's) Harbourmaster, and is entitled to fly a white-bordered Union Flag
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

 with a white central disc bearing the initials "QHM" (or "KHM" during the reign of a King) beneath a crown. Although legislation does not require it, most QHMs are serving officers in the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. Equivalent positions also exist in Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, where a Queen's Harbourmaster is known in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 as capitaine de port de Sa Majest√© (literally "Her Majesty's Captain of the Port").

Nowadays the former post of Harbourmaster of the Port of London Authority, and indeed many other large ports, is Chief Harbourmaster
Chief Harbourmaster
A Chief harbourmaster is a rank or title given to a senior harbourmaster who is in overall control of a harbour or port authority and in charge of a team of harbourmasters to which he or she would delegate his duties and responsibilities....

, who command a team of Harbourmasters because of the size of the port.

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the Captain of the Port
Captain of the Port
The Captain of the Port is an official who has different functions in the United Kingdom and the United States.-United Kingdom:In the Royal Navy, the Captain of the Port is the officer, usually with the rank of Captain, responsible for the day-to-day running of a Naval Dockyard under the authority...

, a United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven U.S. uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency...

officer, is responsible for these duties in a pre-defined Captain of the Port zone which usually includes multiple ports and waterways leading to those ports, usually in federal waters. A US Captain of the Port, unlike the Canadian capitaine de port, is not normally considered to be a harbourmaster, as harbourmasters in the United States (as elsewhere) are usually local government officials responsible for safety and security in a harbour.

External links

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