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Transport & Logistics

The role of Harbour Master: Q&A Session with Captain Kevin Richardson Part 1

8 Dec 2011, by Informa Insights

Captain Kevin Richardson

Capt. Kevin Richardson, General Manager Port Operations/Harbour Master, Port of Dover & President, United Kingdom Harbour Masters Association, United Kingdom highlights the importance of the role of Harbour Masters to the marine industry as a whole and offers an insight into how harbour masters help keep a port moving! Capt Richardson’s presentation at the 8th IHMA Congress will address harbour masters’ qualifications.

The Port of Dover has approximately 23,500 ferry movements every year – with an average of 55 crossings every day, 24 hours a day. Situated on one side of the Straights of Dover, one of the busiest shipping lanes in Europe, the port is of huge economic value to Kent and the UK as a whole. As Harbour Master, what does it take to run such a busy and important port?
The simple answer is “Quite a lot”! However in such a busy operational environmental both on the marine side and on the terminal side of operations I adopt one personal maxim and that is, “Keep it moving!”

There is a very simple equation, which I call “the bathtub equation” that applies to the port of Dover. If uplift exceeds demand all is well and the bathtub remains stable… However, if demand exceeds uplift then we have a problem – the bathtub overflows!

Keeping the equilibrium constant in this complex equation is what I, as Harbour Master, try and do on a continuous and consistent basis. Get it wrong and there are either huge shipping delays or huge terminal traffic delays and probably both.

A look in the bathtub. Source:

How do you deal with this problem on a daily basis?
By having trained and competent staff that monitor traffic management, both marine and landside and where possible, proactively manage any issues before they impact on the port. It is equally important that they react quickly, decisively and efficiently with any issues that arise that have the capacity to make the bathtub overflow! This could be bad weather, a marine accident, a major incident in the port or a major traffic accident on the approaches to the port, to name a few. If the business is interrupted, it is my responsibility to minimise that period of interruption which would very quickly have knock on effects to the county of Kent and the whole SE UK region.

The 8th IHMA Congress in Cork will address the changing landscape of ports and how these changes are redefining the role of harbour masters in the future. There are a number of major developments underway and in the pipeline for the Port of Dover. How have extension works impacted your role?
It’s an extension of the above point really and being prepared for the capacity challenges to come. We have just received approval to our Harbour Revision Order which effectively gives us “planning permission” to prepare the port for a new second ferry terminal when that is required, at this time probably around 2020. It took three years to prepare the submission and get it approved (that’s actually quite quick) and I was very involved in the planning issues in terms of layout and design of the new terminal both from the berth perspective as well as the actual traffic management layout. A full environmental impact assessment was also undertaken which I also contributed to as Harbour Master.

Dover's Eastern Docks, the UK's largest ferry terminal. Source:

More immediately we are investing some £50M over the next 5 years to ensure that Terminal 1 continues to be able to handle the volumes of traffic we need to in the run up to Terminal 2. There are many small projects in the Terminal 1 upgrade but one of the most significant is a £7M project, with the catchy title, “The Traffic Management Improvement” (TMI) project. This involves creating a traffic buffer zone inside the port to park up and process upwards of 200 freight vehicles in times of stress.

The capacity does not sound much but it is the difference between being able to handle such traffic in the port or having it impact directly on the local town infrastructure and jamming up the town of Dover for prolonged periods. We are also significantly upgrading our berth infrastructure over the same period to handle the latest generation of superferrys.

Whilst all of these things will be fantastic when they are built…we need to keep the place moving and the business operating efficiently whilst they are being built…and that is my major challenge!

Click here to read Part 2 of the interview.

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